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.
Why Rest Is the Secret To Entrepreneurial Success
The surprising power of downtime: Here’s why the most successful founders work the least.
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammal. These feline sprinters can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds flat. Explosive speed enables them to take down an antelope, but when they’re not hunting, cheetahs expend as little energy as possible.
In fact, researchers found that cheetahs burn about 2 000 calories per day – the same as an average-size man. “I guess both humans and cheetahs rest a lot to offset high-energy activities,” biologist Johnny Wilson told National Geographic.
Cheetahs work hard to capture their prey, but they quickly compensate for each burst by hiding, waiting and resting. Clearly, they don’t have startups to run, but I can’t help but draw a parallel between these big cats and modern founders.
In the early days of my 12-year entrepreneurial journey, I was the anti-cheetah. I thought success required 16-hour workdays. I was constantly building, growing and hustling. Over the years, I’ve learned that busy and successful are not the same thing. Yet, many of us spend the whole day sprinting, to the point where we’re stressed and exhausted.
According to Joseph Bienvenu, a psychiatrist and director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, busyness has become a widespread health issue:
“Emotional distress due to overbusyness manifests as difficulty focusing and concentrating, impatience and irritability, trouble getting adequate sleep, and mental and physical fatigue.”
As I’ve built my company, JotForm, I’ve learned that when we know how to balance work with restorative rest, our productivity can skyrocket — and we might even catch more antelope.
The roots of busyness run deep
Scholars believe Homer wrote the Odyssey near the end of the 8th century B.C. In book 9 of this epic poem, Odysseus describes the island of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives spend their days lounging and eating the intoxicating lotus fruit.
Once Odysseus’ crew tries the fruit, they forget about home and long to live out their days on the idyllic island. Eventually, Odysseus drags his men back to the ship and locks them up to break the spell.
Talk about a parable for laziness. It seems even Greek philosophers prized industry, and yes, busyness. Today, everyone from founders to football coaches despise anything that implies complacency. We’re always pushing to do more, to improve ourselves and to stay constantly in motion.
Subconsciously, we even evaluate peoples’ worth based on how many hours they work or how “in demand” they are. We prize “busy” above all else. At a certain point, however, we have to make a choice: Do we want to be busy, or do we want to make an impact?
Nothing is more precious than time. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Escaping the cult of “busy” means taking time to rest – and it requires us to step back and re-evaluate what matters most. I’d like to share how I’ve learned to reject the frenetic pace of startup culture, and how you can, too.
Start small – and take breaks
Busyness robs us of precious hours: to think, play, explore, nurture relationships – and to rest.
“There is a simple way to take back your time: Do less,” journalist Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson wrote in John Hopkins Health Review.
“And yet, those two words are perhaps the most challenging call to action. Doing less means understanding your priorities and constantly defending them against the encroachments of the status quo, which dictates that busyness – and material wealth and value – is best.”
As Dickinson says, it’s not easy to reverse our mental conditioning. Doing less isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s why I recommend starting small. First, take the time to discover your peak hours, then take breaks throughout the day. Not only will you feel better, but these short rest periods can actually improve the quality of your work.
In fact, regular breaks can prevent decision fatigue, restore motivation, increase productivity and creativity, and consolidate memories. Breaks that involve even five minutes of movement can also improve our health and well-being.
Taking time to grab a coffee or chat with a team member is far from “doing nothing,” but it’s an important way to step off the metaphorical treadmill and re-establish your priorities.
Reserve time for reflection
Some of the greatest founders, innovators and creators set aside large chunks of time just to reflect. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates first took solo Think Weeks – seven days spent reading, strategising and reflecting — before the idea spread through the company. Today, Gates credits those weeks with generating some of Microsoft’s top innovations.
Other founders, like Skillshare’s Mike Karnjanaprakorn, have now implemented the practice. So have Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Ferriss. Even people who can’t take a full week for reflection often thrive when they set limited working hours.
The late Dr. Maya Angelou, for example, always drew clear boundaries in her schedule. The legendary writer, poet, singer and activist arrived at her desk around the same time each day. Afterward, she set aside work to spend time with her family.
“I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon,” Angelou said in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.
“If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous.”
Challenge your body
Rest doesn’t necessarily mean lounging out on the couch, watching Netflix in a glassy-eyed trance. The most effective downtime also involves physical exertion, whether that’s a long walk, a hike or a bike ride. Restorative activities can help to balance out more brain-intensive work.
Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, says rest is a necessary form of mental restoration. And exercise is one of the best ways to recover the mental energy we need to perform at peak levels.
“There are so many people who find that a workout, a long hike, clears their minds, helps them calm down, gives their subconscious mind opportunity to think through problems,” Pang told Scientific American. “What all of that teaches us is that exercise is a really important form of rest.”
Embrace the digital Sabbath
At least one day a week, give yourself a technology break. It’s not easy to cut the psychological strings, but going device-free on a Saturday, a Sunday or another day of your choice can give your mind space to wander, while enhancing your creativity.
If a full day away from screens and notifications feels challenging, you’re not alone. But remember that a stressed, tired brain can’t generate fresh ideas. We’re also more likely to make mistakes and overcomplicate solutions when we’ve exhausted our mental reserves.
As the late Steve Jobs once said, “Simple thinking can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
VC-backed founders get the lion’s share of startup press. They make headlines with record-breaking funding rounds and dominate the top of TechCrunch. Outside investment can provide essential startup capital, but it can also tie founders to the pressures of hockey-stick growth targets and boards eager to recover their cash.
Instead of the 24/7 grind, I chose to bootstrap my company with a slow-and-steady approach to growth. It has taken time, and it hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve built a stable business that can even function without me. Most importantly, I have full control over my work and my life.
If that sounds like a privileged position, you’re absolutely right. I’m grateful for the ability to spend a whole summer with my wife and my newborn baby, for example, and I’ve worked hard to reach this point. Bootstrapping isn’t the right approach for everyone, but it can help you to maintain your freedom and live a more balanced life.
Work to live, instead of living to work
Even in a conversation about rest, we still tend to look through the lens of productivity. We’ve become obsessed with maximising every minute – and that’s fine, as long as we reclaim that time for our lives, not necessarily our work.
No matter how excited we may feel about our businesses, or each new project, a rich life also includes family, friends, exploration and adventure, in whatever proportion you desire. I certainly don’t want to regret relationships that fell apart while I was staring at a screen, or the opportunities I missed in the world outside my office.
Try to leave work at work – even if it’s in your home. Give yourself the gift of restorative downtime. And balance thinking hours with time spent in motion. Just like the cheetah, we can sprint to bring down the antelope, but then it’s time to rest.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Having The Time Of Your Life
How can you avoid a To-Do list that never gets ticked off by the end of the week? Or maximise the number of hours you work on critical projects, to achieve your career goals? And why is it important to take time out?
Being an entrepreneur is a constant balancing act between the demands of your business needs and your personal life. The key to a work/life balance that ensures you achieving your work and personal goals for the year ahead, is effective time management.
Time is our greatest resource and there are many ways in which to maximise your ability to manage this precious commodity. But how can you avoid a To-Do list that never gets ticked off by the end of the week? Or maximise the number of hours you work on critical projects, to achieve your career goals? And why is it important to take time out?
Unfortunately, time does equal money
In the modern workplace and in most businesses, time is synonymous with money. Whether you bill by the hour, or bake by the truckload, time is essential in running a successful career and business. Just think of how important time is in the service industry, and how time influences purchasing decisions. Think of all the drive-through fast food chains in a city – all there to save time. Because time is indeed money, it is critical to prioritise your time effectively. Keep in mind your most pressing deadlines, plan ahead and prioritise clients and customers effectively.
Me-time with a twist
Self-management impacts on your personal effectiveness and includes managing yourself and your time, being responsible for your achievements and being accountable for your results and successes. In business, if you prioritise a company’s time more efficiently, it can lead to improved customer service, improved delivery, increased profits, and increased market shares.
Imagine what it could do for you if you made the mind shift to prioritise your time and self-regulate your time daily?
Visualise that empty inbox
Start by removing thoughts of procrastination and imagine yourself as a “doer.” Think of the benefits of becoming a doer. What would our work life be like if we organised our tasks in order of importance, and not in order of enjoyment? What would it feel like to be thought of as someone who “got things done” and was “reliable?” How would we handle our paperwork? Imagine having an empty in-tray.
Critically, managing your time and self-regulating the hours, minutes and seconds in a work day will free up time for the people that matter in your life. Go watch that ballet recital or cricket game you never have time for. Have a coffee with a fellow entrepreneur and see how these small acts of rewarding you for time well spent, with energise you in your daily tasks.
Ditch the time wasters
A Time Waster is anything (or anyone) that doesn’t contribute to your daily goals or your To-Do List. Many of these time wasters have become a natural part of our work style. Now is the time to change – to reverse the process. It will take time and effort to get rid of time-wasting habits. Research shows that it takes approximately 21 days to change a habit.
For example, at first, we will have to make a conscious effort to keep our meetings on track. If things are dragging on, we need to stand up and indicate that the meeting is over (if you are running it), or to be excused (if your input is no longer required). This applies to all the time-wasting habits we have acquired.
It may be uncomfortable at first to tell a colleague that you are busy and unable to chat – but as you get used to being assertive and as they get accustomed to the fact that you are not always available – then it will become easier.
More tips to deal with time wasters
- Fix a time for paperwork and admin;
- Have clear daily objectives;
- Delegate work as needed;
- Group your telephone calls;
- Be assertive with unannounced visitors.
The Secret To Living A Balanced Life As A CEO? Pick A Strong Second In Command
The key is to find a partner who is strong in areas where you are weak.
Entrepreneurs are not known for having work-life balance. In my experience, trying to find balance as a start-up founder is like looking for a real-life unicorn. If you’re looking to create something that is disrupting an industry, the path isn’t going to be easy.
Building out a new idea practically guarantees imbalance. This is especially true in the early stages of a start-up. Prior to joining LegalZoom, I would work 100 hours a week. It was a fast-paced start-up world. I had to make certain sacrifices. For example, I chose not to have a family right away, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to be the present father I wanted to be. However, I was prepared to make those decisions. I believed in the work I was doing, and I knew it was going to take blood, sweat and tears.
So, what’s my advice to entrepreneurs on achieving balance? First, grow the company. Even in a company of 25 people, the burden of leadership generally falls on one person. It can take upwards of 100 people to really notice a shift in leadership. But, second, and most importantly, look for a co-partner that is just as strong as you are.
The one-two punch
Usually, when companies are founded, there is one individual who is celebrated. We forget there’s almost always another person behind the scenes helping to call the shots. Oftentimes, that person doesn’t want to share the spotlight. He or she is happy to have a non-public facing role and just want to get the work done.
We tend to talk about the visionaries, but there has to be a person in the company who helps turn that vision into reality. We all know Walt Disney, and maybe even the previous longtime CEO Michael Eisner, but what about Frank Wells? As the president and COO alongside Eisner, Wells helped lead the company through a 10-year period of unprecedented growth. Steve Jobs will forever be remembered as the visionary behind Apple, but Steve Wozniak provided the necessary engineering expertise to drive the company forward. Even today, many believe Elon Musk needs a strong second-in-command to help run Tesla.
I call this dynamic the “one-two punch” in leadership. As a CEO, you have to think critically about your second-in-command – whether it’s the COO, CTO or CFO.
We all want to be able to spend our time doing the things at which we excel. Excellence is what drives the company forward. At LegalZoom, I’ve been able to spend 80 percent of my working hours on tasks that leverage my strengths. The only way that I can do that is by having a partner who is strong in areas I may be weaker. In a strong one-two punch combination, both of us are spending 80 percent of our time on our strengths. The key is that those strengths don’t overlap.
How to find a great co-captain
The longer you wait to find your “two,” or if you make a mistake in selecting that person, you set yourself up for trouble. How do you find a second-in-command that can help you lead your company to success? It may seem obvious, but the first key is to understand where your weaknesses lie. It is essential that your co-leader make up for the skills that you lack, and vice versa.
It’s important to consider a person’s background as well, but don’t be afraid to look beyond the resume. I’ve judged candidates before based on raw talent and a gut feeling on their potential. Sometimes the best person for the role doesn’t necessarily have the strongest resume. Instead, he or she has a high level of motivation and a killer work ethic. These are the individuals that never hear “no.” They look for solutions rather than just identifying issues – and they are critical in the startup world.
Ultimately, while you bring different skill sets and career aspirations to the table, you and your co-partner must connect at a collegial level. At the end of the day, you have to appreciate what the other does. You have to share a common vision and mission.
Finding balance, after all
Any CEO with some semblance of balance in their life owes it to the small army of individuals behind them helping to make it happen. While you should prepare for imbalance early in your career and understand the sacrifices it takes to start a company, with the right “two,” you’ll have the support needed to succeed.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.