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Habits are everything

Habits Are Everything

You might know how to be happy, but can you do it?

Watch a video of any elite athlete or performer before a big game or show, and you will likely see one thing: their pre-performance habits, the things that they do every single time in exactly the same way.

This is because habits are everything. Not just for game-day, and not just for elite performers. For normal people like you and I, for raising our children, for being happy in our relationships, for being happy as individuals.

Our routines and habits allow us to access a part of our brain that runs on relatively little gas. The newer (in evolutionary terms) part of your brain—your smarty-pants pre-frontal cortex, the area that sets you apart from the family dog—works pretty well. But it requires effort and willpower to make it tick. The more you use it throughout a day, the less reliable it becomes. Low blood sugar? Your decision-making will falter, whether you realize it or not.

Good thing there is a back-up plan in the older part of your brain: your basal ganglia, a primitive knob of tissue deep in your noggin that acts as your own personal auto-pilot. It controls your breathing, and swallowing, and that weird way that you sometimes drive to work while sort-of unconscious.

Your basal gangla is, among other things, your habit center. And once it is programed, it requires no effort on your part to accomplish truly amazing feats. (Really. Charles Duhigg, in his inspiring book The Power of Habit, gives a detailed account of the way Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps won his world records by honing his habits.)

This means that when we are too tired to think—as we often are—we default to our habits. Which made me realize: Our habits are our most critical cornerstones for happiness.

I have long advocated finding habits and routines that actually work.  It doesn’t have to be the most efficient or productive routine; it’s simply one that makes us feel good, or at least it doesn’t make us feel bad.

We need a dinnertime routine that creates feelings of gratitude rather than annoyance, for example, and a morning routine that doesn’t make us want to lay our heads down and cry before we even get to work. We also need bedtime routines for ourselves and our children that don’t leave us exhausted and irritable.

An important caveat: Cultivating habits and routines doesn’t mean that we go through life mindlessly. I mention this because mindfulness—when we consciously pay attention to what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing in the present moment, without judging our thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad”—is a research-tested way to reduce our stress and, generally, be happier.

How can we be mindful about things we do habitually?

Well, consider how we breathe. On the one hand, our breathing is on auto-pilot—we aren’t thinking, “Okay, now I need to breathe in! Now breathe out! And in! And out!” At the same time, though, we can pay attention to our breath as a part of a meditation or another relaxation practice.

So when we make something a habit—say, washing the dishes right after dinner—we don’t need to become mindless about it—we can still pay attention to the way the water feels on our hands, for instance, or even appreciate the fact that we have dishes and food to eat off of in the first place. Habits can make something relatively routine and effortless, but not necessarily mindless. In fact, I find it much easier to be mindful about something once it is a habit—once I’m not trying to figure out what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to do it, or even IF I’m going to do something.

So our habits can routinely make us feel grateful, or joyful, and they can prompt us to pay attention and be mindful. But HOW?

I have spent years pondering this question, subjecting my clients and readers to my habit tracker and methods for getting into better routines.

Habits are a critical component of the happiness equation. It is one thing to know what to do to be happy (or to raise happy children, or to create a happy marriage) but it is quite another thing to actually be able to do those things. You know that you should exercise and meditate and eat kale, for example. But do you often do those things? Perhaps the missing piece is a habit.


What bad habit would you like to kick in the coming year? What new habit would make you a happier person, or happier parent, or happier spouse? If you’d like support, I hope you’ll consider enrolling in Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. Our January theme is all about setting and keeping the right resolutions. Get instant access to three live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, worksheets, and online resources. Use the code BESTYEARYET to enroll for just $10.

Learn more or enroll now. Cheers to making 2019 your happiest year yet!

 

3 Resolutions to Make You Happier

I do understand why people don’t like New Year’s resolutions: they can be a source of failure, year after year. Folks often pick resolutions that are inherently unrewarding, that necessitate relentless hard work, or that remind them of their mortality in a way that makes them feel small instead of grateful.

This year, make the right resolution. Make the wrong one and you won’t keep it; you’ll just add another habit to the “fail” list. This year, pick just one resolution that research shows will make you happier. Here are are three of my favorites:

1. Spend more time with friends. Study after study shows that we tend to be happier when we feel connected to our nearest and dearest, when we feel like we are a part of a group or a clan. Even introverts don’t like to feel lonely; this may seem like the science of the blazingly obvious, but it bears repeating. Do you frequently feel isolated or lonely? Make a resolution to routinely reach out to others.

2. Every day, find a way to give something to somebody. My favorite happiness booster is to give thanks: to a higher power for the abundance that surrounds me; to my dad for taking my kids to ice cream; to my husband for all the ways he makes me giggle. Equally good is to give something else—a helping hand, a compliment, a much needed $5 bill—even if it is just a tiny act of kindness. In a world that is more focused on getting than giving, a New Year’s resolution to do one kind thing each day is a pretty radical act. When we make giving a habit, we make gratitude and kindness central themes in our lives. In so doing, we transform our lives with joy.

3. Get more sleep. The science around this is clear: You’ll be less stressed, less sick, and less grouchy in the New Year if you get more shut-eye. Try increasing your sleep 10 minutes a night for a week, and then another 10 the next week, and so on until you are regularly getting your eight hours.

It is miraculous to me that people can change themselves simply because they want to. New Year’s resolutions are an amazing act of creation, an art form where the canvas is the self.


Want more advice for keeping New Year’s resolutions? Enroll in Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. Our January theme is all about setting and keeping the right resolutions. Get instant access to three live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, worksheets, and online resources. Use the code BESTYEARYET to enroll for just $10.

Learn more or enroll now. Cheers to making 2019 your happiest year yet!

Why New Year’s Resolutions Work

 

Thinking of making a New Year’s Resolution this year? This quick, research-based explanation by Dr. Mike Evans of why New Year’s Resolutions are a great way to make positive changes is an essential watch!

And those tools Dr. Evans mentions at the end? I’ll give them to you! Join my Brave Over Perfect Coaching Group. Gain support in forming a new habit or would like to be a part of a community of people on a similar journey. We’re kicking off the year talking about New Year’s Resolutions and how to create new habits for ourselves. Use the code BESTYEARYET to enroll for just $10. Learn more or enroll now.

 

3 Signs You Won’t Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Like most self-help authors and coaches, I love New Year’s Resolutions.

Weeks ago I started asking my kids what theirs were going to be. I have a fantasy that January 1st will be THE day we launch headlong into our new-and-improved lives. I LOVE a fresh start, and there is nothing fresher than the first week in January.

But I know better.

By strongly “encouraging” my friends, family and readers to make New Year’s Resolutions, I’m failing to recognize that people don’t just make resolutions and then the next day spring into lasting action. I may wish this was possible, but research shows that it probably isn’t.

For the last four decades, behavior change researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente have written extensively about how people actually do change.

According to Prochaska and DiClemente, people change in stages. They go from not even really considering making a change, to contemplating making one, to preparing to make the change…and THEN (and only then) do they spring into action. The actual behavior change (like starting to exercise, or going on a diet) is not the first stage of change, but the fourth.

Here’s the long and the short of it: To be successful in a New Year’s Resolution, you need to be in that fourth stage of change. What stage are you in?

1.) You sorta want to make a change…in theory…but in your heart of hearts, you know you don’t intend to make that change just yet. Or maybe you don’t really want to make the change, but someone else is pressuring you to make a New Year’s Resolution. Maybe your doctor has mentioned that she’d like you to lose weight, or perhaps your husband wants you to go to church more often. You can see their point, and you aren’t entirely opposed to the idea, but…just reading this you can feel your resistance rising.

You probably know this, but you aren’t ready to make a New Year’s Resolution. If you do make one at this stage, you’ll probably fail. You’re in the first stage of change, which is called “Pre-contemplation.” Prochaska, in his book Changing to Thrive, details three primary reasons that people get stuck in this stage; perhaps you can recognize one of these reasons in yourself:

  • You don’t know how to make the change you’d like to make.
  • You’re feeling demoralized by previous attempts to make similar changes and don’t want to fail again.
  • You’re in denial — you tend to defend yourself or rationalize your behavior when others suggest you make a change.

If you are at this stage of change, instead of making a New Year’s Resolution this year you’ll do better (again, according to Prochaska’s research) to make a list of all the good reasons, or “pros,” to make the change. How will you benefit? How long can you make this list of “pros”? Just start contemplating these things for now.

2.) You’re thinking about making a change, but you’re still worried about the drawbacks to doing so. Perhaps you’re considering starting a meditation practice, and you are aware of the benefits. But you also are pretty sure that you don’t have enough time to be regular about it, and your back hurts a lot when you’ve tried meditating before. Or maybe you’d like to cut back on your drinking, but you hate the idea of being the teetotaler at the party–you’re afraid the people you’re with will think you’re uptight and unfun. Your doubts are keeping you from getting started.

I’m in this stage of change in thinking about cutting gluten out of my diet once and for all. I’m aware of the benefits for someone like me (I’m very sensitive to gluten — the angry rash on my face makes this quite clear) but a life without sourdough bread doesn’t quite seem worth living. Yet. Right now it’s easier for me to really think a lot about going fully gluten-free, without actually doing anything. By thinking about something (but not taking action) I feel like I actually am doing something about the rash on my face (even though I’m not). This is safe, because I don’t risk failing, given that I’m not actually doing anything to change.

If this is you, you’re in the second stage of change, “Contemplation.” Before you take action or commit to a resolution, you’ll need to deal with your list of drawbacks to the change, or the “cons” that are holding you back. If you’re worried you don’t have enough time to meditate, for example, you’ll need to convince yourself otherwise. Can you find five minutes in the morning? How can you convince yourself that this will be worth it? Finding the benefits of making a change for others can be enormously helpful in this stage. How will your friends and family benefit from your change? How can you use these benefits to assuage your fear about how others will perceive your change?

3 Signs You Won't Keep Your New Year’s Resolution #NewYearsResolutions Click To Tweet

3.) You do truly intend to change, but you still feel some dread about it. You’re out of denial, in that you recognize that you really do need to change — or you’ve solved the problem of not knowing how to make a change (for example, by joining my Brave Over Perfect coaching group). Your list of benefits is longer than your list of drawbacks. The only thing you have to surmount now is fear of failure. This third stage of change is called “preparation.”

The way to move from here into action is to take an honest look at how the change you are preparing for can truly make your life better. How do you think and feel about yourself as you are right now, if you never change the behavior in question? Maybe you are often stressed, and you’re seriously thinking about getting in an exercise habit to combat this. Without more physical activity, you think of yourself as sedentary and out of shape, and you feel stressed and anxious. Now, imagine yourself having made the change you are looking for. How will you think of yourself differently? Most importantly, how will you feel?

Sometimes, on New Year’s Eve — or in life — we feel pressured to commit to changes we just aren’t ready to make. If you aren’t ready to spring into action, there’s no harm in that. Please realize that you have more options than either making a resolution (and probably failing, if you aren’t in the fourth stage of change) or doing nothing at all. All you need to do to grow is to move from one stage of change to the next!

Already made a resolution, but now it seems like you might not be ready to leap into action? Please check out my Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. January is all about setting you up to cultivate a lasting habit. You’ll get real resultsUse the code BESTYEARYET to enroll for just $10. Learn more or enroll now.

Parenting Video: The Neuroscience of Happy Memories

You can definitely try this at home! There are three steps to Rick Hanson’s “Taking in the Good” technique:

1. Teach kids to notice the good things that are all around them. Practice actively looking for the positive: Those flowers we planted in the fall are blooming; our neighbor was so nice to help us with a difficult project; school was particularly fun today. Regular gratitude practices, as discussed here, help with this. The key, according to Hanson, is to “turn positive facts into positive experiences.”

2. Draw out—really savor—those positive experiences. This aspect changed the way my kids and I do our “3 good things” practice at bedtime. The idea is not just to hold something positive in our awareness for as long as possible, but also to remember the positive emotions that go along with them. Now my kids list something that is good about their day (e.g., they had fun with their friends) and we really think about how good it felt to be playing and enjoying friendship. This evokes what was rewarding about a “good thing,” and helps use our brain chemistry to strengthen connections associated with the memory.

3. Let it all sink in. Have your kids imagine that the good thing you were just talking about “is entering deeply into [their] mind and body, like the sun’s warmth into a T-shirt, water into a sponge, or a jewel placed in a treasure chest in your heart,” as Hanson puts it.

This practice is based on Chapter 4 of Rick Hanson’s fabulous book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, & Wisdom (New Harbinger Publications, 2009). You can find a synopsis of this chapter in Greater Good here.

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If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below.
DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO VERSION HERE.

 

This video is the 4th in a series about high impact happiness routines from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Check out the rest of the Homestudy here.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Making the Holidays More Meaningful – and Less Materialistic

Last year about this time, an Instagram photo showing a mountain of shiny wrapped presents – nearly as large as the seven-foot Christmas tree behind it – went viral. I love Hanukkah and Christmas (we celebrate both in our family); at the same time, all the gift buying and present bragging is cause for worry.

Kids who grow up to pursue wealth and material possessions tend to be less satisfied with their lives. They’re not as happy, and they experience fewer positive emotions each day. Research finds materialism in students is also associated with lower-quality relationships and feeling less connected to other people.

There are two things that tend to influence how materialistic kids are.

The first is obvious: Consciously or not, we adults socialize kids to be materialistic. When parents – as well as peers and celebrities – model materialism, kids care more about wealth and luxury. So when parents are materialistic, kids are likely to follow suit. Same thing with advertising: The more exposure kids get to advertising, the more likely they are to be materialistic.

Materialism is worth combating, especially over the holidays. Click To Tweet

The less obvious factor behind materialism has to do with the degree to which our needs are being fulfilled. When people feel insecure or unfulfilled – because of poverty or because a basic psychological need like safety, competence, connectedness or autonomy isn’t being met – they often to try to quell their insecurity by striving for wealth and a lot of fancy stuff. Because of this, relatively poor teenagers ironically tend to be more materialistic than wealthy ones. And less nurturing and more emotionally cold mothers tend to have more materialistic children.

So materialism and the behaviors that go with it – desiring and buying brand name clothes and luxury items – can be symptoms of insecurity and a coping strategy used to alleviate feelings of self-doubt or bolster a poor self-image. But if what kids are really seeking is greater happiness and fulfillment, materialism is a terrible coping method. At best, it will only provide short-term relief; in the long-run it is likely to actually deepen feelings of insecurity.

 

Materialism is worth combating, especially over the holidays when it seems to reach a fever pitch in our culture.

I think the best way to combat materialism over the holidays is to prioritize connection with friends and family and neighbors. My teens would rather be with their friends than anyone else most of the time, but this is the time of the year when we insist on family first.

For example, the weekend before Christmas, my cousins always fly in from Massachusetts and Washington and Florida for a big extended family Christmas party, complete with a funny “Yankee Swap” (aka “white elephant” gift exchange). My mom makes spritz cookies with the kids, a tradition started in Germany with her mother. We light the candles of the menorah and say prayers each night during Hanukkah, something my husband’s Jewish family has been teaching us.

All of this is about renewing our sense that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Let me not mince words here: This sense that we are connected and part of a larger whole is the single strongest predictor of happiness that we have. It is true that the holidays have become depressingly commercial in our culture, with a massive focus on what each individual will get and what kids want in terms of material gifts.

But we can choose to focus on relationships instead of individual gift lists this holiday season. Not surprisingly, people who focus on family or religion during the holidays report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t.


Originally posted on US News & World Report, December 2017


Do you need support finding more meaning in your life? I hope you’ll consider joining our Brave Over Perfect coaching group.  Learn more or enroll now. Cheers to making 2019 your happiest year yet!

20 Questions to Ask at Your Holiday Dinner

Like many families, ours followed this year’s midterm elections with passion. This will no doubt give us lots to talk about over the holidays and this week at Thanksgiving.

To be honest, this could stir considerable conflict. Our family is diverse: we are gay and straight; Black, white, and Latino; we are Fundamentalist Christian, Liberal Christian, Unitarian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, and Atheist; we are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; we come from suburban and urban communities. We will be 32 strong at our California Christmas dinner, with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents hailing from Florida, Washington, and Boston.

So even if politics are on all our minds, we can give political conversation a rest for one meal, because as a family we are not defined by our politics. I believe we are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. So this year, under each holiday plate, I will place one of the questions below, to spur the kind of conversation where we truly listen to one another, so we can get to know each other better. Even though I’ve known most of the people at the table since birth — or they’ve known me since I was born — we still have so much to learn about each other.

We are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. Click To Tweet

Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. This, in turn, is likely to make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about here). So here’s an extra challenge: See if you can get the adults to weave their answers to the questions below into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together.

A printable copy of this list is here.

  1. What do you remember about previous houses you’ve lived in? Which one did you like the best?
  2. For an adult: What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have? How was your life better? How was it worse? For a kid: What do you have that previous generations didn’t have? How would your life be better without it? How would it be worse?
  3. Has anything ever happened at a family wedding or event that you’ll never forget?
  4. Think of some relatives that have passed away in the last few years. What would they be likely to do tomorrow if they were still alive?
  5. Which family member has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What has made them good at it?
  6. For an adult: When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice? For a kid: Which family member have you recently received advice from? Was it good advice?
  7. For adult: What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age? For kid: What was your favorite movie or book last year, and what is your favorite now?

    Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. Click To Tweet

  8. Tell us a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.
  9. What was the hardest thing you went through/have gone through as a child? How did you overcome it?
  10. What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
  11. If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?
  12. What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
  13. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings?
  14. What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?
  15. Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?
  16. What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
  17. How did your parents change after they retired?
  18. If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?
  19. How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?
  20. What did/do your grandparents do with you that you loved? (For adults: What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?)

Many of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics

Making Gratitude Real

One of the most powerful positive emotions we have in this life is gratitude; mountains of research indicate that gratitude is part of the happiness holy grail. Compared with those who don’t practice gratitude, scientists have found that people who practice gratitude:

-Are considerably more enthusiastic, interested, and determined

-Feel 25% happier

-Are more likely to be both kind and helpful to others

And that’s not all. Gratitude studies report long laundry lists of the benefits of gratitude. For example, people who jotted down something they were grateful for online every day for just two weeks (using an app created by the Greater Good Science Center) showed higher stress resilience and greater satisfaction with life, and they reported fewer headaches, less congestion, and a reduction in stomach pain, coughs, and sore throats.

Gratitude is a skill, like learning to speak a new language or swing a bat. It can be taught, and it needs to be practiced consciously and deliberately. Yet, unlike learning a new language, practicing gratitude can be blissfully simple. Just count the things in your life that you feel thankful for. Do it in a way that works for you; one size does not fit all with gratitude practices.

“Gratitude is a skill, like learning to speak a new language or swing a bat.” Click To Tweet

The key to creating routine gratitude practices that work is to add in an element of creativity and novelty. Think up a practice that you find fun and simple, and each time you practice, try to think of novel things that you are grateful for or new dimensions of those things and people you appreciate. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Contemplate death and destruction.

(Bet you didn’t see that one coming!) When researchers have people visualize their own death in detail, their gratitude increases. Similarly, simply imagining not having something you love can make you feel more grateful for it. When researchers had volunteers envision the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they felt a lot more gratitude for them. We also feel more gratitude when we imagine that positive life events never happened—like landing a new job or moving closer to family.

Keep a gratitude journal.

This can be handwritten in a journal or kept online (there are loads of web-based versions) or even just jotted down in your calendar. As an alternative, text your appreciation to people who have helped you out.

Give up—or change up—what you really love.

I know, depriving yourself doesn’t seem fun, but entitlement and adaptation undermine appreciation. Gratitude actually arises naturally in conditions of scarcity—for example, when we are hungry, we are more grateful for food than when we are full. Not surprisingly, research shows that we enjoy things more when we give them up for a little while; for example, people who gave up chocolate for seven days enjoyed it more at the end of the week than people who indulged all week. More surprisingly, people report enjoying their favorite TV shows more when they are interrupted occasionally (even by commercials). This is probably why Lent is a common religious practice!

Keep a group “gratitude list” or a collection of things that colleagues or family members feel thankful for.

Post a huge sheet of paper in a public place and ask everyone to contribute to it when the spirit moves them. Anything can go on the list, no matter how insignificant or important— people, places, stuff, events, nature. Variations on this theme are endless; try gratitude garlands, walls, trees— anything you can put a sticky note on or hang a tag on will work.

Start a tradition of writing “appreciations” on place cards at family dinners or on holidays. Depending on your comfort level for group sharing, make folded place cards for each person present, and then ask people to write a few adjectives that describe what they appreciate about one another on the inside of the place cards. Don’t ask people to write something about everyone present unless they want to—you don’t want to force the exercise. But do make sure that everyone has at least one thing written inside their place card so that during the meal you can go around the table and share appreciations.

Write letters for “large” and “small” gratitudes. Large: Write a thank-you letter to someone who is important to you but you haven’t properly thanked for something non-material, and then deliver it in person and read it out loud. Small: Text a quick and unexpected thank-you note for kind words spoken to someone who lent a helping hand, or to say thanks for a fun day.


This post is from a series about flourishing from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing LessWant to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!

How to Raise Grateful Kids

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”–Melody Beattie

This video is the 3rd in a series about high impact happiness routines from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Watch the rest of the videos here.

This Week’s Practice: Create a family gratitude practice

Decide on a weekly or daily gratitude ritual for your family, and schedule it. Really: put it on the calendar, or set a reminder on your phone – anything that will help you remember to practice gratitude until it becomes a habit.

Here are two of my favorite gratitude quotations if someone in your family needs a little inspiration. I occasionally read them at dinner before we go around the table to say what we are thankful for.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” –Buddha

When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.”–Chinese Proverb

If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below.
DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO VERSION HERE.

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Do You Sabotage Yourself?

Our success and happiness are based as much on what we choose NOT to do as what we choose to do. What things in your life keep you from doing other things that you’ve identified as priorities? Which of your behaviors tend to thwart your goals?

If you have trouble with follow through on your highest priorities, make a “NOT-To-Do” list (a fantastic Peter Bregman idea).

Our success and happiness are based as much on what we choose NOT to do as what we choose to do. Click To Tweet

When we aren’t clear about what we don’t want to do, the things we don’t want to do often end up distracting us from our higher priorities. For example, nurturing my teens is one of my top priorities. As part of this, I want to spend more time hanging out with my kids after dinner and after they finish their homework. Ideally, I’ll spend 20 minutes with each of them one-on-one. But instead, I often get pulled into my email or back into my work, and poof! Just like that, the time is gone, and the opportunity missed. (Now that my daughters Fiona and Macie are away at school, I’m painfully aware of how fleeting and precious that time is.)

So under the priority labeled “Nurture my family and close relationships,” I’ve written: Don’t go back to work after dinner if the kids are at home. I have similar “NOT-to-do” items under each priority.

Be Explicit

By being explicit about what I’m NOT going to do–by actually writing these things down–I’m increasing the odds that I’ll spend my time on the things that matter most to me.

By being explicit about what I’m NOT going to do–by actually writing these things down–I’m increasing the odds that I’ll spend my time on the things that matter most to me. Click To Tweet

Now it’s your turn: Spend this next week noticing the behaviors and activities that sabotage the way that you spend your time. Each time you notice yourself doing something that thwarts a better behavior, add it to your “Not-To-Do” list here:

 Click here to download the not-to-do list PDF

If you are just joining us, you might want to check out some related activities. Before you make a NOT-to-do list, it helps to:

1) Identify your top priorities according to what is fulfilling to you and

2) Re-organize your to-do list according to your top priorities.

See Unit 2: CHOOSE in my free Science of Finding Flow online course for more information about how to live your life according to your highest priorities.

As always, let me know what questions you have in the comment section!

 


This post is from a series about how we choose to spend our time in my online course, Science of Finding Flow, an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!