Published on February 10th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
5 Simple Counterintuitive Steps For A Happier Life
By Nancy F. Clark—
Now I ’ve Wrecked It!
How’s your willpower? Have you ever tried to build a new habit, like lose a few pounds, and then someone offered you a slice of chocolate cake—and you took it?
Kelly McGonigal, the willpower expert at Stanford University says when we’re trying to work toward a goal we rely on 3 strengths: “I will” power, “I won’t” power and “I want” power. If you’re relying on “I won’t eat that cake” you’re probably not going to be strong enough to resist it. You’re better off if you stop focusing on what “I won’t” do. Stop focusing on the forbidden cake and instead work on your 2 other strengths. Reframe the situation and use your “I will” power as in “I will eat healthy foods.”
“I want” is your third strength. It’s focused on your long-term goal, such as “I want to have a healthy body.” Visualize your long-term goal as you’re being challenged.
We all slip up now and then. Many of us believe that the more harshly we punish, criticize and shame ourselves, the stronger our willpower will become. The opposite is true. That rough treatment leads to more slip-ups down the road. Talk about counterintuitive. What we should do is act like a friend and mentor to ourselves. A friend would say, “Hey, that’s not a big deal. Don’t criticize yourself because you’ve been doing well and I know you can succeed.” You can be your best friend and benefit from your advice.
Can I fix it?
When faced with a problem that needs your solution, should you affirm in a strong voice, “I can do it! I can do it!” or should you humbly ask, “Can I do it?” It turns out the cartoon Bob The Builder was right in saying, “Can we fix it?” Questioning opens creative avenues in the brain, sometimes allowing you to find multiple solutions.
A problem with the affirmation “I can do it!” is that your chatty negative self-talk quickly seeks an opportunity to remind you, “Remember that time you failed? Oh, you were so embarrassed.”
It’s best to ask “Can I do it?” and marvel at the ideas that surface from the creative parts of your brain.
Studies show that doing an act of kindness makes us feel less stressed, but also makes us happier and more open to new experiences. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky asked students to commit five random acts of kindness each week for six weeks. Those who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in happiness.
Psychologist John Cacioppo reports that engaging in small acts of kindness and generosity, even anonymously, can increase happiness levels. For example, paying a bridge toll for the vehicle behind you elevates your happiness. Then, this often is paid forward by the recipient, giving another happiness boost.
Researchers at Harvard Business School conducted a study where they asked participants to recall a time they spent $20 on themselves and a time they spent $20 on someone else. Then they completed a scale indicating how happy they were. People in general felt happier when they recalled spending money on someone else, even if this was done anonymously. So, put on your cloaking cape and start doing random acts of kindness.
I need more time, right?
You may think you want wide-open spaces, like unlimited time, when you’re starting something new. Whitney Johnson, author of the book Disrupt Yourself, says the opposite is actually true. Having some constraints, having something to bump against is a tool of creation.
Having no time constraints is the best friend of procrastination. You may have experienced that once, twice, or even half the time. Let’s say you want to write a blog post every week. I would have thought this was not possible for me. Or, to be accurate, I thought it was impossible until I did it every week for 1 year. Starting out I had the pressure of a 1-week window— still thinking it might not work. Then, 5 minutes later I began creating the titles of blog posts I knew would be interesting to me and to my audience. Every day I had more topics to add to my list and suddenly I had 52 of them! And then I had 71. Hmm, I had to pare my list down.
Now, I’m not saying you have to do a writing project, but for any project here’s a plan that has a better chance of working than having unlimited time. Give yourself a tight (but possible) time budget. Tell others of your deadline. Still unsure? Ask them to check up on you. Sometimes nagging is a good thing.
I need to work on my gratitude every day, right?
To establish a gratitude habit you should decide what time of day works best for you and start writing down 3 to 5 things that you’re grateful for. These things can be big or little, but be sure to mix it up. Some days you can write down a little thing: “My tulip bloomed today.” Or you can write about a big thing: “My daughter took her first step today!” The idea behind mixing up big and little things and not repeating the same things is that your brain becomes easily bored. In other words you’re an easy target for habituation. Habituation is a perfect addition to your cocktail party conversation, along with hedonic adaptation. Go ahead and google it. I’ll be writing about that one soon!
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky found that when you’ve established a gratitude habit, after 21 days of gratitude writing, your brain has a tendency to habituate, so you’re better off practicing your gratitude journaling only once or twice a week, not every day.
Now since I don’t want you to waste that daily time you’ve set aside for gratitude, I suggest you substitute practicing a random act of kindness, picking something you plan to savor, or perhaps replacing one of your negative self-talkphrases with a positive one. Five minutes a day will do it. You should have 5 minutes for yourself, shouldn’t you?
Article photos by Rory MacLeod, JD Hancock, Thomas Hawk, JD Hancock,Cindy Schultz