Happiness is difficult to define because it means so many things at once. It can describe the moment, after a long day, when you kick off your shoes and curl up on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, but it’s just as good a word for the overarching satisfaction that comes from living a life that is at once challenging and rewarding.
Because it applies to a range of moments, experiences and feelings, from the tiny to the momentous, pursuing it successfully is a complicated exercise. Yet it’s a vital one. “We all share the same wish and desire to live a life full of wellbeing,” says Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain (Hodder, 2013).
But where to start? Is chasing hedonic wellbeing – that instant surge of positive emotion we feel when we sit back on the coach with a big bowl of ice cream – a good strategy? Is the solution simply to increase our couch/ice-cream time?
Of course not. Most people accept that true happiness is more than a string of moment-to-moment pleasures—instead, it’s probably better described as a more constant state of “fulfillment” or “contentedness.”
This brings us to “eudaimonic wellbeing,” the fancy Greek term for happiness derived from the pursuit of a larger life purpose. Activities like volunteering, building a career or parenting often contribute to this type of wellbeing – while they rarely provide instant gratification (and can be stressful and challenging on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day basis) they help us feel connected, productive and purposeful on a long-term scale.
Related: (Video) Pursuing Happiness
It turns out, like most things in life, happiness is a balancing act. “Sometimes we’re successful at pursuing long term goals, and other times, we give into moment to moment appeal,” says Michael Steger, a psychology professor at Colorado State and co-author of Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Fortunately, according to Davidson, it’s also a skill that can be mastered. “We can practice certain mental habits that lead to enduring happiness, [such as] changing our relationship to emotionally significant events, so that we don’t run away from the negative challenges and crave the positive incentives,” he says.
“That’s something all of our research indicates can be learned.”
To bring yourself closer to happiness, try some of these strategies:
Eudaimonic wellbeing, on the other hand, often requires that we endure what’s uncomfortable (the pain we feel as we train for a marathon, say) or sacrifice instant gratification (passing on dessert) in pursuit of a greater good or goal.
Luckily, certain activities can activate both senses of wellbeing at once. “A lot of what we do is pretty blended between the two,” Steger says, and gives the example of working in an emergency room. Clearly, it’s easy to see how that could fulfill a sense of greater good and purpose, but for some people, it also feels good in the moment.
These are the types of activities we should actively seek out and if possible, shape into a profession. In other words, don’t pursue a career just because the end goal is fulfilling and rewarding.
To some extent, you need to enjoy the process: “That will help you when you run into challenges and stay motivated,” says Steger. “If you are pursuing a career that allows you to contribute to your family and community but you hate every minute of it, that’s going to be hard to sustain.”
Get curious. “One of our strongest motivators as humans is the desire to avoid situations that we think are going to be unpleasant; it’s powerfully reinforcing behaviour – you feel good because you reduce your anxiety, and in the short term that makes things easier,” Steger says.
Unfortunately, that impacts our eudaimonic wellbeing; shutting out everything that makes us nervous, uncomfortable or anxious limits the scope of our world to a suffocating degree.
“In the short term [avoiding discomfort] feels fine. It significantly reduces anxiety. But in the long term, we fail to discover potentially awesome new sources of excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration; we don’t meet new people. If all we do is avoid what is too hard, we end up leading restricted, uninspiring lives,” Steger says.
So how can we break the cycle? According to Steger, the best antidote is curiosity, anxiety’s productive cousin. The desire to learn more can be a strong enough motivator to push us past any initial feelings of discomfort that accompany the unfamiliar.
So cultivate your inner inquisitiveness, recommends Steger. When you have a question about something or someone, pursue it even if it makes you momentarily uncomfortable.
Change your mindset. This relates to Steger’s previous point. Often, when placed outside our comfort zone, the tendency is to interpret obstacles as failures, which results in a swift retreat back to what’s safe and familiar. (Again: not great for long term wellbeing).
Related: The Pursuit Of Happiness
To disrupt this pattern, Steger recommends redefining obstacles as opportunities. “Remember that a lot of wisdom comes from struggle,” he says; instead of equating uncertainty with failure, recognize that not having all the answers can be a learning opportunity; often, it’s a marker of personal growth.
At the very least, it’s a sign that your life became less boring.
“My background is to try and understand what kinds of experiences make peoples’ lives feel meaningful,” says Steger. “And safety rarely comes up.”
Practice mindfulness. Davidson is a strong proponent of neuroplasticity, the belief that the brain is shaped by experience and training. We’re capable, he says, of creating happier brains by practicing meditation and mindfulness every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
“It’s extraordinary how little of one’s daily life is spent actually monitoring what’s going on in one’s own mind and body,” Davidson says. In his view, mindfulness is the best method for stopping the anxiety spiral that can result from a feverish focus on the future or the past.
It’s not about dismissing negative thoughts, he says, but changing your relationship with them so they don’t hijack or ensnare you.
Bottom line: Because life happens one moment at a time, pursuing any long term eudaimonic goal really only works if you also derive some energy from the pursuit itself, says Steger. Otherwise, no matter how important or noble the end-result, the process is simply too abstract to call happiness.
Distractions Are Hurting You More Than You Realise: Here’s Why
Research shows that returning to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.
For most American professionals, distractions are a normal part of life. You’ll get an email notification in the middle of a project, or a text during a meeting, or you’ll notice an interesting article on social media when you’re trying to focus on a solo task.
Then you’ll dive down that rabbit hole to learn more about it.
On a surface level, distractions range from the pleasant and barely noticeable to the mildly annoying, but they may be affecting you more than you realise.
Building and getting back your focus
For some people, passing distractions never seem to cost much time. They’ll take 30 seconds or a minute to look at their phone, or even two minutes to scroll through their Facebook news feed; then they’ll return to work. But, if this doesn’t sound like you, you may be in the extreme minority, considering that 90 percent of employees self-report using social media during work hours.
Unfortunately, those minutes-long expenditures are only the tip of the iceberg. The time you spend on the distraction itself is trivial in most cases, but you also have to incorporate, in that “lost” time, the minutes it takes your brain to regain its focus on your initial task. And according to a study from the University of California-Irvine, that return to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.
In other words, if you’re distracted at least once every 23 minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll never ramp up to your fully focused potential.
The dangers of multitasking
As if that weren’t bad enough, getting distracted also forces your brain to multitask; you won’t bring a project neatly to a close, so you’ll keep working on it to some degree while you attempt to shift your attention to another task competing for your attention.
This is bad for several reasons. According to Stanford neuroscientist Russ Poldrack, if you learn new information while multitasking, that information can get sent to the wrong part of the brain. You may feel that you’re paying attention in a meeting and reading up about a new creative brief at the same time, but chances are you won’t retain information from either source.
On top of that, the brain isn’t designed for multitasking; there are steeper metabolic costs to shifting your attention, which means the brain consumes far more oxygenated glucose during the changeover. If you switch back and forth between tasks often enough, you could feel disoriented, or even exhausted.
In addition, your brain will produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that often leads to irritability, aggression and impulsive behaviour.
The gateway distraction
It’s also important to consider the fact that most of our modern distractions have the potential to occupy far more than just a few minutes of our time. Most social media apps, for example, are designed to be addictive; they give you just enough of a reward to keep you using them; they provide no sense of completeness because of their infinite-scrolling potential and they constantly give you notifications so you can see what’s new.
If you aren’t careful, a quick look at your newsfeed can turn into a 30-minute long dive into the digital world.
When distractions are good
All that being said, there is a case for arguing that distractions can be beneficial. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that mental distractions can aid in pain relief, especially for sufferers of chronic pain. They may also provide short-term relief for anxiety and distress.
In addition, pulling yourself away from a task can give your brain some much-needed time to decompress and refocus. There’s a reason we tend to come up with our best ideas when we’re bored or otherwise unoccupied; the brain has more freedom and leisure to wander to new places and tinker with problems that exist in the background.
If you’re specifically using a distraction to help your brain refocus (and possibly de-stress for a moment), you can actually get some value from your distractions.
Despite some potential benefits (when your distractions are fully under your control), though, for the most part, distractions are damaging your productivity – and in multiple ways.
If you want to improve your overall output and de-stress in the meantime, your best option is to limit your distractions by turning off notifications, scheduling your breaks, staying more disciplined with sites and apps likely to steal your attention and communicating to your coworkers about your need to focus throughout the day.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Are You A Procrastinator? Don’t Be By Doing These 3 Things
Take control of your time and super-charge your day, making the most of your most valuable resource: Time.
The more time I spend thinking, writing and coaching about how to combat procrastination, the more I realise how much bigger this problem is than I initially thought. Every person reading this column will at some point have fallen victim to this avoidance behaviour. In fact, many of us fall prey to it daily.
If you’re serious about personal and business success, overcoming procrastination should be top of mind. If you’re able to master the ability to not procrastinate, you’ll supercharge your productivity and performance without the need for any new tools, techniques or information.
By simply doing what you are supposed to do, you become more effective. The most powerful truths are often the simplest ones too. Let’s look at three ideas that will help you create momentum.
One: Know Your Style
Did you know there are six procrastination styles? Thanks to the work of Sapadin and Maguire we have identified certain ‘archetypes’ that we can use to relate to procrastination styles. Going through the list is an interesting exercise for raising awareness. It won’t ‘cure’ procrastination but it gives you an interesting starting point for further exploration.
- The Perfectionist does not start or finish in case it is not perfect in the eyes of others or self. Typical for creatives and entrepreneurs.
- The Dreamer wants life to be smooth. They love to dream big without translating it into action. If their dreams never become reality, then they can never fail.
- The Worrier is always wondering “what if something goes wrong?” They get caught up in their heads and over-analyse the situation.
- The Defier is resistant to the instruction of others because they do not want to be told what to do. They procrastinate not because of the task at hand but because of their relationship with the task giver.
- The Crisis Maker likes living on the edge. They feel that the added pressure of a looming deadline makes them work better.
- The Over-doer takes on too much without establishing priorities and boundaries. They ultimately realise that they are overcommitted and start losing their grasp on the task.
Two: Time Immersion (TI)
I am currently completing my Master’s degree in Coaching. There have been times when I have found it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do the work. One effective method that has helped me to progress is to focus on ‘time spent immersed’ instead of focusing on a specific outcome.
Instead of committing to a specific number of words or chapters I commit to just sitting down with the work for a specific amount of time. In my case, 45 minutes. This means that for those 45 minutes I immerse myself in the work. Reading a bit here, writing a bit there, and at the end of the 45 minutes I get up to take a break.
Time Immersion has two very important benefits. Firstly, we often procrastinate because a task is hard, and we don’t want to deal with the pain that comes with working on it. By committing to time immersed, hard things become easier. More importantly, they become easier without the judgement of whether you succeeded or failed. Secondly, it creates momentum. With every 45-minute TI session you will find yourself slowly chipping away at the frustration. We all know what happens when you chip away at a big problem with enough perseverance; it will be conquered.
Three: Let go of judgement
Those who procrastinate are not lazy. This is important to understand. True procrastination is a psychological phenomenon driven by our fear of failure, judgement and low frustration tolerance.
This is why procrastinators will often find other ways of keeping themselves occupied. Again, an avoidance behaviour, not just laziness.
If you identified your procrastination style, then this might have already given you some insight into why you do what you do. Knowing this, you can go beyond and examine the beliefs that you have that maintain your procrastinating behaviours.
Related: 4 Cures for Chronic Procrastination
One way to do this is to listen to your inner dialogue. That voice inside your head that loves to pull you down with negativity. Simply listen to the words that ‘he/she’ is using and then make a concerted effort to examine them. This is exactly what a coach would do.
If your inner voice says that you first need more information before proceeding with a task, stop, and ask yourself if that is really the truth.
If your inner voice says that you are a failure and that completing this task will expose you for the fraud you are, stop, and ask yourself if that is really true.
Usually, these irrational beliefs are easily refuted.
The truth is that you already know enough. You know what to do. You know how to do it. The thing stopping you is your relationship with yourself and the task at hand. You will find the key to overcoming procrastination inside yourself. Spend some time exploring the ideas that I suggested and see your productivity explode.
How To Quit Your Job The Right Way
Got a job you hate? You can still use it to get a job you love.
Every job, from summers spent lifeguarding or sweeping up popcorn to your first real desk job, has led you to where you are today. Without building relationships at each of those workplaces, you wouldn’t have developed the skills or network to help you move on to a better position. But you left those jobs for a reason – and you’re better off for it.
The Faas Foundation and Mental Health America’s Workplace Healthy Survey agrees. Results showed that employees who spoke poorly about their workplaces were more likely to have less healthy work environments, especially in terms of rewards and support from leadership. But even if you don’t love the day-to-day experience, the key to leaving your job the right way is to move on with the right attitude.
Moving on from a less-than-stellar workplace without burning any bridges is the surest way to build a solid career. But you have to know how to handle yourself. Here’s how to make the connections you need in order to create the future you want.
1. Give 100 percent through your last day
If you want to start your own company, don’t quit your day job until you’ve built the foundation you need. Set a number or a financial milestone that will serve as your sign to jump ship and make your side hustle your full-time endeavour. It’s not unusual to see an entrepreneur quit a job and regret it soon after. Maintaining a regular job lets you keep benefits you might not be considering – think networking opportunities, a steady income and health insurance, to name just a few.
Want to see this in action? Look no further than Jeff Bezos’ experience at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. Bezos started there during the company’s early years, and he quickly rose to the position of vice president. Part of his job was to research internet-based business opportunities – and there, the entrepreneurial bug bit. Bezos started building Amazon from the ground up, and his D.E. Shaw connections were critical. He reached out to programmers associated with one of the company’s partners, and from there, he was able to hire his first employee. His good work and experience at D.E. Shaw helped him seal that deal.
2. Cultivate lasting relationships
Each experience you have is pushing you toward your ultimate goal, regardless of whether that seems true in the moment. The relationships you create with colleagues, bosses and subordinates can be the big break you need.
The connections I had built paved the way for me to move on and move up. In the early days of my company, for example, some of my prospective clients were very well-known brands. These brands had never heard of me, but my former colleagues were always available to serve as references, validating my credentials and helping me solidify new contracts.
Lead by example. When it’s time to sell your services, your colleagues will remember the skills and leadership you have shown over the years and will back you up with confidence.
3. Let your peers know you appreciate them
You can’t expect colleagues to stick their necks out for you if you don’t put yourself out there for them, too. Make your colleagues look good; your professional relationships should be beneficial for all parties involved. Position your co-workers as rock stars, and make sure your praise reaches the boss’s ears.
In addition to creating stronger relationships, creating a culture of peer-to-peer praise can benefit companies as well. At JetBlue, employees are encouraged to submit positive reviews of their co-workers to a companywide program that rewards individuals for great performance. Those recognised receive points to either save up toward larger rewards or spend right away. Data from JetBlue shows that as more employees report being recognised, employee retention and engagement also increase. It’s a win-win.
Not every job is a dream job, but every job can help lead you to the career you want. The key is to focus on creating warm relationships with your co-workers and higher-ups, not on lighting a match to burn a bridge on your way out. Follow these three tips to make sure that the job you have now is priming you for your journey to the top.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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