Happy New Year and welcome to the start of 2014.
In this post, I have pulled together some ideas about how we can be more the creators of the year we want to make for ourselves, considering different ways to make new year resolutions that work for us and last through the year ahead, as well as ideas on what can help us to change and make better habits.
I hope you will find something here to fuel and support the aspirations, hopes and wishes you are making for own year ahead…
It’s nearly New Year’s Resolution time again. Time for the dieting and fitness industry to start pumping out messages about changing your life for the better. And time for us normal people to try, and in the main, fail, to alter multiple things about our lives based on these aspirational reminders.
I used to be something of a cynic about this annual cycle. There’s an implied life-dissatisfaction built in to the idea that we should make a firm resolution to change something about ourselves each year. So, because many of us are unhappy about multiple things about our lives, the approach that we take is to attempt to change multiple things at once in January. It rarely works!
Yet over the past few years I’ve begun to enjoy the annual challenge of doing something new, and attempting to stick to it. Here are two of the resolutions I’ve made over recent years, and they’re things I’ve actually managed to stick to for a whole year:
Be useful on the internet
One year I decided that Stack Overflow was one of the most useful and helpful resources for people working in tech. At its most basic it is a question-and-answer service. People are stuck on something, and other people attempt to unstick them…
So I thought for one year my new year’s resolution would be “Don’t be a leech”, and I spent a fair amount of time answering questions there. I didn’t manage to stick to it every day, but a general feeling of “be useful on the internet” now sticks with me, which was the reason I did it. To alter my own behaviour and attempt to be generally more helpful to others. Now, when I see someone asking a question on Twitter and I know a good pointer, I’ll often reply.
Ignore the news
This year I became frustrated with how much of my attention I was giving to things that were useless and stressful. Information that demanded attention but no action. Horrific stories that leave you thinking about awful things and not concentrating on the things that matter. Namely, news stories.
I wrote about this in my first Medium post earlier this year, so have a read to understand why I’m not talking about ignorance.
It’s about stronger connections with actionable information, filtering out negative influences and directing your energy towards things that you can really change in the world. The results of my little experiment, using myself as a single point of anecdata, are positive.
I’ve not read a single article in the free commuter paper that my fellow passengers stick their noses into each day. I’ve turned off the radio at half past the hour, and on again four minutes later, multiple times every day for a whole year. I’ve not watched any of the mainstream news channels, and I’ve only very rarely read something in a newspaper unless it has some industry relevance for me.
Yet I still feel informed. I’m actually more aware of industry trends and global shifts, I’m still aware of roughly what’s going on. Those extra hours each day where I would have been worrying about something I can’t affect, are now filled with reflection, thinking about the process of building my company andtinkering. And if you’ve read any of my other writing, tinkering is pretty important to me.
A creative rhythm for a year
I’ll leave her to write a piece about what she’s learnt doing that, but the observation I’d make is that she’s found the process of having a creative rhythm to the year to be beneficial, not just in the act of taking the photograph and improving her practice, but in that it’s a long, rhythmic project that is in many ways akin to daily meditation or exercise.
One of the hackers I work with at Makeshift, Tanja, was talking to me about the project that she is doing, and there are many similarities. Each day she “free writes” seven hundred and fifty words. They’re crucially not published, but over time the service she uses, 750words.com, provides some insights into her style, her mood, topics she is thinking about, and it enables her to self-reflect over a long period of time. It’s a daily ritual that takes around fifteen minutes, and I’m tempted to make this my next annual resolution.
A higher resolution
I quipped to friends recently that there are “New Year’s resolutions” and then there are “higher resolutions”—decisions to undertake a whole year of activity as an attempt to adjust ourselves and our behaviour by undertaking something that sounds hard. Something that will require a degree of mental energy and effort to achieve. Sometimes by making a quick joke about an idea, a bigger truth can emerge, and I think that perhaps it holds true here.
For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be thinking about things that might be up there as projects that I can be doing every day (and I think it has to be every day), that build on some aspect of my behaviour that I want to develop, and that might release or change something about myself over subsequent years. Here’s a few ideas. I thought I’d share in case others were thinking similarly:
Draw something every day
I’ve noticed recently that I’m always drawing in meetings. I use it to think and to concentrate, sometimes to remember a key theme.
They say that the best CEOs have an ability to draw—perhaps working on my sketching skills will enable me to communicate ideas more rapidly? Perhaps I’ll come up with a theme or observations [worth sharing]? Who knows…
Make up the bed-time story
It’s improv, it’s fun, it’s like not being able to prepare for a talk where you’ve been given the slot because a co-worker has fallen ill, and the kids really appreciate it…
Publish tiny thoughts
The main question here would be: is it possible to write something of interest to others, that’s insightful and interesting, every day of the year? …
I wrote two experimental posts: “The ideas won’t run out” and “A tiny act of feminism”, just to see how it felt. I’ve had a good reaction from writing these shorter pieces, yet I’ve found it hard to repeatedly put out small thoughts on the web. It feels so risky!
Do something you can
If you’re considering a daily creativity project like this, a big consideration is starting with something you’re already tinkering with, but challenging yourself to repeatedly make it part of your every-day…
New Year’s resolutions — losing weight, eating better or getting in financial shape – are all about habits. Every January we’re trying to break a bad habit or start a new one.
Our success often has less to do with willpower and more to do with understanding what triggers the habit in the first place.
“Habits build up by repeating the same action in the same situation,” says Jeremy Dean, the author of last year’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits”
“Each time you repeat it, the habit gets stronger. The stronger it gets, the more likely you are to perform it without having to consciously will it.”
“There’s bound to be some competition between old and new habits at first,” he says, explaining that this is normal. “Try to notice or anticipate what the mental danger points will be and plan for them.”
For example, you may want to get up earlier, so it’s important to acknowledge that you might feel lazy when you wake up.
“Plan to think about something that will make you jump out of bed, like an activity you are looking forward to doing that day.”
You can read more about Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits book, along with a report by him on a fascinating study of how our emotions map across our whole bodies further down this post.
Journalist Charles Duhigg covers some of the same territory in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business.”
In this interview he goes further to explain how to create habits that can bring lasting change for the better, in 2014.
Q. What causes habits to form and why are they so hard to break?
Duhigg: What we learned particularly in the last decade – primarily from neurological studies but also from laboratory and real world experiments — is that at the core of every habit there are three things:
- A cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behaviour to start;
- Then the routine, which is the behaviour itself;
- And then finally the reward.
The reward is really why your brain latches onto this pattern and makes it automatic.
We’ve known about the importance of cues and routines for decades ever since Pavlov was doing his experiments with his dogs. But the real insight from the last decade is how important those cues and rewards really are — the neurological circuitry that allows our brain or causes our brain, to latch onto this particular pattern and make it feel more and more automatic.
We’ve also learned that when your brain is in the grip of a habit (about 40 to 45 per cent of what we do every day is a habit) our brain essentially ‘powers down.’
Q. Why does the brain ‘power down’?
Duhigg: Habits allow us to conserve mental resources, cognitive resources and act automatically. And our brain likes that because anything that saves energy is good; it frees up your mind to work on other problems while you’re backing a car out of the driveway or you’re walking to work.
But the risk is that because your brain shuts down, it is much harder to consciously intervene in that behaviour and that’s why breaking a habit is so hard. In part, it’s because our brain essentially shuts off when we’re in the middle of a habit and as a result, we`re paying much less attention to what’s going on around us.
The second reason why it’s so hard to break a habit is because people are often unaware of what the cue and the reward is that is driving their behaviours. … And as a result, we become blind somewhat to what in the environment is pushing us in a certain way, particularly when it comes to rewards.
Q. Why doesn’t our willpower seem to work when we try to make or break a habit?
Duhigg: Willpower is like a muscle and much like any other muscle, like the muscle in your arm, it gets tired with more and more use.
Q. Can mindfulness help us to change bad habits?
Duhigg: Absolutely. I think the parts of mindfulness that are important for habits are this awareness, that you are forcing yourself to be aware of the cues and rewards that are driving your behaviour. In some respects, mindfulness is different from habit formation.
Mindfulness really says that you try and be in the moment and notice what’s going on. Habits neurologically are exactly the opposite; you tend not to notice what’s going on….
But the place where mindfulness and habits intersect is this awareness of what’s going on around you, forcing yourself to pay attention to the cues and rewards that are shaping your behaviours and then eventually allowing yourself to let go and ignore what`s going on because you’ve figured it out.
Q. How can we replace bad habits with good ones?
Duhigg: There’s a principle that’s known as the golden rule of habit change: It’s very hard to extinguish a habit and again there’s neurological reasons for this. But essentially, once you’ve created neural pathways associated with a particular cue, routine and reward, trying to extinguish those, to make them no longer be in existence, that’s really challenging.
Change the routine
A much better strategy is to change the habit … You identify the cue and you identify the reward and then you find a new routine that seems to correspond, a new behaviour that seems to correspond with that old cue and that old reward but that is different and better.
Q. What one small strategy could we implement to make incremental yet lasting change in 2014?
Duhigg: You need to start small and you need to identify one thing. One of the things that we know is that there’s a lot of power in what is called the science of small wins, that if you can choose one behaviour to change, that sometimes it sets up this chain reaction that makes other changes easier to accomplish.
A few years ago, I learned a new approach to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of the typical resolution that identifies a concrete behavior, you assign a theme to your New Year. The theme should be a word that resonates with you and embodies something that has been missing from your daily life. Instead of defining specific behaviors that you want to do, you simply keep your theme in mind and allow your days to unfold from there. This can be a very refreshing way to approach a New Year, especially for those of us who are tired of making the same resolution every year.
Here are some examples of possible themes to apply to your New Year, along with how they might serve to enhance your overall health:
Theme: Mindfulness. Many of us live in a constant state of distraction, due to our busy lives. But this relentless multitasking can take a toll on our health, as well as our overall quality of life. Research has linked mindfulness with many beneficial outcomes, such as being able to curb overeating, experiencing less stress and anxiety, and even helping with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. We can practice this in many ways — taking time to notice the taste of our food when we eat, pausing to focus entirely on a child during conversation, or purposefully enjoying the feeling while taking a brisk walk are all acts of mindfulness.
Theme: Enjoyment. Sometimes, the quest for better health seems like total drudgery. The truth is, we are much more likely to do things willingly if we actually enjoy those things. Perhaps the best place to start, then, is to find enjoyment in healthy behaviors. Find a physical activity that is fun to you, or make a mundane one more fun by adding in music or a companion. Enjoy healthy food by exploring recipes, choosing quality ingredients and making your kitchen a pleasant and inviting place.
Theme: Movement. Our bodies are designed to move, and yet our world is designed for sitting. The absence of movement in our day is a big culprit in the obesity epidemic, and it’s also a likely factor in decreased mood, disruption of sleep and increased rates of chronic diseases. Researchers in the exercise field point out that reducing the time we’re sitting every day can play a big role in improving our overall health. This means we need to find ways to add in movement every hour, not just when we hit the gym on the way home from work. Building in movement throughout the day may mean building new habits (such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or even creating new procedures (such as having a walking meeting with your staff every morning).
Theme: Nourish. Our fast-food society has created a unique situation where many of us are over-fed, yet under-nourished. When our diets lack fresh, whole foods and rely too much on convenience and fast foods, we are not getting enough of many different nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants. This can take a toll on our weight, our immune system, our overall health and even how fast we age! Approaching meals and snacks with the nourish theme in mind helps inspire better food selection decisions. Foods that nourish us include water-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy and even water. You may also want to expand the theme to include daily tasks that nourish your soul, such as adding in time for a new hobby or saving up to travel.
Here is a great two-part exercise to begin the year with from Eric Karpinsky, The Happiness Coach…
Happiness List Exercise
(This is adapted from a great book called ‘How We Choose To Be Happy’ by Foster & Hicks.)
You need to have 10 minutes of focused time. If you have that time right now, go ahead and keep on reading. But if you are at work and likely to be interrupted or dinner is about to be put on the table, block 10 minutes this evening or in the next day or two to where you can work uninterrupted.
Ok, now stop reading until you have your 10 minutes. (Seriously, this will be a much more productive exercise if you don’t read this until you have that uninterrupted time.)
Ready to start?
Get out a blank sheet of paper, a good writing instrument and a timer. Set the timer for 4 minutes.
- Then begin making a list of everything that makes you happy. 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. The idea here is to allow internal stuff to surface. (i.e. don’t be distracted by the seeming randomness of some of your ideas. Just write and move on.)
- When the timer goes off, drop your pen and notice how you feel. For many people, just the act of writing the list makes them feel happier. Know you can do this anytime for a quick happiness hit.
- Now look through your list and find one thing that would be easy to do this evening or over the weekend. This is your HOMEWORK (Ok really it’s more of home-play) for this week. Take out your calendar and schedule it. Right now. (Really. I’ll wait…)
- And if you need to coordinate with someone else (for that tennis match, date to make dinner together or go to that museum exhibit) send those emails right now (your 10 minutes isn’t up yet, right?)
Next, email yourself this list, so you’ve always got it. Put something really obvious in the subject line like happiness list, so you can find it when you want it. Feel free to add on to this list as other things come to you.
Finally, share what you are going to do. Commit to it by making a public declaration to someone who will help you to act upon your plan.
Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!
Here is how to make your Happiness List come to life.
Step 1: Expand Your List
First, take a few minutes to expand your list. Is there anything you missed? Think about things you loved when you were younger. Can you make the list more specific? For example, if you listed your child, dog or partner, think about what you enjoy when you are together – conversation, snuggle time? If you listed nature, how do you like to experience it – a hike, camping, sitting quietly?
Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do
Now, go through your list and check off those things that you do regularly. These are already central to your life. Nice work! Celebrate that you’ve made time for these activities which recharge you. (Don’t blow this part off; honouring your successes gives you the energy and motivation boost you need to set new goals.)
Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness
Go through and pick a few of these activities that you would like to do more in your life. Get your calendar. Yep, right now; go and grab it. I’ll wait…
Now find the time to make these things happen. Decide how regularly you want them and put it into a repeating calendar event. Date night every other Thursday? Tennis every Saturday morning? Fresh cut flowers each week? Schedule a vacation to a place you love or you’ve always wanted to visit?
Commit to these activities, put them in your calendar and protect them. Make the lists now of what you need to make these activities happen; schedule time to get the preparation done too.
Step 4: Find more time in your schedule
Some of you are probably rolling your eyes now, thinking, “There’s no way I can add more to my life!” If so, then it’s time to look critically at your calendar. If you’re feeling over-scheduled here are some time-sucking traps to watch out for:
- You spend time on things that your friends love that don’t make your Happiness List. I have friends who love to see concerts. For years, I’d go along. One day I realized I’d rather just listen to the CD and talk – so I stopped going (and saved a bundle of money at the same time!).
- You do everything with your partner. Time together with a cherished loved one is important, but can be overdone and limit your time to pursue your passions. See where your lists overlap and do those things together. But venture out on your own sometimes, too. I LOVE a night out dancing and connecting with new people where Becca loves a quiet night at home reading. We’ll go our separate ways a couple times per month and the energy we both get from doing what we love comes back to our life together.
- You do things you “should” like. After I moved to San Diego, I thought I HAD to be a surfer, that’s what you DID here. But after a year of learning (and occasional bouts of seasickness in big waves) I realized I didn’t love it. So I let go of that vision of who I was supposed to be. What do you do just because you “should” like it?
- You do things that suck time automatically, almost without thinking. Does the TV go on when you get home from work? Do you log onto Facebook or play video games on your lunch break? If these aren’t things on your Happiness List, stop doing them. Use tips from my Making Habits post. Put the remote in a high shelf in the closet and replace it with something that reminds you of a Happiness List item. Or schedule something from your Happiness List at your vulnerable time, so you don’t get pulled into the vortex of habits you want to break.
- Combine things from your Happiness List with things you have to do. Sometimes when I’m watching the kids, we will head off to Chuck E. Cheese for video games or have a dance party in the living room. Both are things on my Happiness List (and fortunately on my kids’ lists) so while mom’s away we get to play! If jazz makes you happy, make a ritual of playing it while you do dishes. If exercise is your mood-booster, walk or ride your bike to run errands.
If these tips have not helped you find time or if this post, instead of bringing happiness has sent you into a tailspin of hopelessness – “My life is already so overscheduled! I just can’t fit anything else in!” – recognise and honour those emotions. Then see tips for putting First Things First.
Ruby Wax – comedian, writer and mental health campaigner, visits the RSA to explain how and why our busy, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and depression, and to provide ways of taming our out-of-control minds.
By Anna Tyzack
Happiness is not a shiny 2014 diary already clogged with meetings, phone catch-ups and must-do errands. The modern take on Descartes, “I’m busy therefore I am” is, according to Ruby Wax, the comedienne and now therapist (she holds an MA from Oxford in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy), crushing our ability to be happy and overloading us with stress and anxiety. “Excessive ‘busy-ness’ is usually a sign that all is not well,” she says. “When I’m reaching burn-out I start fixing too many dates and writing one too many emails. I become so uber-busy that things don’t make sense any more. It’s that tripping point between creativity and a downward spiral.”…
Mindfulness has helped Wax to find a plateau of peace away from the therapy rooms; her book, Sane New World, shows others how to do the same, although it’s not, she pleads, a self-help book. “It’s a comedy about how the brain is – otherwise it would have been whiney.”…
…here are Wax’s 14 tips for a happy, calmer, more self-assured and focused you in 2014. “Working out your mind is the new working out in the gym,” she says, oblivious to the fact her mobile is going insane in her handbag. “If you haven’t discussed how you’re feeling before, this year you will be.”
Find your braking system
This is what mindfulness is all about. When you’re in high anxiety mode, feeling stressed out, your mind racing and your heart pounding, focus on something in the present: a sound, taste or smell. By becoming aware of what’s around you, you will calm down and can focus more. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you: I send my attention to my feet and their contact with the floor. As soon as my focus goes from thoughts to a sensation, the red mist drains from my brain and I can think again. You might need to do this 100 times; it’s how to tame your mind.
Stave off the darkness
Only eat what tastes good and fill your life with things you like. Surround yourself with true friends but if you find entertaining stressful, don’t invite them for dinner all the time. How can you talk to your friends properly when you’re busy panicking that you’re not a good enough cook? Go to a restaurant instead. And don’t force yourself to go to other people’s houses, it takes energy to adjust yourself to their way of living.
Find your happy place
People used to find peace in gardening or going to church but no one has time for them any more. You need to find a place or activity that makes you feel relaxed, be it a café or a park, dancing or cycling. But don’t mistake happiness for that tingly buzz you get when you’ve hooked or booked something. This kind of hit only lasts as long as a cigarette.
Be less busy
We worship busy-ness but brain research shows that rather than it being a great accomplishment to be able to juggle, it may actually scramble your brain. Rather than being in “doing” mode all the time, have a go at “being” mode. I experience it when I’m scuba diving but everyone feels this at some point: looking at a sunset, stroking a cat, a moment where time stops and you’re experiencing something directly without the running commentary. In this mode the mind isn’t flipping between the past and the future, it has nowhere to go, so it can start to settle.
I get obsessed with possessions. I need that pair of shoes. It’s something about staying busy that makes me want them. But the chase is always better than the kill. I get them and then they don’t mean anything to me. We never stop wanting but it’s good discipline to understand your lifestyle and what you really need and know when to stop and say “enough”.
When you’re listening to someone, really listen. If you want to pick up your phone or are distracted, acknowledge this, and then refocus on the conversation. You can’t stop your mind from churning but you can train it to focus. Focused attention breaks up the circuit of banal thoughts in your mind and builds up grey matter in the brain, which increases the ability to remember, attend, and execute actions, no matter what age you are.
A hit of your own endorphins is almost better than any drug you can buy over or under the counter. You’re happier when you’re moving your body, and your mind feels less sluggish. But if you hate jogging, give up. Mindless exercise isn’t good for you. Some of the most rewarding exercises are those you do when you’re sensing what you’re moving, flexing, pushing and pumping: pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and martial arts are examples of mindful practices.
Name your demons
Nobody will ever tell you that your mind is interesting and needs cultivating or that you’ve done well to get this far in something, so it’s OK. There’s always somebody better than you out there and this can get you down. Rather than sliding into depression when things don’t go right, name your feelings. I’ve called rejection “Mitzi” and have a very distinct picture of her in my mind: ratty hair, scrawny face and wearing rags. When I bring her up I feel compassion for her and then for myself. I also have “Stella” for envy, a blonde with blood on her teeth, and “Fred”, a werewolf, for anger.
Go easy on yourself
This is really important. We naturally have a negative predisposition. Try to recognise your thoughts without judging them. When you notice that your mind is wandering where you don’t want it to be, stop and acknowledge your thoughts and try, as I mentioned before, to focus on a sound, taste or smell. You’re being kind to yourself by intentionally moving your attention to the body. Remember, your body can withstand emotions; your mind cannot as it will always try, fruitlessly, to solve them.
Be kind to others
It follows that the way you abuse yourself in your thoughts is the way you abuse other people. It’s much easier to pass on our neuroses and anger than it is our feelings of warmth and kindness; but when you do, you get a sudden rush of oxytocin, which makes you feel safe and soothed and can switch such feelings on in others around you. If you’re calm and at ease you have the free space in your head to listen to someone else and be curious about their life. When you get into the habit of passing warmth, humour and compassion, you might just experience what happiness feels like.
Learn to say sorry
My relationships are happier these days but I still screw up. I clean up my mess by writing apology letters. You don’t have to be sorry for seeing the world in a different way from someone else but you can be sorry that things haven’t worked out. Lower your expectations: don’t expect others to be perfect, or even to like you.
Change is good
If you let go of your armour, it really is possible to evolve. But when you change, those around you might not like it. People don’t like letting go of their image of you even though you have redecorated your inner self. They think you’re a loser or a victim when in fact you are neither of those things any more. There’s not much you can do about this, except hope that they wake up to the new you.
Go on retreat
I’m spending a few days on my own in a “nano house” next month. A one-room building, with a big picture window, a kitchen and a comfy bed but no clutter, it’s the antidote to the nuclear family house and I’m happier in there than I ever would be in a house that goes on and on. It’s like being in the womb.
Taking yourself on a retreat allows you to reinvent yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Go to a cheap hotel or bed and breakfast and spend some time in silence, with no television and no one to talk to. You’ll be amazed how much happier you feel afterwards.
Don’t force it
You can read this article as many times as you like but none of these tips is going to help you unless you get out there and try it. But don’t put to much pressure on yourself to change overnight. Never say “I should be doing more.” Notice that you’re not doing it and that’s a step in the right direction. There are no rules.
by Deborah Schoeberlein, author of ‘Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness’
…Here are a few tips that can help you have a happier, easier and less emotionally loaded holiday season:
• Take a breath, and then another, so you create little pauses during the busiest time of the year. Simply taking a breath (and consciously shifting your attention to that breath) helps your body relax. And, when the body relaxes, the mind can rest. The key is remembering to take that breath so you punctuate your day with pauses. This means practicing the three steps of mindfulness: Focus, Observe, and Refocus.
o Focus on taking a purposeful breath and pay attention to how that breath feels. You can do this anytime: it’s fast, invisible and effective. For example, take a mindful breath before you leave your house for a party or as you toast the coming year. Pause in the midst of shopping and when your kids clamor (again!) for more presents.
o Observe your attention as your take that breath. Simply breathe and feel yourself breathing, without thinking about what just happened or what’s coming next. Give you mind a brief rest while observing the sensations associated with breathing (and without multitasking).
o Refocus on that breath if/when you notice that you lost focus. Begin taking that one, conscious breath fully focusing your attention on the sensations of breathing and watch what happens. As soon as you notice that you’ve lost focus, shift your attention back to observing the focus of your attention. Distraction happens, but you can train your mind so that your mental detours are shorter and less frequent.
Mindfulness practice has come to us and developed in its secular form from Buddhist disciplines, and in this article Dr Donna Rockwell walks us through the fundamentals of Buddhist wisdom. This can provide a guide to help us to build increased potency and resilience to our the aspirations we are resolving to keep and make happen this year…
We do the same thing every year. New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and our New Year’s resolutions, promised so fiercely at the stroke of midnight, are dismissed shortly thereafter, fading away over time, like friends who’ve moved to another city. It is the dirty not-so-little secret of New Year’s resolutions: They are very rarely kept. In fact, resolutions usually made in desperation (I’ve got to lose weight this year!) become another excuse for guilt and self-denigration, another opportunity to feel like a failure. How can resolutions be a point of positive self-growth, instead, where we make them, and keep them, and benefit from their healing and restorative powers?
There may be hints to the answer in the texts of Buddhist psychology, which examine the nature of life itself and suggest ways to live more successfully and with greater discipline. In these teachings, one might find a blueprint for how to generate the commitment necessary to keep those well-intended resolutions. Much as a monk learns to adhere to the rigours of a daily meditation practice, what might seem at first daunting in anticipation is experienced in reality as a breath of fresh air. The way to get there can be found in what is called the Eightfold Path, the heart of the Buddha’s famous “Four Noble Truths” and well-known way toward enlightenment. Becoming a student of this teaching, particularly in the areas that focus on wisdom and mental development, could show us how to follow through with resolutions, keeping the promises we make to ourselves.
Before considering the best path toward change, however, it is important to consider how much control we actually have over our minds in the first place. The answer is relatively little. That is why we find it so difficult to stick with our commitments: Our minds have an innate and persnickety tendency to wander here and there. Until we are aware of this undisciplined pattern of mind, we are at a loss to re-direct it. Once we understand that the mind, by nature, jumps around, and we need not let its untamed nature distract us from the task at hand, we discover that a wide range of thoughts come and go, which we do not have to follow. We come to see that we can always return our discursive minds to the present moment, making the choice to stay on task and follow through on commitments to goals we have set. Thoughts and whims may ebb and flow, but a steady focus takes us where we want to go.
The following highlights from the Eightfold Path, otherwise known as the Middle Way, describe what is necessary in order to realize our most cherished aspirations and New Year’s resolutions. They include: right view, right intention (wisdom), right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (mental discipline). The word “right” can be interpreted as “ideal” or “full-hearted.”
Wisdom: A major component of wisdom is coming to grasp the truth of the human condition more fully. Such awareness helps us chart life’s course in more effective ways, making tonight’s New Year’s resolutions tomorrow’s improved behaviors and new, positive, rather than negative, habits:
(1) Right view: The mind is like a wild horse. If we do not know this, we are victims of the unsettled quality of the mind and our confused thinking process. Right view simply means remembering the fact that we will never be able to get our mind to behave in the ways we want it to one hundred percent of the time. By getting rid of this unattainable expectation, we are more open to doing what is called for in the moment. In this way we don’t necessarily have to feel like doing something – with our thinking in total agreement – in order to do what we know we must in order to stay committed to our goals.
(2) Right intention: In order to accomplish the lofty aims that New Year’s resolutions often are, we should have our heart in the right place. That is the meaning of right intention. The only way to keep working to make resolutions come true is to want them to, with earnestness and committed engagement.
Mental Development: Most important to keeping promises to ourselves in the new year is the development of our mental attitude and the maturing of our moral toughness. Losing weight or quitting smoking aren’t tasks for the faint of heart. It takes sweat and struggle to get there:
(3) Right effort: In order to win an Olympic medal, one must train religiously and with unparalleled dedication. That is the quality of right effort. Whatever we set our minds to, right effort is what we need to get us there. Diligence is the quality of right effort and is required to get the job done.
(4) Right mindfulness: In order to realise any achievement, a person must conjure up the right state of mind. Confused and wandering attention will never do. The challenge is to quiet down, and still the churning, thinking machine that is the mind. When the mind is more settled, like sand in a glass of water, thinking is clearer and decision-making wiser.
(5) Right concentration: None of this is possible without a focused mind. This is called right concentration. In order to play a tune on the piano, the student must concentrate on learning the music and using his or her hands in such a way as to make the music come alive. This cannot be done without right concentration. The most intense of the tasks we are called upon to do demand our concentration and heartfelt attention. We are at a loss without it.
Our resolutions can be made and kept. The skillful means to do so are achievable by focusing on these five particular aspects of the Eightfold Path: having the right view and intention, and exerting right effort, mindfulness and concentration. That extra weight can be lost, cigarettes cast to the wind, and relationships mended. Anything is possible when we seek wisdom and develop mental clarity. Then, in the midst of a clear mind, nothing can stand in our way.
In this article Officevibe co-founder Jeff Fermin writes about the importance of employee engagement for a new small startup, but everything he writes here is equally true for every organisation, and worth thinking about anew as we start into the new year of activity.
Which of these ideas could help to fire new life and energy into the enterprise you are part of?
…A reflection and focus on employee engagement is not only worth your time- it is absolutely essential if you want your [organisation] to be more than marginally successful as it struggles to find footing in an ever changing and extremely competitive business world.
Employee Engagement: Not Just For the Big Guns
There is a reason that “employee engagement” is a hot buzzword these days. Lethargic top-shelf companies are looking for ways to catapult their businesses into new and creative outlets.
Stale company culture has permeated many big companies that were once filled with employees who were eager to engage with a new and innovative business model.
Simply stated: many companies have been reduced to being a building filled with paycheck driven drones. It’s no surprise that engaged employees work hard and diligently but research has found that companies that focus on creating a challenging and healthy work environment stir up not only employee loyalty but an entrepreneurial work environment that causes transformation and growth from the inside out.
No Band Aides Necessary
Ditch the cubicle drama of the average workplace. Employee engagement and motivation starts with a healthy company culture…
Hire wisely. Listen to your newly found talent. Let them in on your company dream map and fund team building experiences that create loyal employment.
Loyal employees, who are challenged and extended throughout the day, work efficiently when your startup company needs it the most. More importantly- they stick with you because they want to watch your company become [sucessful] as well.
Where Enthusiasm Can Take Your Business
It’s this easy:
• Companies run on enthusiastic and loyal employees
• Healthy company culture ensures that individual members feel welcomed and challenged
• Employee engagement starts on your very first day
• Employees that generally feel excited about their place of employment will go above and beyond general expectations
• Hard work [continually working to make people happier at work] = a successful [organisation]
Will every day of your business’s life be a perfect combination of happy employees and excellent work? Probably not. You are sure to hit some bumps in the road to success no matter how elated each of your individual employees is to come to work every day. But a company’s focus on employee engagement can, at its very core, make those obstacles surmountable.
A happy company culture will create a work environment that makes the success of your business feel like a team effort…
adapted by Tom Kelley and David Kelley from their book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us
Language is the crystallization of thought.
But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture.
To change attitudes and behaviors, it helps to first change the vernacular.
To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.
Several years ago, IDEO hosted a visit from Jim Wiltens, an outdoorsman, author, adventure traveler, and speaker, who also teaches a program of his own design for gifted and talented children in Northern California schools. In his programs, Jim emphasizes the power of a positive vocabulary. And he leads by example. You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…” He actually promises to pay his young students a $100 if they ever catch him saying, “I can’t.”
Think Jim’s approach sounds a bit simplistic for adults? Don’t be too sure. When Cathie Black took over as president of Hearst Magazines, she noticed that negative speech patterns had created an environment hostile to new ideas. One person close to the company reported that the naysaying had become a cynical mantra for the executives. So Black told her senior team that every time they said things like, “We’ve tried that already” or “That will never work,” she would fine them $10. (Note the difference between business executives and teachers: they levy the fine on others, not themselves.) Of course, $10 was a trivial amount for the Hearst managers, but no one wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues.
After enforcing her rule just a few times, Black effectively wiped those expressions from the office vocabulary. Did the shift to more positive words have a broader effect beyond changing the tone of meetings? During Black’s tenure, Hearst kept its flagship brands like Cosmopolitan healthy through an extremely tough period for the publishing industry and launched new mega-successes like Oprah’s O magazine. Meanwhile, Black rose to become one of the most powerful women in American business.
IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?” It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product design, as an optimistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at our firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remaining is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes ownership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group. Anyone who has worked with IDEO in the past decade or participated in OpenIDEO’s social innovation challenges has undoubtedly heard the phrase.
We’re also careful about how we critique ideas. As we explained in this HBR article, our feedback typically starts with “I like…” and moves on to “I wish…”. We refrain from passing judgment with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. When you open with the positives, then use the first person for suggestions, it signals to everyone that you’re offering your opinion in an effort to help, which makes them more receptive to your ideas.
As adults, we sometimes forget the simple power of words. Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.
Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How To Make Changes That Stick, reports on this fascinating study that illuminates why we have so many ways of drawing on different parts of ourselves to communicate how we are feeling…
New study reveals where people feel different emotions in the body.
Unlike thoughts, the emotions don’t live entirely in the mind, they are also associated with bodily sensations.
For example, when we feel nervous, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’.
Thanks to a new study, for the first time we now have a map of the links between emotions and bodily sensations.
Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants and then got them to colour in a body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity (Nummenmaa et al., 2013).
Participants in the study were from both Western European countries like Finland and Sweden and also from East Asia (Taiwan).
Despite the cultural differences, they found remarkable similarities in how people responded.
Here are the body maps for six basic emotions. Yellow indicates the highest level of activity, followed by red. Black is neutral, while blue and light blue indicate lowered and very low activity respectively.
The authors explain:
“Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area […] as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”
It’s fascinating that happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig.
Along with the basic emotions, here are the body maps of six more complex emotions:
The stand-out emotion here is love, which only just fails to reach down into the legs, but lights up the rest of the body with activity very successfully. The three centres of activity are head, heart and err…
The study’s lead author, Lauri Nummenmaa, explained:
“Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities […] Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”
And you here is Maria Popova’s introduction to Jeremy Dean’s book about making good habits…
“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle proclaimed. “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state,”William James wrote. But how, exactly, do we rewire our habits once they have congealed into daily routines? We already know that it takes more than “willpower.”
When he became interested in how long it takes for us to form or change a habit, psychologist Jeremy Dean found himself bombarded with the same magic answer from popular psychology websites and advice columns: 21 days. And yet, strangely — or perhaps predictably, for the internet — this one-size-fits-all number was being applied to everything from starting a running regimen to keeping a diary, but wasn’t backed by any concrete data. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick — which also gave us this fascinating read on the psychology of self-control — Dean, whose training is in research, explores the actual science of habits through the existing empirical evidence on habit-formation…
This notion of acting without thinking — known in science as “automaticity” — turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a central driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question at the heart of this inquiry: How long did it actually take for people to form a habit? Dean writes:
The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.
What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.
While the finding may at first appear disheartening, it’s actually oddly assuring in reminding us that habit, like genius, is merely a matter of doggedness and “deliberate practice” — in fact, this brings us to the lesser-cited yet pivotal second half of Aristotle’s famous dictum: “Excellence … is not an act but a habit.”
The family is the nucleus of civilisation. (Will Durant)
Steve McCurry’s new photo collection celebrates the family around the table in a series of heartwarming and poignant images from around the world, reminding us, again, how much more we have in common with each other than are our differences…
Researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time;
sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. (Anne Fishel, Ph.D.)
In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony. (Eva Burrows)
Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family. (Anthony Brandt)
Here is really helpful framework by Jeremy Anderberg for helping to get your journal off the ground and up and running. (Anderberg’s blog is concerned primarily with development for men, but these headings and questions can be easily taken and used by all of us). And, too, you might like to try to combine this with the journalling website 750 words mentioned in the first article in this post…
…When presented with a totally blank slate — that open journal, with pen in hand, and nothing but white pages — we freeze up. It’s been said that constraint actually gives way to greater creativity. When we have clear boundaries, or direction, we no longer have to think about the act itself. We don’t have to think about what to journal, we simply have to journal based on a prompt.
With that in mind, I’d like to present a 31-day roadmap and challenge for your journaling. Doing something for around 30 days is a great way to not only build a habit, but to also explore if it’s right for you. Maybe journaling isn’t for you, and you just have never taken the time to really prove that to yourself. Or maybe you love the practice, and simply haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Either way, I hope this calendar presents you with ample opportunity to take the journaling bull by the horns and experience all its benefits.
All of these can be accomplished in just 20-30 minutes per day, and often less. If you can’t make time for that, perhaps journaling isn’t as important to you as you really thought, and you’ve discovered right there that it’s not for you.
In this roadmap are many questions. In your journal — whether digital or by hand — you can simply write out the question at the top of the page, and answer as if having a conversation. Don’t worry about formality, how it may sound out loud, grammar, etc. Just write your thoughts. It may seem mundane, but there is a magical quality in writing something down that cannot be fully explained. You just have to trust me and try it out.
Note: I am of the opinion that this exercise should be 31 continuous days. However, you can also decide to do it over the course of a couple months, or just on weekdays; remember, this is for you, so if don’t enjoy what you’re doing and are just stressed out by the thought of it, it won’t work.
Day 1: Start with answering the question of why you want to journal, and beyond that, why you decided to embark on this 31-day experience. Write out what you’d like to get from journaling.
Day 2: Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a 6-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.
Day 3: Decide on one positive habit you’d like to implement in your life. …Then, think about the steps you’ll take to get there, and how you’ll keep yourself accountable.
Day 4: …pick a habit that you’d like to eliminate from your life. … And again, also think about how you’ll keep yourself accountable to that goal.
Day 5: Write a letter to a loved one. …The beauty of this letter is that you aren’t sending it in the mail, you’re simply “voicing” something that needs to be said. Should you choose to share it later, that’s okay, but you don’t have to…
Day 6: Pick a quote from [anywhere on the internet] and reflect on why it stands out to you. …If you can’t seem to reflect on a single quote, just take the time to write out a few of them that you like. Doing so will keep them top-of-mind and perhaps lead to some thoughts later down the road.
Day 7: You’ve made it one week! Reflect on what this newfound practice has been like. Getting through the first seven consecutive days is truly the hardest part. What have you enjoyed about it? What has been difficult? How has it been what you expected and what surprises have you had from it?
Day 8: Take some time today to reflect on your career. Jot down a timeline of it, including all the ups and downs. What was your best experience? And the worst? What would you like your future to look like, in terms of your career? If you’re a young person and haven’t started in yet, focus on that future part. What do you want your work to look like?
Day 9: On this day, simply write about your day. …The beauty of this exercise is that you may discover something that you hadn’t realised…
Day 10: Take a look at the hero’s journey, and identify where you are in that journey. Doing so can help you better understand where you are in life, and help you figure out where to go next. You can take it in the context of your entire life, or you can take it in the context of a certain phase of your life…
Day 11: Memento mori. “Remember that you will die.” Admittedly, this isn’t the most pleasant topic. There is, however, great benefit in meditating on the reality that at some point, you will in fact die. It motivates you to live the life right now that you want to be living. Meditate on this, and write out your thoughts…
Day 12: Give stream-of-consciousness writing a try. … for 10-15 minutes. You may uncover something — no matter how small — you hadn’t previously realized.
Day 13: Perform a mind dump of everything you’re worried about. From the leaky dishwasher to your family member’s poor health — get it all out… Getting all your stressors on paper may alleviate some of that pressure…
Day 14: Write a review of some form of entertainment you recently took in. Whether book or movie or TV show or Broadway play, write out what you liked and didn’t like about it…
Day 15: Come up with your own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors. There are innumerable great people from history who we can learn from today… Write out who you would have on your list and what you admire about them…
Day 16: Imagine that someone has decided to write a book about your life, just up to this point. What would the cover blurb say? Be honest here. Is it kind of boring? Are you happy with it? Now imagine what you’d like that blurb to say at the end of your life. What changes need to made for that to happen?
You will find all of these stories – and more – collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #79. Enjoy and best wishes making the start you most want to your new year.