Home » Blog » Tuesday Tips

Category: Tuesday Tips

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Lucky us: We live in a world where many of us have an abundance of choices–where to live, what to do for a living, and, of course, who to marry. Or whether to get married at all.

All these choices give us certain freedoms, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. They create certain perfectionistic expectations: If we aren’t perfectly happy with the one we love, for example, might we have chosen wrong? Should I make a different choice now? Would the grass be greener if I were with my high school sweetheart?

Here’s where I find John and Julie Gottman’s seminal research helpful for understanding the problems of long-term romantic relationships. Here are two key things I’ve learned from them:

First, all couples have problems. Think the grass might be greener? Remember you’re trading out one set of problems for another. It isn’t about finding a conflict-free relationship, or even about solving all of your relationship’s problems, but rather about accepting the problems you can live with.

In her book Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert offers a very useful metaphor for this, quoting her gem-buyer former husband:

A parcel is this random collection of gems that the miner puts together. Supposedly, you get a better deal that way—buying them all in a bunch—but you have to be careful, because [he’s] trying to unload his bad gemstones on you by packaging them together with a few really good ones.

After I got burned enough times, I learned this: You have to ignore the perfect gemstones. Just put them away and have a careful look at the really bad stones. Look at them for a long time, and then ask yourself honestly, “Can I work with these? Can I make something out of this?”

Spouses are much the same: They come with flawed bits as well as sparkly strengths. The question isn’t so much whether you want the sparkly parts (of course you do) but rather whether you can deal with the flaws.

Second, there are really only four types of problems. The key is knowing what type of problem you’ve got, and then deciding whether or not you can work with it. The four kinds of problems are:

(1) One-time, solvable problems. I think many of us bull-headed people assume that all problems are solvable. They’re not.

But some are. These tend to be the types of conflicts that arise from a unique situation rather than differences in our personalities.

Say you want a dog, but your partner doesn’t. This is a conflict that can, in theory, be solved, if you’ve got good conflict resolution skills. If you don’t resolve the conflict, it can turn into #2, below: a conflict that comes up again and again and again, until you just get the darn dog. Or you leave, and then get the dog.

(2) Cyclical conflicts. The Gottmans call these problems “perpetual issues.”  Unlike solvable problems, they are based on fundamental differences in your personalities, emotional needs, or ideas about how you’d like to live life—and they will never, ever go away. Period. Accept that now.

They can become workable, however. The classic example of this is the slob who is married to a neat-nick: She wants the house hospital-clean; he leaves piles of crap everywhere. Being neat is hard for him, but easy for her.

Even if he commits to putting his stuff away, she can’t really turn him into a neat-nick, and so this is a problem that will wax and wane. His efforts to be neat will gradually fade as he gets busy or stressed or just lazy. She’ll get frustrated and the conflict will resurface. He’ll redouble his efforts, and the conflict will fade again, and so on.

The question is not whether you can get the problem to go away completely—you can’t—but whether or not you can establish a constructive dialogue about it and make periodic headway toward solving it.

Cyclical conflicts can actually create intimacy: You’ve worked together to improve a problem, and that feels good. So the question is: Can you arrive at a workable solution, knowing that you will continue to revisit this throughout your time together?

These are the lesser-value gems. Can you work with them?

Some relationship problems are workable. Others aren't. Here's how to tell the difference. Click To Tweet

(3) If you can’t work with those imperfect gems, you’ve got a deal-breaker issue on the table. Abuse is a deal-breaker that sometimes masquerades as a cyclical conflict.

Other deal-breakers aren’t so obvious. I have a friend who couldn’t establish intimacy with her husband unless she was very upset and let him come to her rescue. She got tired of having to be stressed-out (or freaking out) in order to feel connected to him, and she realized this was a deal-breaker for her. If they couldn’t move the problem into a different category—making it a cyclical conflict based on their personality differences—she didn’t want to be in the relationship.

They started seeing a counselor to see if they could establish intimacy in other ways. They couldn’t. After a year of trying in vain to make headway on the problem, they parted ways.

(4) Wounding problems are similar to cyclical ones, in that they can be fights you have with your partner over and over and over. The difference is that you never really make any headway on the issue.

Wounding problems generate frustration and hurt, they get worse over time, and they lead to feeling unloved, unaccepted, and misunderstood. These conflicts are characterized by the presence of the four things that the Gottmans have long found to predict divorce: defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling (think of talking to a stone wall: The other person is totally disengaged).

Many couples can move their wounding problems into the cyclical conflict category by learning how to fight differently. Spouses who raise their issues with genuine respect and appreciation for their partner tend to engage in radically different discussions than spouses who launch headlong into a fight and hope to “win” it, blaming and vilifying the other.

So, should you stay or should you go? I shared this framework with a friend who is trying to decide whether or not to stay with her main squeeze.

She wants more romance; he thinks anything that smacks of Hallmark is needy and lame. She’d been thinking this could be a deal-breaker. “It’s NOT a deal-breaker!” she declared with obvious joy. “It’s a CYCLICAL CONFLICT!”

They talked about the conflict in a way that made them both feel understood and loved. He admitted that while romance was hard for him, he enjoyed making her feel loved. They established a dialogue, made some headway (he even brought her flowers the next day), AND have also accepted that this is something likely to arise again in the future.

Knowing that she has a cyclical problem on her hands, and not a deal-breaker, has given my friend some peace.  I hope having a better understanding of the problems that beset relationships also brings you a bit of well-being in this month of love.

Join the discussion: What types of relationship problems do you have? Inspire others by sharing your insights with folks in the comments, below.

*  *  *  *  *
If this post resonates with you, I hope you’ll join our Brave Over Perfect group coaching! Our March theme is all about love and marriage. We’ll show you how to transform even the most challenging relationships, and it’s only $20 to join us for three coaching calls. Get instant access to our group coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

happiness-tip-let-yourself-feel-what-you-feel-christine-carter

Happiness Tip: Let Yourself Feel What You Feel

We are living in an age of anxiety, and when we feel stressed out (or sad, or disappointed, for that matter) our world offers us a host of ways to NUMB those negative feelings, to not really feel them.

For example, we can spend hours on Facebook avoiding our feelings. Or we can eat the whole pan of brownies. Personally, I tend towards numbing my worries and other unpleasant feelings by staying very, very busy.

The problem is that when we numb unpleasant feelings, we numb everything that we are feeling. So to honestly feel the positive things in life — to truly feel love, or joy, or profound gratitude — we must also let ourselves feel fear, and grief, and frustration.

If you are feeling anxious or excited or proud, let yourself FEEL that emotion. Where in your body does it live? Is it in the pit of your stomach? In your throat? What, really, does it feel like? Does it have a shape, or a texture, or a color?

If we want to be happy, we need to practice feeling, to practice listening to our heart Click To Tweet

Even though it can be scary to expose ourselves to our strongest emotions, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor teaches us that most emotions don’t last longer than 90 seconds. What you’ll probably find is that if you can sit still with a strong emotion and let yourself feel it, even the worst emotional pain rises, crests, breaks, and recedes like a wave on the surf.

And after these emotions pass, we’ve usually gained something by experiencing them. Your emotions are how your heart talks to you, how it tells you what choices to make.

As Omid Kordestani, a senior advisor to Google, reminds us, “In life you make the small decisions with your head and the big decisions with your heart.” If we want to be happy, we need to practice feeling, to practice listening to our heart. This is the way to know who we are and what we want.

Take Action: What feeling have you been distracting yourself from lately? Take 90 seconds right now to just feel it.

Join the Discussion: How do you numb your emotions? Inspire others by leaving a comment below.

 

Happiness Tip: Lower Your Expectations

My father — the most disciplined person I’ve ever known — always quips that his “only goal is to climb a low mountain.” As an over-achieving kid, I never understood this assertion. Why would you only want to climb a low mountain?!

Turns out, low expectations can be a key to happiness. Sometimes we expect too much from our spouses, our children, our jobs, and ourselves. When our expectations are unrealistic, instead of inspiring greatness with the high bar we’ve set, we’re more likely to foster disappointment, or resentment, or even hatred in ourselves.

It’s not that we shouldn’t ever have high expectations; it’s just that we need to be aware of how our expectations can sometimes make us unhappy.

Turns out, low expectations are a key to happiness. Click To Tweet

Take Action: This week, reset an expectation: what is a more realistic and joyful goal? Then, refocus on the journey rather than the destination. What mountain can you climb that you will truly enjoy climbing, whether or not you ever make it to the top? How can you focus on the present moment — whatever you are doing right now — rather setting big goals and high expectations for the future?

Join the Discussion: Which of your high expectations are making you miserable? Are you afraid to lower your expectations? Have you ever felt happier — or been more successful — after lowering your expectations? Inspire others by leaving a comment below.

* * * * *

Believe it or not, the key to getting into a new habit is also low expectations! Design your own “better than nothing” workout to start a daily exercise habit. Learn more here. Use coupon code LOW50 to join my 21 Day Exercise Mini-Course for only $4.99.

.

Three Risky Ways to Fall Deeply in Love

Love feels magical and biological—something that just happens to us, something beyond our control. Research shows, however, that love is better thought of as behavioral—or even transactional. Yes, hormones play a role, but much more important is how we act with the object of our affection. We do certain things, and those actions foster the emotions we associate with being in love. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0, we create our feelings of love, day after day. Or we don’t create them, and love fades.

So what actions lead to love? Here are three – in honor of Valentine’s Day – all based on fostering vulnerability. Before you run for the woods, hear me out. Yes, vulnerability can be uncomfortable because it involves, by definition, emotional exposure, uncertainty, and risk. But vulnerability allows trust and intimacy to develop and deepen, creating strong feelings of connection and love.

Action #1: Take a risk together.

Researchers think we tend to unconsciously conflate the high-arousal induced by doing something risky with the high-arousal of intense attraction—the two states feel similar. This creates a similar biochemistry and physiology as when we are first falling in love.

This Valentine’s Day, go straight for that adrenaline rush by doing something risky. Venture to an unknown place that feels a little daunting. Visit a karaoke bar, and actually sing. Try a new sport, one where you risk feeling silly or uncoordinated.

Action #2: Get naked…emotionally.

What can you reveal to your partner that he or she doesn’t already know about you? Ask your date intimate questions to which you aren’t sure you know the answer. We come to like people more when we engage in escalating, gradual back-and-forth “personal self-disclosure.”

Love comes from action, not waiting to be adored. Click To Tweet

Researchers have long been able to create profound feelings of being in love through self-disclosure (even between strangers!). Check out the 36 questions that Arthur Aron and his colleagues used to do this in the lab. And don’t forget: How you respond when your partner is making him or herself vulnerable is also important. (Hint: turn off your phone and pay attention.)

Action #3: Gaze into each other’s eyes.

Directly, for four full minutes. Set a timer. Don’t talk. Breathe. Relax.

This technique has been widely cited as a part of the experiment by Arthur Aron and pals—though I haven’t been able to find reference to it in a published study. Still, this seems like a very solid tactic for creating feelings of intimacy and love.

Stanford researcher Fred Luskin has people do this in his workshops, and it definitely creates big feelings of vulnerability. (Which is good, remember. The exposure is terrifying, but that is what we are after here.)

Take Action: Choose one or more of the three actions above to do with your Valentine and then make a plan for making it happen.

Join the Discussion: What other ideas do you have for making yourself vulnerable in the service of greater intimacy and connection?

* * * * *

If you want more intimacy in your key relationships, you will love my eCourse, The Science of Finding Flow! Enroll now for $99 using the coupon code FLOW99. This is a steal, friends–that’s more than half off! Enroll here.

Photo by James Marvin Phelps

Happiness Tip: Take Time to Rest

This may be “the happiest time of year” for some, but if it isn’t for you, I think it’s at least in part because we get so darn tired. Let this be your friendly reminder to actually take time to rest between now and January 2nd.

I used to find it hard to rest at this time of the year because I wouldn’t take real vacation time — I’d close my office, but then still check email and keep up with people asking questions in my online classes. I’d be home, so that I can spend time with my kids who are also home from school, but I’d be working from home.

Eventually, I learned that working from home and trying to take some vacation time with the kids home is a terrible strategy for me. What would have been work in a quiet office became work in a busy holiday household of four teenagers, an active dog, and loads of visitors. If I were to accomplish anything at all, it would require Olympic-level multi-tasking and massive interruption management.

Research shows that this sort of multi-tasking tends to result in more errors, and makes us feel more exhausted. We humans need rest in order to be productive. We make better sprinters than marathoners when it comes to work; as much as we might like to be able to keep producing 24/7, our physical reality prevents this.

Take Action: This year, join me in resting more. I’ve changed; I’ll be taking well over a week of actual vacation time. I can’t wait to sit by the fire and read…and let myself fall asleep if I need to! The days are short–nature is helping us out on this one. I’ll be watching to see if this ironically helps me get more done during the week, as productivity experts would predict.

Join the Discussion: What can you cut out of your work or holiday schedule in the next week or so to make a little time for rest and relaxation? Can you clear some time to do nothing but recuperate? Share with us by commenting below!

Take a Hike

My grandmother always told me that getting outside for a little walk could clear our heads and lift our spirits; now we have plenty of neuroscience to show that she was, of course, correct!

When we’ve been feeling angry or had a “fight or flight” response, physical activity can help us feel better by clearing the adrenaline out of our system.

Physical movement makes us happier, in part by fostering the neurochemicals in your body and brain that leave you happier and more relaxed. Doctors in the UK often prescribe exercise as a first-line treatment for depression it’s so effective!

Exercise may just be the best short-term happiness booster we know of #FindingFlow Click To TweetExercise may just be the best short-term happiness booster we know of.” username=”raisinghappines”]

The next time you start to feel anxious, get up and get moving. Like happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says: Exercise — even just a little walk around the block with the dog or the baby — may just be the best short-term happiness booster we know of.

Do you need support getting in the habit of getting more physical activity? If so, you aren’t alone, and I really hope you’ll consider joining me in my brand new online class designed to get you into an exercise habit for the rest of your life. Here’s what’s best about it: It’s SUPER FUN, and you can do it even if you don’t have enough time to go to the gym. My new Establish an Exercise Habit Mini-Course is only $9.99, and over the course of 21 days, it’ll deliver all the science you need to establish and keep an exercise habit. The mini-course includes access to a private Facebook Group for moral support and online coaching from me, Dr. Christine Carter.

 21 Day Mini-Course: Establish an Exercise Habit - Dr. Christine Carter

Join the Discussion: Have you noticed a positive change in your mood after a good stroll? Share in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Jim Sorbie via Flickr. 

Are You Busy or Productive?

Until a couple of years ago, every time someone would ask me how I was doing, I would always give the same answer: I am so busy. Extremely busy. Crazy busy.

I wore my exhaustion like a trophy, as a sign of my strength and a mark of my character. (At one point I ran a Mother’s Day half-marathon with a fever, not wanting to disappoint my family who’d driven 5 hours to watch me.) The busier I was, the more important I felt. I was committed to pressing on, despite clear signs that I was headed for a fall.

I had been done in by our culture’s big lie, which is:  Busyness is a marker of importance, of character, of economic security.

And this means that the reverse must also be true: If we aren’t busy, we lack importance. We’re insignificant. We’re under-achieving. We’re weak. Un-busy people are lazy, not to be liked or trusted.

Let’s think for a minute about what it really means when we say that we are busy.

If I tell you I’m busy, it isn’t because I’ve just spent an hour hiking, or playing with my dog. It isn’t because I’ve spent the whole afternoon working on an engaging project, and lost all sense of time. I won’t lead with “I’m so busy” if I’m feeling passionate about something I’m writing, or if I feel super creative and productive and efficient and at ease.

I will only tell you I’m busy if I’m hurried. A little on edge. Doing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really capture my interest or imagination. If you tell me that you are busy, your unconscious is hinting to me that you are a little unhappy or overtired, that you are willing to sacrifice your well-being for your career or your boss or your team at work, or for the long-term success of your children, or doing what you (or other people) think you “should” be doing.

Busy-ness does not make us happy. It also does not make us successful.

The truth is that busyness is a mark of what neuroscientists call “cognitive overload.” This state of feeling overwhelmed impairs our ability to think creatively, to plan, organize, innovate, solve problems, make decisions, resist temptations, learn new things easily, speak fluently, remember important social information (like the name of our boss’s daughter, or our daughter’s boss), and control our emotions. In other words, it impairs basically everything we need to do in a given day.

Cognitive overload is a sign that we aren’t fulfilling our potential. Click To TweetCognitive overload – busyness – is a not a sign that we are important or productive. It is a sign that we aren’t fulfilling our potential.” username=”raisinghappines”]

Cognitive overload–busyness–is a not a sign that we are important or productive. It is a sign that we aren’t fulfilling our potential.

It’s also a sign that we aren’t as physically healthy as we could be. Scott Dannemiller, in his post “Busy is a Sickness,” quotes Dr. Suzanne Koven, an internist at the Massachusetts General Hospital:

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

Busyness causes health problems. And yet the type of busyness we are talking about is entirely within our control (as opposed to the busyness of someone living in poverty, working multiple minimum-wage jobs just to keep the lights on and the children fed). The busyness of the affluent and middle-class is an illness we are choosing, “like voluntarily licking the door handle of a preschool bathroom,” writes Dannemiller.

Let’s stop choosing busyness.

Take Action: Here are 5 tactics to help dial back the overwhelm:

  1. Stare into Space
  2. Find the “Minimum Effective Dose”
  3. Change Your Mantra
  4. Single Task
  5. Clear Mental Clutter by Making a Plan

Pick the one that feels easiest for you, and then make it a routine!

Join the Discussion: Which of these tactics works best for you? What else helps you feel less busy? Do you agree that busyness is an illness we are choosing?

christine-carter-christinecarter.com

Photo courtesy of Tim Caynes.

Why I Aim to be a “Deeply Disciplined Half-Ass”

Throughout my life, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with hard work.

I credit both my past successes and my past anxiety problems to how hard I’ve worked, to the strive-y part of me that always wants to be right, always wants to be the best, that always wants to do everything perfectly.

Ironically, I’ve worked hard to minimize this strive-y part of my personality. I’ve become quite wary of my past “blood, sweat, and tears” method for getting things done, in part because I tend to conflate perseverance with perfectionism. Fortunately, the two things are not actually the same! There’s nothing wrong with perseverance towards a worthy goal, especially when the mere pursuit of it— the process — is joyful. But perfectionism is the tendency to persevere well past the “good enough” stage, to persevere even when an activity or project becomes joyless, painful, or counter-productive in some way.

There are a lot of problems with perfectionism. For starters, perfectionism is not a happiness habit. Perfectionists are prone to depression and severe anxiety, and they are more likely to commit suicide when things go really wrong.

A lot of people incorrectly assume, as I used to, that perfectionism will propel them to the top of their field (or their kids to the top of their class or their teams). But perfectionism doesn’t contribute to success. To the contrary, perfectionism tends to detract from success. Here’s why:

  • Perfectionism creates a steady state of discontent fueled by a stream of negative emotions like fear, frustration, and disappointment. Negative emotions drain our energy and reduce our cognitive abilities.
  • Because failure is not an option for perfectionists, fear of failure becomes a driving force. All that fear diverts energy from more constructive things, making perfectionists less able to learn and be creative. Perfectionists expend a lot of energy on the things they are desperately trying to avoid: failure and the criticism they imagine it will create. Ironically, this preoccupation has been shown to undermine performance in sports, in academics, and in social situations.
  • Perfectionism — like all fixed-mindset thinking — keeps us from taking risks and embracing challenge. Rising to a challenge is one of the best ways to go from being good at something to being great.
  • Perfectionism leads us to conceal our mistakes and avoid getting constructive feedback. In nearly every field — writing groups are the most obvious example here — group critique is a rapid way to get better at something.

Perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think.

Perfectionism is not a happiness habit. Click To Tweet

About ten years ago I was able to get my perfectionism under control, but the tendency (for me) is always there. Here’s the weirdest thing about me: At times I’m a little anxious that I don’t feel guiltier for not constantly striving to earn myself an A+ in every little realm of my life.

For this reason and many others, I am totally in love with Liz Gilbert’s most recent book, Big Magic. In it, she clarifies: Success and happiness aren’t just about not being perfectionistic. They come when we actually allow ourselves to be mediocre, if that’s what it takes to complete a project or task. We don’t need to feel guilty about the areas in our lives where we’re half-assing it, she assures us, when we prioritize completing tasks and projects over perfecting them. She explains:

The great American novelist Robert Stone once joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist. Indeed, those are the essential ingredients for torpor and misery, right there. If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. Click To TweetIn any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death.” username=”raisinghappines”]

“Become a deeply disciplined half-ass” is some of the best happiness advice I’ve ever heard. And in a world where people begin loads of projects but are too busy (or afraid of not being good enough) to complete much of anything, completion is a strategy that will put you ahead of the pack.

If you need more discipline, think about cultivating work rituals or developing some new habits. If you struggle with perfectionism, read Big Magic — you will be granted permission to become your most authentic, good-enough self.

Want more tips for conquering perfectionism, or developing discipline? Sign up to receive Tuesday Tips straight to your inbox!

christine-carter-5-ways-to-get-more-done-in-less-time-webinar

How To Remain Productive Over The Summer

Researchers believe that the brains in both humans and animals evolved to feel calmed by repetitive behavior, and that our daily rituals and habits are a primary way to manage stress. Ever notice that you always drive to work the same way, even though there are dozens of other routes? Or that you always put deodorant on right after you brush your hair?

Each of us has hundreds of little habits that carry us through the day. The fast-paced world we live in can feel quite unpredictable, but our daily rituals can help us feel more in control, often without us ever realizing it.

But then here we are…in the middle of the summer. I don’t know about you, but my routines are falling apart. I found this old conversation between me and my daughter from the archives:

Me: Uh, let’s see. This week is Girl Scout Camp. So you need to pack a lunch. And a swim suit. And a towel. Oh wait, you have a BBQ today, so no lunch but you do need to bring—oh, darn. We’re supposed to bring dessert. How fast can we make Rice Krispie treats?

Fiona: Can’t we just buy something on the way? What time does camp start?

Me: I think 9:30. But I have a meeting at 9:00. I might drop you off early.

Fiona: I think that’s against the rules. They gave us a big rule book, you know. Who’s driving me home?

Me: Uh. Hmmm. I’ll check the schedule and call Debbie so she can text her daughter, who’ll tell you.

Fiona: Cell phones aren’t allowed at Girl Scout Camp.

Me: Oh yeah. That’s why we love it.

There is so much to love about summer, but let’s be real: The lack of routine can be a little hellish. Which makes the importance of habit for keeping us sane even more salient over the summer.

Over the years, as I’ve sought to make my summers less chaotic and more productive, I’ve learned that summer is the perfect time to practice getting into good habits and routines. Creating habits is a skill, just like learning a new sport, and when we practice, we get better.

Here are eight research-based steps for creating new routines this summer:

1. Contemplate a change you’d like to make in your life. What do you need to be healthier and happier? For example, one of my clients wants more energy to accomplish her goals; to feel better she’ll need to get more sleep, which affects our intellectual ability, our physical health, and our emotions. Habits like sleep, exercise, or meditation—anything that creates a platform for more good habits—are what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a “keystone habit.” Which of your routines has the power to change your mood or outlook on life?

2. Do your homework. We know that people go through stages when they are making changes, and before we spring into action, we need to prepare. So if more sleep is your goal, maybe you need to read up on what it takes to get a better night’s rest or buy a new pillow.

Caution: Research shows that you will probably feel tempted to stop here, after you’ve bought the book and the pillow. Feel good about getting started, but please don’t stop before you’ve actually begun.

3. Make your goal public or find a friend to hold you accountable. This is where that post-Memorial Day FAQ (“What are you doing this summer?”) comes in handy. Telling lots of folks what we are shooting for can dramatically increase the odds we’ll actually do it. For starters, comment here to let us know what habit you’d like to get in this summer.

4. Make a list. Write down all of the small changes you’ll need to make in order to reach your goal. For example, if you are trying to get more sleep, you might want to stop drinking coffee after 11:00 am, turn off the computer at 9:00 pm, get the kids to do their own laundry so you don’t have to do it after-hours, get in bed by 10:00 pm, read a book instead of watching TV in bed, etc.

5. Pick a super-easy first step. Look at your list: What is the easiest thing on it? Now, what one tiny step can you take toward that already-small thing? Maybe it would be easy for you to go to bed 10 minutes early tonight, or to replace your afternoon coffee with decaf. Do the thing that is easiest and most appealing to you.

6. Anchor that first step within an existing routine. In other words, add it to something you already do habitually. The trick is to work with the same cue that triggers the existing habit. You already are in the habit of putting toothpaste on your toothbrush at night; if you want to start flossing, your super-easy-first-step could be to get the floss out with your toothpaste.

7. Visualize success. Spend a few minutes every morning thinking about your goal. What will prevent you from succeeding? What exactly will you do when you face the obstacle you imagine? Now, revel in how you will feel when you do succeed. Soak up those warm feelings.

8. Celebrate each time you do this ridiculously easy thing every day for a week. Got into bed 10 minutes early tonight? WHOO-HOO! Have a little party in your mind. (I learned this, and a lot more, from Stanford’s BJ Fogg. I cannot recommend his free 3 Tiny Habits program highly enough.)

When you’ve accomplished one small thing, choose an equally-unambitious next step. You are more likely reach your goal by taking a series of teensy steps than if you try to do it all at once.

The key to successfully changing your life in a summer? Practice. Practice creating new habits by mastering one ridiculously easy behavior at a time, slowly making them automatic.

Here is the really good news: Your good habits are contagious, highly likely to spread to your friends, your family, and especially your children. So consider that good night’s sleep a contribution to the greater good.

If you’re looking for more support in creating a more productive environment, check out my latest eCourse, The Science of Finding Flow. In 9 self-paced units, I’ll show you how to optimize your brain so that you can allow your most joyful, productive, energetic, and successful self to emerge. I’ll teach you how to be happy while accomplishing your goals — and while still having energy left over for the things you want to do.

Photo by Ben McIver.

19 Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress

A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds extraordinary levels of workplace stress, with only about half of workplaces offering wellness or stress-reduction programs.

If your workplace is stressful and your employer isn’t helping, here are some things you can do for yourself:

  1. Stop checking your email compulsively. Instead, check it strategically.
  2. While you are at it, stop checking your phone constantly, too. For example, take a break and go for a walk outside — but leave your phone at your desk.
  3. Minimize interruptions. Interruptions contribute to stress and overwhelm, making us feel conflicted and time-pressured. As we shift our focus between tasks–as when we steal a glance at our email while we are working on a presentation–it increases our perception that we have too much to do in the time that we have to do it.
  4. Take work-free vacations.
  5. Unplug from technology one full weekend day per week.
  6. Establish “predictable time off” with your colleagues and family. When will you commit to not working? Start with dinnertime, work up to weekends.
  7. Take recess throughout the day.
  8. Stop talking about how stressed and busy you are. You’re training your brain to see all the reasons you should be freaking out and overwhelmed.
  9. Create an anti-busyness ritual.
  10. Change your notion of what makes someone an “ideal worker.”
  11. Let yourself really  focus on something. Find your flow — time will seem to stand still.
  12. Create a more effective to-do list.
  13. Only do the things that you want to do. Really.
  14. Breathe out. Twice.
  15. Do a short loving-kindness meditation.
  16. Take a lunch break.
  17. Single task.
  18. Develop a way to “give good no.” As in: “Thank you so much for asking, but that isn’t going to work out for me right now.”
  19. Learn how to accomplish more by working less.

If you need help managing workplace stress, I hope you’ll check out my latest eCourse, The Science of Finding Flow. In 9 self-paced units, I’ll show you how to optimize your brain so that you can allow your most joyful, productive, energetic, and successful self to emerge. I’ll teach you how to be happy while accomplishing your goals — and while still having energy left over for the things you want to do. Enroll now!

To listen to my full interview on NPR and learn additionals ways to reduce workplace stress, click here.