The Happiness Advantage Principle #7 – Social Investment Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment (this post)


In this chapter on Principle #7 – Social Investment there was a combination of personal and professional evidence for where our happiness and performance at work come from. And it’s amazing!

Social Networks Are Crucial for a Happy Life

In this chapter Achor shares how very often people under stress or overwhelm go inward. They retreat and pull away from people; some in order to focus and some thinking they’ll do better on their own.

Achor says that, “The most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Instead of turning inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support…Not only are these people happier, but they are more productive, engaged, energetic, and resilient.

I love the study he notes in this chapter that he refers to as the Harvard Men study. It’s the longest running psychological study of all time and has followed 268 men from their entrance into college in the late 1930’s to today. Lots of data has been gathered in those 70+ years.

What shocked me –  and I absolutely adore – is the director for this study for the last 40 years summed up his findings in one word when asked by the magazine Atlantic Monthy…”Love – full stop.”

Wow.

L – O – V – E

That’s the answer…right there!

In fact, they said “70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.

More WOW.

Read that again, please.

…our relationships with other people matter…more than anything else in the world.

If you’ve been on this planet for any time you’ve probably come to this conclusion yourself or had a hunch anyway. But this study has some profound conclusions about relationships, social bonds and social support.

Achor says, “When we have a community of people we can count on – spouse, family, friends, colleagues – we multiply our emotional, intellectual, and physical resources. We bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose.

Wow and wow again.

I loved this chapter. It ties right in with what I have learned in my life and that is that we are love and we need love to thrive. The social interactions we encounter with friends and colleagues raise our happiness baseline permanently. Even simple water cooler chatter if it’s positive and friendly can improve our happiness and performance.

The Happiest 10% Among Us

There was a study conducted called “Very Happy People”. You know, those…outliers. The people on Facebook and Instagram who are constantly smiling and rejoicing with gratitude at how great their life is and what they love about the world.

Yeah, those people.

Well, in this study of the very happy people they found “there was one – and only one – characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.

The more social support you have, the happier you are.”

Goodness!

Talk about a [success] formula right there!

If you get nothing else out of this book or my posts about this book, please do yourself a favor and make some friends or strengthen the bonds you have with those you already have. Invest time in your social support network. Make time for friends at the office, call or spend some time with your friends. And although the author doesn’t say it, I don’t think it matters one bit the number of social relationships you have as long as YOU think you have a lot of social support. This can mean a small intimate group of friends you know have your back and you adore or a larger circle you swim in of lots of acquaintances that brighten your day and help you feel connected to people.

Happy and Thriving Thanks to Social Connections

What’s fascinating as you read in The Happiness Advantage about the social support and connections that help us thrive and be happy is how fundamental it is. It’s part of our biological makeup even. We have an innate need to form social bonds. I remember reading about how babies who weren’t handled after birth have died. I don’t remember the studies or stats, but it was shocking to me how fundamental connection with other humans is to our well-being.

Achor reports, “When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.” He talks about how people with fewer connections and interactions socially suffer poor heath and are more likely to suffer from depression.

This probably doesn’t come as a s surprise, but the impact is a lot bigger than I realized before and it can even extend the length of our lives.  Being a part of a breast cancer support group can actually double a woman’s life expectancy. Damn! Connect people, for heaven’s sake…connect! Connect!

Work Performance and Success Improved by Social Support

I won’t go too in depth like Achor does in this book because the purpose of the book is business based. Yet, allow me to share some valuable insights he shares in this chapter about work performance being boosted due to our social support system at the office.

“…over the long haul, employees with more of these interactions become protected from the negative effects of job strain.”

psychological resourcefulness” and…”employees can work for longer hours, with increased focus, and under more difficult conditions.

This sure sounds like what I experienced during the dot com boom days in Silicon Valley. People were like machines (and many still are) because the work environments were made so conducive to interacting and social connections. Just look at Google or any of the big companies that facilitate a lot of social interaction and fun in their work environments.

…individuals who invest in their social support systems are simply better equipped to thrive in even the most difficult circumstances, while those who withdraw rom the people around them effectively cut off every line of protection they have available, at the very moment they need them most.

“…social support is a prescription for happiness and an antidote to stress, it is also a prime contributor of achievement in the workplace.”

People we enjoy interacting with at work…”actually fuels individual innovation, creativity, and productivity.” Not to mention motivation and overall performance.

If you’ve ever stayed at a company and enjoyed your work environment I’d bet it had a lot to do with the people you worked with. Achor talked about how working with people we enjoy far outweighs status or bigger paychecks. People are more successful and self-motivated when they do work they enjoy…and do it with people they love doing it with.

He goes on to talk for quite a while about how valuable it is to have great interactions with our colleagues and managers. Great leaders should encourage social interactions in the office because it leads to greater payoffs. A study at IBM found something like every email contact a person had added $948 in revenue to the bottom line.

I’d like to sum it up with Achor’s statement, “all it takes, we have seen, is a commitment to frequent and positive social interaction.” Take that to the bank if you’re a business owner or manager!

I hope this chapter and the insights you’ve just learned about can help you in some way in your personal and work life. A simple prescription for happiness and thriving is really just spreading love and feeling the love as best you can. Invest in your social network, even when things seem busy or overwhelming. There is no greater predictor it appears to your longevity or well being that feeling connected to other people.

With love and light,

Polly

————————————-

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #6 – 20 Second Rule Insight

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule (this post)

Principle #7 – Social Investment

———-

The sub title for this chapter is “How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Ones by Minimizing Barriers to Change.” I’ll explain a little later in the post what the 20 Second Rule is that Achor refers to in Principle #6 and how to incorporate it into your life. Let’s dive into this chapter from the beginning…

Habits as a Key to Success in Any Area of Life

If there’s anything that is a key to success in any area of life I’ve ever studied it’s having success habits. Highly successful people have found the practices, or rituals/routines, that support their effectiveness and they stick with them.  They’ve ensured success by making it a habit.

Achor explains that most often we know what we should do to be successful at behind healthy, for example, such as eating more vegetables, being active each day, reducing intake of toxins like caffeine, sugar and alcohol and getting enough rest. Knowing what we should do and actually doing those things are where the rubber meets the road and successful people get ahead because they DO those things (or don’t do non-helpful things). Successful people have mastered the game of thriving by introducing and sticking with rituals, or habits, that support their chosen path and not engaging in bad habits that take them off course.

This chapter is all about how to introduce good habits into our life and actually make them effective – or stick. The 20 Second Rule I’ll explain in a bit also defines how we can stop repeating bad habits we want to let go of once and for all.

Habits, Biology and Neuroassociations in Your Brain

I’d like to take a moment before we dive into biology and your brain and remind you that you are not the same person you were when you were born. Not only physically (as in every cell in your body is new about every 7 years) but also as the personality you consider yourself as “you.” You didn’t come into this world with the habits and behavior characteristics that you have today; be they a good listener, funny, a good learner or great athlete. All of those characteristics you established along the way and they make up who you are now.

I often have to remind clients of this during coaching sessions when they say things like, “That’s just the way I am” or “I’ve always done that” or “That’s my normal pattern.” Actually, the way you are you grew into; you developed these patterns over time. You just forgot that you picked these traits or habits up as you went. Now they’re just a part of who you consider yourself to be. But they weren’t always there and that means that you can in almost every case change them if you want.

Achor talks about one of his favorite early leaders in the field of psychology, William James. He taught at Harvard in the late 1800’s and published Principles of Psychology, a huge textbook for the field. Achor introduces in the book that James talked about “Humans are biologically prone to habit, and it is because we are ‘mere bundles of habits’ that we are able to automatically perform many of our daily tasks – from brushing our teeth first thing in the morning to setting the alarm before climbing into be at night.

I love the study of habits and I never knew about James’ work before reading it in Achor’s book. James referred to introducing habits as “daily strokes of effort” in that they’re routines or practices that are performed each day or consistently that create the habit. “A tendency to act,” he wrote, “only becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the uninterrupted frequency with which the actions actually occur, and the brain ‘grows’ to their use.

What James was referring to were the web of neuroassociations that are created in the human brain when we interact with our environment. The brain is a survival mechanism designed over tens of thousands of years to survive and perpetuate the species by warning us about danger. (I think there’s a lot more going on here, but let’s keep this common story alive for now) The brain is designed to conserve energy and links up or creates short cuts (neuroassociations) in the brain wiring that tie things together so they can be recalled and repeated more quickly and efficiently. When we do an action once and get a good result the brain remembers it. If we do the same action ten times for ten days the brain is creating stronger and stronger associations. I want to add my hypothesis that adding an emotional charge to the result also impacts how quickly the brain engrains the behavior (momentum).

These neuroassociations are designed to serve us so we don’t have to remember the route to work each day when we pull out of the driveway or how to tie our shoes each time we get dressed. The brain also filters out things we don’t need and short cuts, or remembers, things we think we’ll need or will serve us in the future.

The more we perform a particular action, the more connections form between the corresponding neurons. (This is the origin of the common phrase ‘cells that fire together, wire together.’) The stronger this link, the faster the message can travel down the pathway. This is what makes the behavior seem second nature or automatic.”   Hence why clients say the things I mentioned earlier. They’ve forgotten they practiced this behavior and it just seems “normal” now.

These habits, or associations in our brain, can serve us tremendously.  For example, this is how athletes or skilled musicians become excellent in their field. The same thing that can make us a talented athlete or musician is the same mechanism that can create addictions or unwanted habits that drive us nuts and make us do things we don’t consciously believe we want to do.

New Habits and Why Willpower is Not Enough

So now you have the insight to know what is going on when you create a new habit. You now understand that you just need to practice to make it perfect – or permanent. Create a new morning ritual of exercise, or eating healthier or sitting down to write our novel each day. These things we know will make us more successful in moving towards what we want…so why do we so often fail at new resolutions or rituals?

One of the big reasons: Willpower. Or lack of it.

We often rely on sheer willpower to keep up the new habit we want to reinforce. I often picture creating a new habit as a way of turning a really big ocean liner in a new direction on the open ocean. It doesn’t turn on a dime – it’s more of a gradual change that occurs and pretty soon we’re on our new course. Changing habits can be like this and discipline is like the rudder and willpower is the energy that creates the course correction.

The challenge with relying on our willpower is that it is like an engine and requires fuel and when the tank gets depleted, we lose willpower and the ship (brain) goes back to its old course. This is when we might say things like, “I fell off the wagon” or “I gave in” or “The urge took over and I felt helpless to resist it.” I’ve said this to myself hundreds of times and hear it from my clients when willpower was what they’re relying on to make the change.

Let me explain a little of what I’ve learned about willpower and share what Achor conveys in the book as well. By the way, an excellent resource if you want to dive deeper into the study of willpower is the book Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal or watch her Google Talk or TED Talk on willpower. She does a great job of going into the details so check those out if you want more information.

As I said, willpower is like an engine which requires fuel to power it and it can be depleted and then we run out of willpower. Achor shares about experiments that were done related to willpower and in the end the researchers wrote, “many widely different forms of self-control draw on a common resource, or self-control strength, which is quite limited and hence can be depleted readily.” Think of it as a small bottle of water you have to last you all day. If you drink it up too fast, you’ll go thirst by afternoon.

This is often why we give in to our urges or old habits by the afternoon or evening. Too many people (and I was this way when I was bulimic) who come to me for coaching or write in about their story share how they wake up in the morning with the resolve to make this the last day and by the afternoon they’ve succumbed to that monster urge, bad habit or vice they’ve been trying so hard to resist. They’re mostly relying on willpower and don’t understand how it works.

As we’ve learned, the brain has created neuroassociations that wire old habits in place and it takes energy and resolve to steer the brain in a new direction. Willpower is one of the resources we can tap to put new habits into place to overcome the old patterns in our brain. You see, the brain wants to naturally follow the path of least resistance. It has already learned and stored the path of least resistance to success and it’s going to try to execute it whenever it sees an opportunity. As the author says, “the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.” This is why we feel the struggle to get out of bed once we’ve made a commitment to running in the morning or to not eat that sweet in the evening after dinner. We’re fighting homeostasis and inertia.

Achor says, “we are drawn – powerfully, magnetically – to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia.” I refer to this inertia like the grooves of an old vinyl record. The record spins round and round and it takes energy to pick up the needle and change to a new groove, a new song.

The same is true for telling a new story about our lives.

Whether we’re trying to change an old habit pattern or tell a new story about the way our lives are we have to pick up the needle and with intention and consistency move over to a new groove. Eventually that groove will feel normal, but in the beginning the old groove will be very easy to slip back into due to inertia.

[video here about grooves of the record/changing habit]

Activation Energy and the 20 Second Rule

To overcome our own inertia – or old habit patterns – that create the old path of least resistance we need to address a few other areas of our lives in order to create these new success habits.

The author shares a term used by a psychologist named Csikszentmihalyi called “activation energy”. Achor says “In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit. Otherwise human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again.

When looking at activation energy in new habit creation we’re addressing three areas including time, choices and mental and physical effort.

Time and mental/physical effort: This is where the 20 Second Rule comes in. Achor talked about how he wanted to learn to play the guitar and when he tried to get in the habit of playing it each night he failed at first. When he later stepped back and looked at his approach he realized that he wasn’t following the path of least resistance because he had stored his guitar in the closet down the hall and it was much easier to grab the remote and click on the TV each night instead. To turn this around he removed the batteries from the remote and moved them 20 seconds away from the chair and set up a stand next to his favorite chair where his guitar would sit. By doing this he had removed the 20 seconds it took to get the guitar out of the closet and added 20 seconds to turning the TV on at night.

Well, it worked.

He went from playing guitar a couple times in a month to nearly every day. He put his desired behavior or new habit on the path of least resistance and his old, undesirable habit on the path of more resistance.

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”

I call this setting ourselves up to win. Sounds super simple – and it is – but also super effective.

Choices: another area we want to realize we need to set ourselves up to win is in creating or eliminating choices. Going back to willpower, every time we have to tap our brain to make choices about doing or not doing something we’re tapping into our willpower account and depleting it.

Achor says, “the key to reducing choices is setting up and following a few simple rules.” For example if you want to create a habit of exercising each day then decide in advance the what, where and when. Don’t leave yourself with choices when you wake up like “Should I work out this morning or after work?” or “Should I play tennis or go for a run?” or “Do I want to work out for an hour or just 30 minutes today?Too many choices will deplete our willpower, so decide on these things in advance. I think this is why structured eating plans show good results for people with eating disorders. For me, in my race training I set up the entire schedule for 8-12 weeks before each race in advance so each week I already know what I need to do and I just need to determine what day I’ll complete what needs to get done.  I reduce the choices and decisions.

Achor added that, “rules are especially helpful during the first few days of a behavior-changing venture, when it’s easy to stray off course. Gradually, as the desired action becomes more habitual, we can become more flexible.”

I’ve seen clients who go the path of structured eating plans come off of them after a few weeks and some don’t have the willpower reserves enough so they stay with structured eating for 3-6 months until they feel solid in their addiction recovery.

How To Apply These Insights to Bulimia Recovery

I would be remiss as a bulimia recovery coach if I didn’t share some thoughts on how this information can help you if you’re struggling to stop binging and purging.

Let me start by asking you to consider “What if bulimia were just a bad habit?Would you feel more empowered that you could change your habit given what you’ve just read above? If this were true, could you stop looking at this thing called bulimia as if it were a “disorder “ or “disease” you have?   Instead, it’s a habit you created and habits can be changed (or better replaced).

Here are my insights for incorporating this information for recovering bulimics:

  1. Identify the activation energy – a habit is three things: 1) trigger or cue, 2) routine or ritual and 3) reward or payoff. Knowing what your triggers are and getting out ahead of them can be the first step to stopping the habit. Without the trigger – or having a new routine or ritual that increases the activation energy to start the routine or binge – can be one way to interrupt the old patterns. Make it harder to or avoid activating the triggers, put more time and/or effort in the way between the trigger and the routine. Remember the 20 second rule. This could look like not have trigger or binge related foods anywhere you could get to them easily.
  2. Reduce choices – keep your food resources stocked with foods you hate to binge on, but are good for you or consider a structured food plan to reduce the choices you have to make each day.
  3. Create rules – once you have identified the typical patterns that create the routine, come up with rules that can support you replacing the routine or avoiding it with new rules. Example: I had a coaching client who would get lonely each afternoon working away in her cubicle. When she needed a break from work she would go down to the cafeteria and was tempted by all of the sugary foods. Instead, she set an alarm each afternoon that reminded her to find a way to connect with someone before she felt lonely. Often all she had to do was walk down a few cubicles and connect with a co-worker or call a friend to feel better. I’ve had clients that just needed to take a 10 – 30 minute break from the busy-ness of their day to get horizontal or rest.  This can help recharge your willpower gas tank.
  4. Practice new habits in advance – a technique I work with my clients on is visual motor rehearsal. This is what Olympic athletes use to mentally rehearse or practice their sport when they’re not actually out training. The same technique can be used to prepare yourself for those stressful or triggering moments and rehearse a different pattern. Coming up with a new response to the mental monster who urges you to reach for the cookie or treat can be very effective in stopping the binge before it occurs.

As a final thought, remember that the key to creating habits is consistent or repeated practice of your new rituals until the new actions are the default, or new normal, for your brain. Once you’ve retrained your brain to act in a manner consistent with your new habit or behavior, you can be less alert (mindful) for the old patterns or habits coming up. Awareness, practice, repetition and rewards signal to the brain to keep doing things the way you want it to.

Remember, don’t beat yourself up if you have a slip. Get back on your path and keep going!

Change is yucky in the beginning,

messy in the middle and beautiful in the end.

Your brain will try to follow the old path of least resistance for a while so just keep at it.  Never stop believing you can do this.  Never ever.

Continue reading with Principle #7 – Social Investment

With love and light,

Polly

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If you resonate with this article, you may also enjoy receiving my newsletter with my personal updates and all the goodies I don’t share on my blog.

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #5 – Zorro Circle Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle (this post)

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment

———-

I found this chapter and the concept behind Principle #5 The Zorro Circle pretty straightforward. The metaphor Achor uses about the Zorro Circle comes from the movie where as a student Zorro was guided by his teacher to work within a smaller circle during his training until he mastered what was right in front of him. The teacher drew a small circle around Zorro and told him to stay within it while he trained and learned to be a great swordsman. Eventually, Zorro mastered that area and then his teacher expanded the circle a little more and a little more until Zorro was a master swordsman second to none.

The Zorro Circle – Circle of Control

The idea Achor is conveying in this chapter is that when we can master or feel in control of the circle immediately around us, we feel confident and successful.

“One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future. Yet, when our stresses and workloads seem to mount faster than our ability to keep up, feelings of control are often the first things to go, especially when we try to tackle too much at once. If, however, we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feelings of control so crucial to performance. By first limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching those efforts have the intended effect, we accumulate resources, knowledge, and confidence to expand the circle, gradually conquering a larger and larger area”.

When I read through this chapter it hit me how this relates to the coaching work I enjoy with clients. I refer to it as an empowered or disempowered state. When stress, overwhelm, and growing demands reduce our ability to feel we are in control we feel disempowered. We lose our connection to our higher thoughts, our conscious self and we become inactive, or worse, helpless.

With eating disorders (and addiction in general), it’s often about a momentum of disempowering thoughts that lead to helplessness in the face of life’s challenges. Some people say an addict’s inability to cope with life’s difficulties, emotions and upsets is because they have disordered thoughts. I challenge that and think it’s because we’ve allowed disempowering thoughts – be they internally initiated or externally influenced – to build momentum such that they dominate the airtime in our mind.  The majority of our thinking is focused on negative thoughts which create a negative or disempowered state.

I like how Achor’s book is focused on career and success because his concepts apply in these arenas very well.  They also apply very well in the world of behavior change, habits and addiction. He says, “Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance….employees who feel they have high levels of control at the office are better at their jobs and report more job satisfaction”.

I can share in this idea as it relates to habit change or addiction recovery. People who feel in their power, or in control as Achor refers to it, are the ones who can guide the direction of the course of their life where they want to go. They can achieve the goals they set out to achieve – be they recovery, or business, or financial or relationship. All high achieving people I believe have a strong sense of their own power, they’re confident and feel in control of their destiny.

But how did they get this way? Ah, more on that in a minute.

Something crucial to report that Achor shares about the control factor in our lives is that, “…gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have. Remember how we experience the world is shaped largely by our mindset”. (more on this in Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage)

The good news insight is that we have control because we can control our thoughts. We can control the amount of control we think we have. Boy, that sounds confusing or like a game we play with ourselves. Yup, it kind of is a game.

As a student of mental empowerment I propose we look at this as a good thing. We can choose to empower or disempower, feel in control or out of control, feel confident or not from the inside out. That’s good news! Unless you don’t want to take responsibility for how you feel or be at cause in your thoughts, which some people fall into.  I call it sloppy thinking.

I’d like to add one final concept that Achor talks about regarding the ability to feel in control of our lives at home and work. He reported a study in the workplace on health and specifically coronary heart disease, “…researchers concluded that feeling a lack of control over pressure at work is as great a risk factor for heart disease as even high blood pressure”. Our feelings can have that great of an impact on our physical health!

Wow. I wish everyone knew how important our thoughts and focus are to our well being.  Looking at this data it reinforces the idea that we can impact our health with our thoughts.

The Dueling Brain: “The Thinker” and “The Jerk”

A lot of the material in my training workshops and with coaching clients is designed to remind them they have one brain but two minds. In this book Achor refers to the two aspects of ourselves (our two minds) as The Thinker and The Jerk. I haven’t heard them referred to in this way before, but I think those titles work well.

The Thinker is the higher conscious portion of your brain in touch with your goals, the future and is responsive to situations, not knee-jerk reactive. The Jerk would be your animal instinct mind and is always in survival mode and reactive from a fight-or-flight perspective, is focused on the now and not connected to what you most want long-term but instead in this moment.

I enjoyed how Achor introduced these two minds in with this chapter because it demonstrates a lot about how one kicks in (The Jerk) and seems to push the other (The Thinker) out of the way. When working with people with eating disorders, or any addiction for that matter, it’s often the case where we feel like our thoughts are in control (instead of us)…we can’t stop the cravings or our behavior and we have to “give in.” The Jerk mind is very tricky and quickly finds ways to conquer The Thinker’s rational mindset and takes us down a slippery slope we often regret or feel ashamed about.

As it relates to daily performance, Achor says, “…most of our daily challenges are better served by The Thinker, but unfortunately, when we’re feeling stressed or out of control, The Jerk tends to take over. This isn’t something that happens consciously. Instead, it’s biological. When we’re under pressure, the body starts to build up too much cortisol, the toxic chemical associated with stress. Once the stress has reached a critical point, even the smallest setback can trigger an amygdala response, essentially hitting the brain’s panic button…The Jerk overpowers The Thinker’s defenses, spurring us into action without conscious thought.”

If you’ve ever had an overwhelming urge, you acted upon it and later regretted it, you fell prey to this response. You could say, “The Jerk made me do it”. We’ve all been there.

I want to take a moment to share a few concepts that Tony Robbins shares in his workshops that I think would be beneficial to this distinction about the mind and stress.

Tony presents the idea of “1, 2 3 too many” which has to do with the way our brain can take in one, two or maybe three things but after that it’s pure overwhelm and shuts down. If you’ve ever tried to remember a few things someone tells you about, after the second you start to feel anxious and by the third you’ve probably given up and resigned that you’ll never remember all this. I find when I’m traveling if I start to get ideas from someone about great restaurants in a city or things to do, if I don’t immediately start writing them down after #2 I’ve lost them forever. Same idea with a to-do list or our goals. We get overwhelmed and stressed when we try to look at all of the things we have to do. Instead, we need to break it down or write them down (especially if it’s midnight and we can’t sleep because we’re mulling over and over in our mind).

I also want to share a part of Tony Robbin’s teachings about The Triad; our focus, the meaning we give it and our physiology create our state. If we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed it’s because of (a) what we’re focused on and (b) the meaning we’re giving to the situation is disempowering or negative. If we tell ourselves that this thing that we’re experiencing is harmful, negative us or is bad for us, we’re creating stress in our lives. In those moments we need to remember to refocus (on something else) or tell a more empowered story to ourselves about what this means.

Here’s how that could look in real life: A bill arrives in the mail and you react with a “Crap! I’ll never get out of debt if these bills keep coming. How am I supposed to ever get ahead when all I do is pay bills every day!?”

What happened is you checked the mail and a bill was there. The emotional reaction, the story and the resulting feeling of stress about it was all conceived in your mind and probably gave you an emotional and physical response. Instead, if you perhaps were prepared in advance because you know bills arrive in the mail you said to yourself as you opened the mailbox, “sometimes I get bills and I’ve always been able to meet my obligations. I’m on top of things, I have a budget and a plan and I am working it.” Or, you could grab the mail, not read each envelope (shift your focus) and put the mail on the counter for review another time when you’re not already having a tough or challenging day.

[video here about the scale/story of debt]

Change your focus, change your life” – Tony Robbins

Telling yourself an empowering story about what a bill means can shift your entire emotional and physiological response to the piece of mail. It’s up to you. Takes practice, but if you get out ahead of it you can do it.

Managing Stress, Self-Awareness and Moving to Empowerment

“So how do we reclaim control from The Jerk and put it back into the hands of The Thinker? The answer is the Zorro Circle.”

This is a clever concept and I think Achor is correct. The two things he points out that can help us turn the tides on The Jerk involves two steps. The first step is to raise our level of self-awareness. Achor shares that, “Experiments show that when people are primed to feel high levels of distress, the quickest to recover are those who can identify how they are feeling and put those feelings into words.”

Self-awareness is crucial in any aspect of personal growth.  I agree with Achor if you’re working to be a better manager of stress and be more empowered then you  need to be highly self-aware.

Noticing and being able to identify when you feel bad or are building negative energy inside is a good tool for life. Everything is energy and energy (and emotions) tends to increase in momentum due to our focus. If we find ourselves frequently upset or stressed or in a negative vibration, it’s often because we didn’t catch our thoughts and emotional state early on in order to adjust our focus and thoughts before they got out of control.

Being highly self-aware of our vibration and energetic state is key to control or intentional creation in our lives. Self-awareness or awareness of self – energy, emotion, thought and attitude are the way we become creators of our life and less reactors to situations.  

The second step that Achor talks about is the Zorro Circle. What he means by this is to, “identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.” If you feel helpless, blame others or play victim to what’s happening in your life you’re going to feel disempowered.

In order to keep in an empowered state, first be more self-aware so your negative thoughts don’t get too much momentum and then focus on what you can control. In some areas of our life our locus of control may be small, so we then want to focus on the thing we have the most control over and that’s our mind. Our focus and meaning creating mind is ours to guide. If we tell a better story about the situation, one that empowers us, the resulting feelings we’ll have will keep us in an empowered state. From that empowered state so much more is possible.

Achor also gives advice to focus on the small things we can control and have small wins or successes that build upon each other. When we have wins, even small ones, we feel more confident and empowered. Building small wins upon one another is a great way to increase your confidence and feel an empowered state more of the time.

I’ve found that sometimes my biggest locus of control and empowerment can come from my physical strength and trainings and often carries over into other areas of my life. If I’m feeling like a badass when I’ve crushed a workout, I have a lot more confidence to make a new client call or approach a new situation. Your small wins don’t always have to be in the same area as where you’re perhaps feeling less control or disempowered. Take the win and leverage it.

From the book, “And as their circles started to expand, so did their results….The point: Small successes can add up to major achievements. All it takes is drawing that first circle in the sand.”

Final Thoughts on Principle #5 Zorro Circle

To summarize a few great quotes from this chapter:

  1. “Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our own fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance.”
  2. “…gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have.”
  3. “Most of our daily challenges are better served by The Thinker, but unfortunately, when we’re feeling stressed or out of control, the Jerk tends to take over.”
  4. “When small stresses pile up over time, as they so often do in the workplace, it only takes a minor annoyance or irritation to lose control; in other words, to let the Jerk into the driver’s seat.”
  5. “The first goal we need to conquer – or circle we need to draw – is self-awareness.”
  6. “Once you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, your next goal should be to identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t.”
  7. “…self-awareness was a swift antidote for emotional hijacking…”
  8. “Small successes can add up to major achievements.”

Continue reading with Principle #6 – 20 Second Rule

With love and light,

Polly

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #4 – Falling Up Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up (this post)

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment

———-

The primary message in Principle #4 Falling Up relates in a lot of ways with the message of Principle #2 The Fulcrum and The Lever which had a lot to do with choosing a positive mindset. When we are aware and consciously choose to see the positive in any situation, we can have the most benefit and change the course of our future experiences.

In this chapter of Achor’s book he shares findings from studies about the setbacks, adversity and challenges we all face and how best to navigate our way to leveraging them to make our lives better.

Mental Mapping Our Way Out of Adversity

According to the author, “All human decisions involve this kind of mental mapping; they start with an ‘I am here’ point (the status quo), from which a variety of paths radiate outward, the number depending on the complexity of the decision, and the clarity of your thinking at the moment. The most successful decisions come when we are thinking clearly and creatively enough to recognize all the paths available to us, and accurately predict where that path will lead. The problem is when we are stressed or in crisis, many people miss the most important path of all: the path up.

Our minds can easily see when we face adversity or a setback that we can keep doing what we’ve done and keep getting what we’ve been getting in terms of results. The mind can also conceive of worse case scenarios where we could do something that would put us even worse off than we are now. These two paths are readily available and most can see these two and often choose the current path because it’s better than the worst case.

Yet, there is a third path and that is one that leads us to growth and a better future. Achor refers to this as “Falling Up”. Finding the path to a better future can be difficult to find during challenging times. When you have a negative physical diagnosis, hardship in your relationship, or you’ve lost your job seeing the bright side of things isn’t easy. But it is there!

Finding the silver lining – or having a growth moment – is when we really have an opportunity to rise above adversity and stand on the shoulders of the situation and make our lives even better because of it.  We are either defined by our circumstances or we define our circumstances.  We can give the adversity a negative meaning and allow it to drag us down or choose to remind ourselves of one of my favorite lines “everything happens for a reason and that reason is there to serve me.

Achor says that, “….when we feel helpless and hopeless, we stop believing such a path [up] even exists – so we don’t even bother to look for it….our ability to find the Third Path is the difference between those who are crippled by failure and those who rise above it.”

Failure As Growth

In a lot of books I’ve read and in talking with lots of entrepreneurs over the years there’s a common theme about risk. All business comes with some risk and therefore there could be failure. Failure to successful business owners isn’t the end of the road. It’s a part of the path. They accept and learn from failures, trying not to repeat them in the future.

This same idea can be applied to our lives. If we perceive of failure as growth, we are more likely to experience growth from the experience than to be taken down by it.

Achor writes, “however counterintuitive it may seem, psychologists actually recommend that we fair early and often.” It’s in the living through failure that we grow more confident in our abilities, we learn to figure things out and feel better and less afraid of failure in the future because we know we can do it.

Post-Traumatic Growth

One of my favorite parts of this chapter is when the author talks about studies that show people who have been through traumatic situations and are able to see the silver lining have better lives after the trauma.  We’ve all seen people who have lost limbs, eyesight or were severely burned and their resilience during and after the event is totally inspiring.

I heard the story of Turia Pitt, an ultra marathon runner who was caught in a brush fire during a race and received burns on nearly 70% of her body.  She’s now an inspirational speaker.  She lived through a hellish journey of 8 months in and out of the hospital for surgery to repair the damage the fires did to her body.

What’s often interesting to watch are people who come into the world with a seemingly normal set of circumstances and their lives spiral downward because they let events determine their life.  Then there are people like Turia who was a model, had a loving boyfriend and a life that seemed to be going well.  She has a horrible injury and she goes on to allow that experience to propel her into the atmosphere instead of curl back into nothing.  This is post traumatic growth.

Actor says, “Success is about more than simple resilience.  It’s about using that downward momentum to propel ourselves in the opposite direction.  It’s about capitalizing on setbacks and adversity to become even happier, even more motivated, and even more successful.  It’s not falling down, it’s falling up.”

To me, the way to have access in the challenging times to the path up is to practice conditioning our mind before those setbacks happen.  To create an underlying belief that supports the story “things are always working out for me.”

It’s the daily rituals and thought patterns that you choose that give you access to your path up, your potential growth when you experience adversity.  The momentum of thoughts can carry you through adversity and surf the waves of challenges or be swept under the current.  Positively reinforcing to yourself that you have good karma, are blessed or whatever you want to reinforce to yourself will allow you to see opportunity in adversity and experience post traumatic growth.

Learned Helplessness Is Just Conditioned Thoughts

Achor talks about how people have a setback in one area of their life – or even read about it like watching the news when they report the economy is doing poorly – they carry it over into other areas of their life.  It’s incredibly common for people to have a setback, shock or failure to fall into hopelessness and give up.  We think “why bother trying.”

This learned helplessness is like a cancer.  If we allow one setback, one failure to be the catalyst that teaches us to give up and that life’s not worth winning we’ll never succeed.

Sadly, the author reports that often people feel helpless in one area of their life, say finding a job, and they carry that over into other areas.  They think they’ll never find a life partner, or that they’ll never lose the weight, or they’ll never save money and on and on.  The downward spiral continues.

As we talked about in Principle #3 Tetris Effect, the impact we can have on the experience AND results in our lives is greatly impacted by the thoughts we think.  Our outlook and attitude can change our reality.  The same idea applies here in seeing opportunity out of adversity.  We can condition our mind to look for the opportunity, or silver lining, in the setback.

So how exactly do you do that, you ask? Practice.

I’ve had my share of adversity and setbacks in my day.  Debt, divorce, death…you name it.  I have set up my life and my daily rituals so that they create a positive and happy life.  That sets my baseline at a higher place than if I weren’t in the practice of neutral or negative thinking.  It’s a great way to live to begin.

Then, when adversity hits I’ve also trained myself through repetition to recall thoughts like “everything is always working out for me so what ever this looks like now I know it will turn out in the end…I just may not see it now.”  I also trained myself to ask in the face of a problem or setback “I wonder what’s trying to happen here?”  That idea I picked up along my path has served me so well over the years.  Whether I’m traveling and I hit some bumps in the journey, I’ve had car problems, relationship problems, client problems…all “problems” are merely opportunities we don’t yet see from the other side.

Change Your Explanatory Style – Tell a New Story

Achor tells of a study where researchers were baffled because there was a minority of people who seemed immune to feeling distressed or helpless after a setback.  They explained that these subjects had “a positive way of interpreting adversity – or what the researchers termed an optimistic ‘explanatory style’.”

The explanatory style is how we tell the story of our life.  Do we tell it with an optimistic or pessimistic outlook?  Do things always work out for us or is it “why does this always happen to me?”  It’s a choice and I believe it comes from our underlying beliefs which are just conditioned patterns of thought.

The story we tell ourselves about the way our life is – or adversity is – is the way we experience life.  If we can learn to condition ourselves to tell a good-feeling, empowering story when adversity comes up we can grow and even experience the post-traumatic growth talked about earlier.  To learn more about telling a new story, check out my post Tell a New Story & Create Your New Life.

Final Thoughts on Principle #4 Falling Up

This is a big chapter and a lot of great insights.  To recap and share a few additional points the author talks about, here’s a quickie summary:

  1. There are always three paths out of any situation – the same path, the negative path and the path up.
  2. Successful decisions about which path to choose are made when we are thinking clearly and creatively so we are sure to see all paths available to us.
  3. If we perceive failure as growth, then we will benefit from the failure and grow.
  4. Post-traumatic growth – growing out of adversity.  More than bouncing back, we bounce up!
  5. Psychologists recommend failing early and often.  We become more confident and learn how to figure things out better in future.
  6. Learned helplessness can be over learned when we begin to apply feeling helpless because of a setback to other areas of our lives.
  7. Having an optimistic, opportunistic mindset helps us see the growth in the loss, adversity or setback.
  8. We have the power to create the story, to give meaning to what happens in every situation.  Choose an empowering meaning!
  9. How we “explain the nature of past events has crucial impact on our happiness and future success.”
  10. Optimists see adversity as “local and temporary”.  They don’t think it will last forever and it doesn’t apply to other areas of their life.  Just that situation.
  11. “Our fear of consequences is always worse than the consequences themselves.”
  12. Falling up is using downward momentum to propel us upward.

Continue reading with Principle #5 – Zorro Circle

With love and light,

Polly

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #3 – Tetris Effect Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect (this post)

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment

———-

Training Your Brain to Capitalize on Possibility

This is a slightly shorter chapter in the book, but no less important in terms of helping us improve our lives. As a student of habits, addiction and how to improve our lives by stopping things that no longer serve us I enjoyed this chapter.

I’m hoping you know what the game Tetris is and how addictive it can be for some gamers. My dad fell into this category playing hours of Tetris each day. He got pretty good at it!

In this chapter Achor talks about a few studies that show the effects of training or conditioning our minds. In one study people played hours of Tetris each day and they reported seeing Tetris-like patterns outside in the world like the cereal boxes on shelves at the store that they wanted to reorganize just like in the game.

The only thing I could think of that this could be helpful with is if you were a librarian or had messy kids and playing this helped them be better at straightening up their rooms.

The Positive Tetris Effect

As you may know, our minds are energy efficiency-seeking mechanisms. The mind is constantly editing or deleting information from the outside environment to filter our experience. There is so much information coming at us that if we had to take it all in we would be easily overwhelmed with data. Our minds have adapted over millions of years to filter – or edit out – what we have identified as being non-important to our survival.

Just like in the Tetris study, our minds can become conditioned to view the world in patterns. The brain is trying to conserve energy so it looks for signals from one thing that tells it what that thing is – often related to something else we’ve already experienced before it can relate to and categorize as harmful or helpful.

Here’s the good news about having a mind that sees things in patterns; we can train the mind to see what we want it to see. If I were to ask you to look around the room you’re in right now and look for everything that’s brown, brown, brown. Take a minute look around you – above, below, in front, behind. Everything that’s brown.

Now close your eyes and answer this….

Tell me everything in the room that’s red.

You’d have a harder time remembering things that were red because you had just sent your mind on a mission to find the brown in the room. It was filtering out the red and anything else that wasn’t brown.

Once you know this you can put this into practice to serve you! Instead of helping you see the brown or red, condition your mind to see opportunities and positive things in your environment. Our minds can become opportunity seeking mechanisms for us! Your mind can be conditioned to filter out the negative and help us be alert and see things that we choose to see.

Where attention goes, energy flows and results show.  If you can condition your mind to focus on the things you want to see grow or improve in your life, that is what the mind can help you do.

Training Your Brain to See Positive

I don’t know that I need to tell you that focusing on the positive in the world could be a good thing, but scientists have actually studied this and found that we gain access to three resources when we focus on the positive:

  1. Happiness
  2. Gratitude
  3. Optimism

The more you pick up on the positive around you, the better you’ll feel. In Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage – we learned that when you’re happier your performance at work goes up. In fact being happy trickles out and improves every area of your life. Being happy is a very good thing.

There are studies that have found that nothing improves your overall well being better than gratitude. As a student of Abraham Hicks I’m going to turn gratitude into appreciation (Abraham says gratitude is laced with some negative but appreciation is pure positive so let’s go with that, ok?).

Results show people who are consistently thankful are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving and have less depression, anxiety and loneliness.

Amen to that! Or should I say…thank you for that!

Building Momentum by Focusing On Positive

I’m pleased to report from my own experience and from the studies Achor shares that we can start to build momentum when we focus on the positive.  It takes practice, but it’s so worth it.

Actor talks about one method to begin practicing focusing on the positive by keeping a “Three Good Things” journal.  He explains it as a way to write down at the end of each day three good things that happened that day.  This forces your brain to pick up on the good things in your experience and filter out the rest.  It teaches the brain to look for brown or red, in my earlier exercise.

Many people now keep a gratitude journal where they write down their blessings each morning or night before bed.  I think this is a wonderful start. I’ve moved past this in my personal practice. In the work I teach I encourage people to start with a gratitude journal, but move on into being a person who IS thankful and appreciates things throughout the day. Start with a journal to get the habit and when you’re ready start off each day with the question “what’s awesome about today?” or “what can I appreciate or be thankful for?”  You get the idea. Set the course for your mind to look for good things and it will see them more and more often.

Just a reminder here; if you want to become a more thankful or appreciative person it takes focus and practice.  You’re creating a new habit and habits rely on consistency and repetition to allow the mind to engrain them.  Do these rituals every day for at least 30 days. Some of my coaching clients do them as rituals, fall off the wagon without reminders and then find their negative vibrations creep back in.  I’ve found it’s helpful to have reminders either on your calendar, phone alerts or the journal each night is a great fall back.

I hope you’ll play with this mind conditioning and see the benefits for yourself.  People I coach are sometimes amazed when they first try it how good it feels.

Quick Recap for Principle #3:

  • Negative Tetris Effect – when we focus on solving problems and finding things to fix (in our work, in others, or at home) we fall into a pattern of seeing negative or problems all around us.

 

  • Positive Tetris Effect – we can train our brain to focus on the positive. “…we see what we look for.”

Continue reading with Principle #4 – Falling Up

With love and light,

Polly

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If you resonate with this article, you may also enjoy receiving my newsletter with my personal updates and all the goodies I don’t share on my blog.

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and The Lever Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever (this post)

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment

———-

It makes sense when you read the story why the author titled this chapter and principle the fulcrum and the lever, but I think I would have called it “Your Thoughts Create Your Reality”. Ok, maybe that line is a bit overused, but it’s easier to get your mind around as a principle.

The sub-title of this chapter is “Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset”. I think this is where I started really getting into this book because a lot of my behavior change and addiction recovery coaching comes down to shifting our mindset. Stopping old habits has a lot to do with undoing or replacing old patterns with new ones.

I’ll admit I studied this chapter a lot because I really wanted to best understand what the author was teaching under the metaphor of fulcrum and lever. I get what they are, but for some reason the way he described them in this chapter as two distinct areas of potential I had to ponder, question and relate to things I’ve studied and observed over the years. I think I finally got it and will do my best to convey this to you as clearly as possible.

The Archimedean Formula – Using Our Fulcrum and Lever Increases Our Possibility

If you’re familiar with the idea behind a fulcrum and lever (think a big stick or board wedged under a rock to lift something too heavy to lift with your own strength), you get that you can create a ton of energy potential – or work – with less effort than if you tried to apply your energy to it directly. You increase your power potential when you use the fulcrum and lever to your advantage.

Achor says that, “…our brains work in precisely the same way. Our power to maximize our potential is based on two important things: (1) the length of our lever – how much potential power and possibility we believe we have, and (2) the position of the fulcrum – the mindset with which we generate the power to change…simply put, by changing the fulcrum of our mindset and lengthening our lever of possibility, we change what is possible.”

I needed to double check a few definitions because mindset, paradigm, attitude and a few other words were beginning to come up for me and I wanted to clarify before moving ahead and hope this clarification helps you, too.

Mindset is defined as:

  • the established set of attitudes held by someone.
  • a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.
  • an inclination or habit.

I’ve heard mindset described as the glasses through which we see our world. If your glasses (mindset) is rosey colored, you see the good in the world. If your glasses are muddled, then you see what’s wrong with the world…the problems. You’re likely to be called an optimist.

Achor says that the power to improve our possibility, our future, our life lies in our hands. We can move the fulcrum and the lever to better suit the future we want. We have the power to change. It’s not always easy, but what a wonderful thing to know!

Our beliefs are a magnet that create your realityAchor goes on to say, “In other words, ‘reality’ is merely our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it….we can change this perspective at any moment, and by doing so change our experience of the world around us…Essentially, our mindset and in turn our experience of the world, is never set in stone, but constantly in flux.”

Much of his chapters are filled with recounts of study after study that reinforces his points. I highly encourage you to read this book because the studies are not only sometimes entertaining, it’s absolutely shocking what they can teach us about how powerful our mind is. If I shared every story and study this would turn into a book but that’s why we have his book. I’m here to touch upon the highlights and the insights.  Let’s keep moving…

The Placebo Effect and Expectancy Theory – Why We Get What We Expect

There’s a great quote from Wayne Dyer that says, “Man does not get what he wants, he gets what he expects.” I believe the premise behind this has largely to do with energy and the law of attraction, but that’s for another post.

In this part of the chapter Achor shares several examples of studies that prove the placebo effect is very real. He reports, “an empirical review of placebo studies found that ‘Placebos are about 55-60% as effective as most active medications.”

Wow. Just wow.

I remember learning what the placebo effect was as a young student, but I’m seeing the impact of this data in a whole new perspective now that I am a life coach. Goes to show you the true power of our mind in shaping our reality.

One study Achor shared I found incredibly fascinating and surprising at the same time. In one experiment they took people allergic to poison ivy and brushed them with poison ivy and told them it was another type of leaf. Many participants didn’t break out. In another experiment they took people who thought they were allergic to poison ivy were brushed with a non-poison ivy leaf, but were told it was poison ivy and many of them broke out. They experienced a negative placebo effect.

How is that possible?

THAT is the power of our mind.

There are many examples in psychological studies that have proved that our mindset not only changes how we feel about an experience but can actually change the result of the experience. We break out in a rash even when we’re not rubbed with poison ivy.

What does all of this say about us and how can we use this information in our lives?

What this means is that if we can practice new mindsets, we can have a different outcomes and experiences in the world. If you want to apply this towards performance, then if you can shift the way you see how you perform (tell a new story) or the outcome you desire you can achieve better results. I’ve seen this many times in my own life and I’ll share just one example. See if you can relate…

My mom and I have had a rocky relationship most of my life. Hot and cold. Up and down. As I matured I realized I didn’t want to feel all of the lows, the downs, the negativity. I wanted to feel better in this relationship and I expect she did, too.

My mindset about my mom for most of my life was that she was angry and picked fights. I’m glad to say several years ago I had an ah-ha moment and realized she was being attacked or triggered by my dad when I was growing up. Most of her upset and fighting was in response to his behavior.

I practiced letting go of the idea that my mom was a “fight picker” and chose instead to see her as a kind, warm-hearted person. Not long after I changed my mindset and practiced new thoughts about her our relationship turned around so radically it was obvious to me that my mindset was the only thing getting in the way of us having a loving and connected relationship.

Now you…

Think for a moment about where in your life you are not seeing the results you want for yourself. Maybe in the area of love, finances, family, children, physical health, career, relaxation or freedom, creativity, etc.

What is your current mindset about that area?

What story do you tell yourself about “the way it is”?

Is it generally a positive or a negative perspective?

Does it serve you to look at that area through those glasses or could you perhaps shift your mindset to a brighter, more optimistic viewpoint?

If so, what would be a new story you could tell yourself in that area?

Achor says, “…our expectations create brain patterns that can be just as real as those created by events in the real world. In other words, the expectations of an event causes the same complex set of neurons to fire as though the event were actually taking place, triggering a cascade of events in the nervous system that leads to a whole host of real physical consequences…beliefs can actually change the concrete results of our efforts and our work.”

It really is important that we expect good things if we want good things to happen. In my coaching work I teach clients the Abraham Hicks method of “pre-paving”. In pre-paving we are having a mental rehearsal in advance of stepping into that experience.

Allow me to share an example. Before I go on stage or give a presentation I always take a few moments with my eyes closed to see the audience during the talk, really engaged and interested, asking questions or taking notes. I imagine them coming up to me afterwards and sharing what they learned, thanking me and telling me what they’re going to do when they get back into their lives. I take a few moments to practice the feeling of the experience during and after and it prepares my brain to help me deliver the talk that will create that outcome. I’ve had a lot of success with it and hope you’ll try it!

More than anything I’ve found that our beliefs, our expectations, about a situation or outcome will have more influence on the event than the work or steps we take in the activity itself. There are some great studies Achor shares in this chapter that reinforce this idea.

One of the common ways we see this is when people go on a diet or start an exercise routine but they’re not into it. They don’t expect to have good results (maybe because this is their 10th attempt) or they’re doing it to please someone in their lives and they limit their results again. Sadly, the results they get are the results they expected. “This stuff doesn’t work.”

Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believeIf you’re going into something, line up your energy and your mind with what you’re doing and see things turning out well. Practice expecting good things or don’t get started until you do. Otherwise, you’re investing way more energy for a way less result…or no result.

What you say to yourself about the way it is becomes your reality.

Now for a quick word of precaution:

Doing activities we enjoy can greatly enhance our performance in our work. However, if we do the activities we normally enjoy begrudgingly, feeling like we should be working or worse we tell ourselves “this isn’t helping” then those activities won’t have the positive impact on our performance. If you’re going to take time out at lunch to go for a bike ride, do yoga on a break or spend time with your family after dinner instead of checking emails you’ve got to line up with those choices or it won’t help your performance.

You’ve got to tell yourself the story that taking time out to relax, enjoy yourself and treat yourself well IS of benefit to other areas of your life. The inner conflict will kill off the benefit. Make up your mind doing things you enjoy makes you more creative, productive and happier will give you those results.

The author says, “when your brain conceives of family dinner or Sudoku or fantasy football or a phone call with a friend as a ‘waste of time,’ it won’t be able to reap its inherent benefits. But if you change the fulcrum so that you conceive of such free time as a chance to learn and practice new things, to recharge your batteries and connect with others, you’ll be able to leverage the power of that rest time and return stronger than before.”

The Lever of Possibility

I’m a big fan of possibility thinking and using our mind to set the course for our future, if you hadn’t noticed. I like in the book when Achor says, “the more you believe in your own ability to succeed, the more likely it is that you will…” and

“…studies show that simply believing we can bring about positive change in our lives increases motivation and job performance; that success, in essence, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

When we begin to work on our thoughts, to change our mindset and put on a new set of glasses, we not only have a better experience in the moment, but the outcome will be better than if we had not.

So how do we move the fulcrum? How do we adjust our lever of possibility?

A few ideas from the book include:

  • focus on the reasons you will succeed, rather than fail
  • remind yourself of the skills you bring to the table, rather than what you lack
  • recall a time you faced a similar (or challenging) circumstances in the past and things turned out well

When we focus on our strengths, our successes, what we’ve done well (how bad ass we are!), we improve our current performance and influence the outcome of our situation in the right direction.

You can use these practices for big and small tasks. Whether it’s an important presentation to a big client or making dinner for your new in-laws for the first time. It works!

The Process of Manifestation

The process of manifestation is how we turn thoughts into things.  It demonstrates how our beliefs create thoughts which lead to our feelings which we then take action from and get results from those actions. It is represented as

Beliefs –> Thoughts –> Feelings –>  Actions –> Results

If we want to have different results, we’ve got to change the underlying beliefs. The work that Achor is teaching us in shifting our mindset is much like working on our beliefs. Beliefs are just thoughts we keep thinking and eventually regard as true or normal.

But what if they weren’t normal? What if there was a new perspective we could take on outside of our “normal”? If we had a new perspective (move the lever) about how well we could perform in a situation, for example, what results could we create?

Tell a New Story

How much we do in life is based upon what we believe we can achieve.

Our lives are created in the language we use to tell the story of our life. When you relay a past experience to someone you choose your words to relay what you felt or experienced. Most often, once you come up with the words or language about that experience you use pretty much the same language and tell the same story.

Yet, what if the story could be told differently? What if we chose to see the situation from a different perspective? If there was another person in the story, could we tell the story incorporating what their experience was more than just our own? Would it make the story feel better to us?

If your fears and doubts about your future are laced with language that defeats you at every turn, how can you begin to study your story and refine the words or the entire story all together? What else could be possible? What’s another way of looking at and seeing the outcome we want with a different mindset?

Continue reading with Principle #3 – Tetris Effect

With love and light,

Polly

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The Happiness Advantage Principle #1 – Happiness Advantage Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage (this post)

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment

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In his book, Achor identifies the first principle as The Happiness Advantage or as the sub title of the chapter says, “How happiness gives your brain – and your organization – the competitive advantage.”

Because minds that are positive have a biological advantage over minds that are neutral or negative, this principle teaches us why and how to capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance – in all areas of our lives.

This book is designed to help people be better employees or maximize the performance of their teams given the focus of the author’s work in teaching these happiness principles to Fortune 500 companies. Yet, the power behind the principles can be applied to any area of your life as the author points out again and again in the book. I hope you’ll read these insights and consider applying them to your work performance but beyond that, as well.

With that said, let’s dive deep into this chapter and Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage.

Success Doesn’t Make Happy, Happy Makes Success

Depending upon how many years you’ve been on this planet, and how aggressively you’ve been pursuing that thing called “success”, you may have already come to realize the first data point the author outlines:

Success doesn’t lead to being happy.

Being happy does lead to more success.

Success is not key to happiness, Happiness is key to successIf you live in a western society you’re probably swimming in a culture that has taught you to”pursue success and then you’ll be happy.” If you work hard and become successful, then you’ll find yourself with all the trappings you could want and you’ll, of course, be happy.

Sound familiar?

Research in the past 50 years has proven that is a flawed premise. The premise of working to be successful and then you’ll be happy is pervasive. Heck, it even sounds logical. […maybe it seems that way because I’ve been swimming in that story my whole life like you!] I’m not completely sure, but it would appear this story came out of a post-war era where most people had to work hard to survive…let alone thrive.

However, as the results of study after study shared in The Happiness Advantage demonstrate there is proof that happier people are more successful. What the author points out is we need a new story, a new paradigm and new reality to live into. We need to turn things upside down and change our perspective.  We don’t need to grind out our lives working in a negative or neutral space chasing that elusive success in the hopes we’ll be happy…someday.

If there’s anything my life experience has taught me it’s that being happy needs to be part of the journey, not the destination. You can’t have an unhappy mind or attitude and have a happy life. Living in despair, doubt, struggle, suffering or anything else that doesn’t feel good is not going to create happy in your future. That’s like following a recipe and adding ingredients for vegetable soup and expecting it to turn into apple pie. It’s never going to happen. You need to change the recipe (your story) and change the ingredients (your attitude).

The author points out that the most successful people are happy along the way. “When we are happy – when our mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.”

So I asked myself, “what’s the new paradigm, or story, we’d have to begin to believe and live into to turn the old premise upside down?

I came up with:

When I’m happy I’m more successful so I practice being happy each day.

What could your new story sound like if you turned “be successful and then you’ll be happy” around?

Take a moment or two to consider that new reality. Imagine what your life could look like if that were the story you were living into. [pause, reflect]

I want to take a quick moment before we move on to point something out that was taught to me many years ago. Humans are motivated by feeling good and seek out good feeling experiences (ie. we do what we do because we think they’ll make us feel good). Because we’re motivated by feeling good if you felt happy each day then aren’t you already successful? Consider that if our motivation is to be happy and we achieve that each day, is that success?

Happy, Human Flourishing and Thriving

For all the many years I’ve been studying and practicing being happy (my 30 day challenge for example) in my life I’ve not thought to come up with a definition for happy. Shocker, I know! In this book the author shares a similar experience and says that there is no one definition of happiness.

Positive psychologists say that happiness is subjective and I think they’re spot on. What makes you happy is different from other people. Just look at how many different hobbies, foods and lifestyles people enjoy around the planet. If there was one definition of happiness it would seem we’d all be doing the same things, but we’re not.

We each define our happiness.

And that’s a good thing! I just don’t think many of us ever stop to recognize what makes us happy….and then actively think about or do those things intentionally!

Have you? Do you know what makes you happy?

I mean have you ever written out or even thought for five minutes about 10 – 15 things that make you feel happy? Most likely not. And that’s ok.

Here’s an opportunity if you want to take a pause and do that now. Pull out a sheet of paper or just sit for a few minutes and reflect upon the times you’ve been happy in the past couple of days or weeks or months and notice what you were doing and thinking about. (this feels good, so I encourage you to give it a try right now)

What made those moments happy?

What did you do?

Who did you do it with?

Were there any common threads? People/places/activities?

It feels good to become more aware of your own causes of happiness, doesn’t it?

If you had a little trouble finding moments of happiness, that’s ok. Let’s look a little further into what scientists tell us make us happy.

Happiness = Pleasure + Engagement + Meaning

According to Achor scientists often collectively define happiness as “experiencing positive emotions.” They would say “pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future.”

To me happy is a unique emotional experience and isn’t all positive emotions. Achor shares that his own definition of happiness is “…the joy we feel striving after our potential.”

There is no path to happiness, Happiness IS the pathI like the joy and potential parts in his definition. Those two ingredients seem to make up happiness in my world, too. The striving part of his definition leaves me with a sense of effort and working hard again. I like to think of being happy as going to the river and putting your boat in and paddling downstream with the flow. You’re heading towards your destination, you’re enjoying the momentum and you’re not struggling by paddling upstream.

In my study of happiness I’ve learned there is an emotional scale we operate on as vibrational beings. Different emotions vibrate within us at different speeds and just feel differently. I think happiness is a state along a scale of positive emotions. Feeling passion feels different than optimism and that feels different than eagerness. Happy is a vibrational energy state along the emotional scale (example below).

 

Emotional Guidance Scale Abraham HicksHappiness is a state of being created out of our focus, our experiences and thoughts that make us feel, well, happy. When I asked you to think back to a time when you were happy you were able to find unique moments when you felt happy. You labeled those moments as “happy.” You might say you also felt appreciation or hopeful or some other emotion and it’s not unusual to have several emotions comingled within you at one time. You can define when you feel happy.

I appreciate that Achor introduces Aristotle’s definition of happiness in his book because it’s the first I’ve ever heard it. He says that, “Aristotle used: eudaimonia, which translates not directly to ‘happiness’ but to ‘human flourishing’ when he defined the state of happy.

My eyes opened wide open when I saw that definition! As the author behind the website Get Busy Thriving! what do you think I’m all about?

Human Flourishing!

Thriving!

Happiness!

It’s no wonder I am loving this book so much. It’s in alignment with everything I’m up to.

How ever you look at happiness it’s clear we all want to be happy. In fact, I’d say for most anything you think you want to do or think you want to have is because you believe it will make you happier. It’s human nature. Yes, there are other emotions we want to experience (confident, love, connected, fulfilled, etc), but on the whole most of us are living in the pursuit of happiness.

To me, this is a worthwhile pursuit. I’m eager to share more from this book because Achor has some great insights and tips about how to go from the pursuit of happiness to the journey called being happy.

Being happy now. Not someday.

Every. Day.

As in…living a happy life.

Thriving!

If you’re not convinced that living a happy life shouldn’t be the goal and believe that you must pursue success and achievement, there are many, many studies that have proved that “happiness causes success and achievement, not the opposite.”

If you want the nitty gritty data, read The Happiness Advantage – it’s packed with great studies and research evidence. Having read it and many others on happiness I’m convinced being happy first is the best way to live especially if you enjoy being successful.

Happiness Creates Success in All Areas of Life

Achor talks about a study of 275,000 people that found that “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity and, in particular, our jobs, careers and businesses.”

The good news if you manage people is that happy people are more likely to sell more, have higher income, higher performance ratings and less sick days, be less likely to quit and feel burned out.

Sounds like a clear formula for success:

Help employees be happy, get better results.

Now, modify this if you’re self-employed or are the business owner and look at your own performance and potential. This means that your business will do better and experience more success the happier YOU are.

Wow.

Instead of grinding it out as the business owner your #1 priority should be to get happy.

Sounds simple? Maybe it sounds hard?

Whichever way you look at it, don’t take it for granted or brush this off as simply positive thinking. There’s way too much data to support it. You’d be doing yourself a favor in so many ways if you took stock of what makes you happy and do that before you take action in your business.

If we look at the success of Virgin and listen to the words of Richard Branson who obviously knows a few things about being successful (he’s a billionaire and a very happy one I might add) he has said that, “more than any other element, fun is the secret of Virgin’s success.” For him, fun leads to happy and happy leads to bottom line success. I’d call that a success clue.

Hopefully by now you’re convinced that your happiness can lead to greater success. With that idea in mind how do we go about being happier?

Get Happy First

Experiencing positive emotions like happiness broadens our horizons. Psychologists call it the “Broadening Effect”. Negative emotions often lead to fight or flight reactions to situations. They harbor doubt, worry, fear, disbelief, discouragement and a host of other non-effective emotions. When we’re feeling happy or positive we have access to more creativity, more possibility thinking, we’re open to new ideas and are better problem solvers.

Experiencing positive feelings floods our brains with dopamine and serotonin (aka the “happiness drug”). These chemicals make us feel better and give us access to learning centers in our brains where we can access more information, better organize it and retrieve it. Powerful stuff!

Achor reports in The Happiness Advantage that both children and adults primed to think positively and feel positive emotions before taking on a task performed better. He also shared that a study done with doctors who were told they would be given a small reward after evaluating their patients were more likely to make the right diagnosis of patients.

Want to know something funny about that study? The doctors were given a candy as their potential reward.

Candy…really? Yes!

Even small rewards or a little positive thinking can have a positive impact on our state and thus performance.

Achor told of an experiment where students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives just before taking some tests and those who were primed with positive emotions performed better than neutral or negative thinkers.

I smiled to myself when I read of these studies. I have often taken time during my workday to do things that make me feel good. Pet my cats. Look out the window to watch a bird fly by. Watch a funny video. Talk to a friend or colleague and create some laughs. Whatever it was I enjoyed breaking up the day with good feeling activities. Sounds as if these practices may have been part of my secret to success. Second success clue.

Think for a moment about what activities make you feel good that you could do before you take on a project or dive into work each day? Can you come up with 2-3 small things that you could begin introducing into your work day…or morning routine? Remember the candy experiment.

The Happiness Advantage as a Work Ethic

I really enjoyed in this book how Achor proposes that “happiness is not just a mood – it’s a work ethic.”

I couldn’t be more in support of that idea as a way of living. However, I’ll reiterate we want to get happy because feeling happy feels so good, not just for the performance results. Having the success and performance results will be a natural outcome, so I guess having a work ethic to be happy is a great one. And recognize being happy will spill over into improving every area of your life.

I believe that to maintain the “work ethic” you need to remember three things:

  1. Focus – you’ve got to be aware of what you’re focused on, thinking and momentum to each day. Sure, some days can get off track, but being focused on feeling good should be the goal each day so you are being happy.
  2. Choose – negative energy is a default state for too many of us. We must choose and be intentional about our decision and desire to be happy each day. We have to remember we are responsible for our feelings and can choose to be positive or negative. Either way we’re choosing where to add momentum.
  3. Practice – the discipline of choosing to be happy takes practice – daily. We need to introduce rituals such as a morning routine that will keep happiness top of mind especially first thing in the day. We also need to be very self-aware so we take steps to do things to keep us feeling good if we start to fall into a negative state. It takes daily practice with our energy to build momentum in a positive direction.

We all have a baseline level of happiness. The good news is with focus and positive rituals we can increase our baseline level of happiness. That should make you feel good! You’re in the driver’s seat.

You are responsible for and in control of your happiness.

I’ve found that since I started studying and pursuing daily happiness that people in the world have grown too comfortable with negative feelings. It seems like negative is familiar. Familiar feels normal because we practice the behavior until it becomes a habit. Like a new habit we want to start, feeling positive takes practice and discipline to reinforce.

To become more happy each day we want to be aware and resist the temptation to think or do things that feel negative. We have to raise the standard of the emotional baseline we’re willing to live at.

A few years ago I did a 30 day challenge based upon the book The Happiness Project and ever since I won’t tolerate living a life that feels negative. Sure, I dip into low vibration emotions sometimes. But, I’ve raised my self-awareness and conditioned myself so much over the years that my brain kicks in and helps me do the things that feel better and have better thoughts so I’m happier each day. If you’d like further advice and support to help be more aware and practice happy daily, contact me about life coaching.

7 Ways to Permanently Raise Your Happiness Baseline

I hope you’ll read The Happiness Advantage for many reasons, but one is so you can learn more in-depth about these 7 ways to permanently raise your happiness baseline. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Meditate – a consistent practice of 5-15 minutes of meditation each day has huge benefits, especially over time. You’ve probably already heard this, so I’ll leave it at that.
  2. Find Something to Look Forward to – as the author says, “often the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation.” Look for things you can put out into your future that you can look forward to no matter how small. Remember the candy experiment.
  3. Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness – people who commit acts of kindness each day report higher levels of happiness.
  4. Infuse Positive Into Your Surroundings – our physical environment can have a huge impact on our state of mind. In my home I have an altar I see all the time that is my altar to fun and joy and is filled with things that remind me of happy times in my life. Surroundings are in all areas of your life (office, home, car, etc) and include the people, too.
  5. Exercise – by now the evidence of the correlation of exercise and positive emotions is pervasive, so enough said. Move!
  6. Spend Money (but not on stuff)invest your money in experiences, don’t waste it on stuff. Research shows the enjoyment from a happy experience goes a lot further than the benefit of any “thing” we could buy. Spend wisely.
  7. Exercise a Signature Strength – “even more fulfilling than using a skill..is exercising a strength of character, a trait that is deeply embedded in who we are.” A signature strength is something you do that feels good when you do it. Like for me coaching, learning or contributing to people are a few of my signature strengths. If I’m doing these things I feel better. Reflect on yours and practice them each day.

Final Thoughts on Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

There is a lot in this chapter and principle that can be of benefit to you in your life. A few quick recaps:

  1. Happiness creates success, success doesn’t necessarily create happiness. Get a new story.
  2. Happier people are smarter, healthier, live longer, perform better, make more money and have better relationships.
  3. Happiness is a journey, a choice and a practice. Learn what makes you happy and make it your goal to live happy, not pursue it.
  4. Aristotle’s definition related to “human flourishing”, not sunshine and rainbows. When you’re thriving inside, you’ll thrive outside as well.
  5. Focus on feeling good each day. Put your boat in and paddle downstream.
  6. Happiness improves performance in all areas of life including work performance. Be happy and help employees be happy and you’ll be more successful.

Being a life coach there is no greater reward than teaching and helping people be happy in their lives. Whatever our personal definition of happy is, I encourage you to define it for yourself and go after it. If you would like support in living a happier, more successful life, please be sure to reach out to me about 1:1 coaching.

Continue reading with Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and The Lever

With love and light,

Polly

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The Happiness Advantage: Book Review & Insights

When I read The Happiness Advantage I was so eager to share what I was reading that I immediately made a video and started sharing what I could with my Facebook fans.  To say that I enjoyed this book is an understatement; I thought it was awesome!

The author, Shawn Achor, does a great job of interspersing research and facts with humor and real-world stories to explain each of the 7 Principles of Happiness he presents.  Before I started writing this review I started reading another book and it became so clear to me how easy a read The Happiness Advantage was; the stories and his naturally smooth writing style helped make it digestible and enjoyable.

What is The Happiness Advantage About?

What you think you become, what you feel, you attract, what you imagine, you create.If you ask me, the Happiness Advantage is a natural result of the many years of research and fact-finding Shawn Achor did while as a student and professor at Harvard.  He went on to develop and began sharing his 7 principles of happiness which leads to greater  performance and success to Fortune 500 companies.  He worked as a consultant traveling around the world teaching top executives how to boost their bottom line by learning what makes employees happier. He’s even shared his insights with TED audiences.

You see, the Happiness Advantage is essentially about turning the old paradigm of, “Work hard to be successful and then you’ll be happy” into “Get happy and then you’ll be more successful.

Achor shares study after study in the beginning of the book that reinforce that the happier we are the wealthier, healthier and higher performing we are.  While this book is primarily focused on how to be a more successful employee, manager or business owner, the underlying messages relate to all areas of life.  That’s why I love this book as a life coach who helps facilitate people thriving in their lives. Get happy!

The 7 Principles of the Happiness Advantage

I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health.It’s so clean and convenient when a presenter or author summarizes their work in a nice little package of tips or secrets; in Achor’s case it’s The 7 Principles of Happiness.  As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed what I got out of this book, so I will be publishing a series of posts about the seven principles and will link them here when complete.  Below are my summaries of each of the 7 Principles of Happiness:

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage – success doesn’t lead to happy but happy leads to success, using positive psychology really can help us be happier now and ultimately that will carry through in our health, performance at work and in our relationships.

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever – by moving the fulcrum (our mindset) in a positive direction we can access a lot more power from the lever.

Principle #3 – Tetris Effect – we can train ourselves to see opportunity and positive experiences in our environment instead of the negative with practice which allows us to act and seize opportunities.

Principle #4 – Falling Up – we have the opportunity to take three paths in every situation; same as before, go into negative/retract or “fall up” and grow from the experience. Positively minded people actually improve after major life setbacks.

Principle #5 – Zorro Circle – when faced with a crisis or threat we can maintain control of our emotions by focusing on manageable, small goals that we can handle now and then grow our circle outward as we gain confidence and feel more powerful.

Principle #6 – 20 Second Rule – when forming new habits or stopping old ones it’s a good rule of thumb to reduce the “activation energy” which are any steps we can take to make the habit easier OR harder to complete – depending upon whether we want to start or stop a habit.

Principle #7 – Social Investment – social support networks are the most important things in life and if we want to be happier and more successful investing in our relationships at work, at home and community are the most impact factor we can focus on.

In general, what you’ll learn from these additional posts, if you choose to read them, are more in-depth ways that you can cultivate happiness and therefore improve your performance in all areas of your life. I hope you’ll dive in and get started!

Big Take Aways from The Happiness Advantage

There is so much good stuff in this book I felt I wanted to create a series of posts for you.  To summarize some of the yummy quotes, here are some big take aways:

Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward.

Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.

The most successful people, the ones with the competitive edge, don’t look to happiness as some distant reward for their achievements, nor grind through their days on neutral or negative; they are the ones who capitalize on the positive and reap the rewards at every turn.

Aristotle used: eudaemonia, which translates not directly to “happiness” but to “human flourishing.”

What I mean is that the more you believe in your ability to succeed, the more likely it is that you will.

What we expect from people (and from ourselves) manifests itself in the words we use, and those words can have a powerful effect on end results.

…if we are able to conceive of a failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth.

The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping-stone to greatness.

Small successes can add up to major achievements.

We are mere ‘bundles of habits.’

The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets.

 

Re: activation energy – …the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction.  The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit.

“70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.”

Learn more by starting with Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

With love and light,

Polly

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Simple Insights Into Successful Bulimia Recovery: Podcast About The Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide

A Conversation With Kathryn Hansen About Her Second Book: Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide

Kathryn Hansen Author, Bulimia Recovery GuideI read Kathryn Hansen’s first book, Brain Over Binge, in June of 2014 and wrote a glowing review of it and began recommending the book to my bulimia recovery coaching clients.  Kathryn and I connected and collaborated to create our first podcast you can listen to from this blog post.

As you maybe can tell I’m a big fan of Kathryn’s work and the message she has for those with bulimia who want to recover.  Her fresh approach to recovery is based upon her own experience and what she recommends to people through her website and blog. I’ve found her journey was similar to my own recovery and I also recommend a similar approach when coaching clients towards their recovery.

I’m excited to share our latest podcast (audio recording below) of a conversation we had about her book the Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide.  I’ve titled it the Simple Insights Into Bulimia Recovery podcast because it includes the simple steps or ideas we found helpful for our lasting recovery as well as what we suggest to people who have contacted us over the years based upon what’s worked well.

Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide Podcast

I reconnected with Kathryn after the launch of her second book Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide and had the pleasure of recording this podcast just for you. Click the play button below to listen and my notes continue below…

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I highly recommend finding an hour so you can listen to the podcast and tune into the golden gems of wisdom that were shared during the conversation. Additionally, I’d like to also make notes for you below of the insights I shared on bulimia recovery during our conversation.  For most of Kathryn’s contribution, you’ll really want to listen to the audio.  I think it’s awesome!

My intentions for the conversation were to:

1)   Offer you hope – to provide a ray of light and hope to anyone still binging who wants to stop. I think without hope or faith or belief that you can recover, you’ll have a rough road or a dead end.  Hope is the first step.  You’ve got to talk yourself into a place where you think what you do could work.

2)   Share insights and ideas from our experience – we both recovered from bulimia on our own in 2005 and have since gone on to help give ideas and guidance to people we’ve met.  We’ve seen what works for lots of people.

3)   Create an invitation to make a decision and take some action – just listening to the conversation will not change your life.  Making a decision to do something, just one thing, will change the course you’re on.  If you listen, I strongly encourage you to take one idea or one step to change something you’re thinking or doing.

Alternative Ideas About Bulimia

The ideas and opinions Kathryn and I shared are our own and may not work for everyone and that’s ok.  We all have to find what works best for us.

The alternative philosophy Kathryn and I agree on is that binging and purging isn’t a disorder or a disease.  We don’t think there’s something you were born with that caused you to become bulimic (as is often the case in a hereditary disease).

We do realize there are neurological, biological, chemical and physical responses that are tied in with the urges to binge that seem to run rampant and make your life feel not in your control.

While our ideas maybe aren’t exactly radical or rogue, they do appear to be an alternative idea into what causes bulimia from traditional therapy textbooks, scholars and what’s being talked about by professionals and even the national associations on the subject.

Our hope is that we help shift that conversation and perception for people with bulimia about themselves.

You’re not broken.

You don’t have a disease.

You’re not flawed or doomed

…and you don’t have to solve what’s screwed up in your life to stop binging and purging forever.

We also hope our message will help traditional counselors and therapists who maybe were taught methods for treating bulimia that aren’t showing great results to consider a different paradigm to work with.

In the recording you’ll hear Kathryn do an excellent job of explaining how binge urges are created in the brain and how it seems we’re driven to do them.  We binge even when we know it’s yucky and makes us feel worse after.

The wiring in our brain was created when we started binging/purging and a habit was formed.  A path for the brain to follow that was set into motion and whether we’ve had bulimia for 4 or 40 years, we’ve just been replaying that old tape over and over without knowing how to change the station.

I’m here to tell you that you can change the station, you can stop the urges to binge (with time) and you can live a life that doesn’t have binge urges.  In fact, there comes a point they never bother you again.  If you stop giving them energy and focus, those parts of the brain (wiring) merely die off.

Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide – 2 Simple Goals

The bulk of my conversation with Kathryn centered around her second book’s central message.  She says there are two goals to the recovery process:

  1. Dismiss Urges (to binge)
  2. Eat Adequately

You’ll want to read Kathryn’s book to clearly understand her perspective on both goals, but I’ll explain a few additional insights and supportive techniques I added during the call.

Goal #1 Dismiss Urges to Binge

One housekeeping item before I continue is to say that Kathryn emphasizes in her book and did so on the call that the first goal (dismissing urges) comes first in the book and is important to learn how to do (she explains at length with exercises in the guide).  However, the second goal (eating adequately) is really a first step if you’re not eating enough food/calories or are restricting in any way (no sugar/no wheat etc) when you start your recovery process.  It is very helpful to make recovery go more successfully to eat adequately first, then work on dismissing urges.  She said that she puts dismissing urges first in the book because we can work on them while we’re learning to eat adequately, but we shouldn’t focus on one before the other.

In the book and on our call Kathryn does a wonderful job of explaining her 5 Components for Dismissing Binge Urges.  I won’t share them all here so you can really learn them from her, but I would like to insert a few additional thoughts on what’s important when you’re working on changing a habit like dismissing urges.  Please understand you don’t have to do any of the things I suggest and you can still dismiss the urges.  I guess I like to give myself the best boost I can in the right direction and this is what I think helps.

Get Prepared – Plan Ahead

Creating habits are very easy for us and our brain is designed to instill habits that save us energy.  It’s part of our survival matrix and the brain tries to conserve energy so it looks for things that it thinks we want and will save us or keep us safe.

Prepare for Your Recovery Journey

I’m training for my first a triathlon at this time in my life and training and recovery have a lot of parallels I find.  When I first decided to do a triathlon I didn’t know what was ahead, but I set out my goal and I prepared myself and my body along the way. I learned a lot, but I had a clear vision and made a decision that I was going to do a triathlon and enjoy it.

Preparing for recovery is similar. You’ve got to decide, set your goal, and work towards it even when you fall off your bike or have sore muscles after a long workout.  It doesn’t always have to be rough, but there will be new things to learn, you’ll be uncomfortable and it WILL BE WORTH IT.  Prepare your mindset so it supports you on this journey.

Understand Your Body Will Go Through Changes

Some clients and people I’ve read their stories were unaware of the changes that may take place when you stop binging and purging.  Some of the side effects of recovery include:

  • bloating
  • gas
  • constipation
  • upset stomach
  • small weight gain (at first, not long term)
  • skin conditions

Most people really, really don’t know how this thing called our body works.  If you thought of your body like a high performance automobile it might help.  The things you put into the system will determine how well it runs.  Put junk in the pipes, forget to add oil and have regular tune ups, things are going to get clogged and shut down real quickly.  Your body is also an engine, although much more sophisticated.

I won’t go into all of the symptoms and what to expect, so find out what other people have experienced and how to mange the systems so you’re prepared.  Sort of like having ice packs in the freezer after a hard day of training so you can take care of sore muscles.  Be prepared.

Also realize your old “I’m getting fat” thoughts will sneak back in.  Those that started you down the restricting diets path.  Look where those took you the first time.  It’s important to reframe it when you gain a little weight and say “I know this is normal. My body’s metabolism is adjusting to eating normally. I won’t get fat, but my body will need time to normalize and I’m ok with that.”

You don’t have to be afraid of gaining weight.  That’s a lie your body is telling you. I didn’t keep any weight I gained and you don’t have to either.  Restricting is NOT the answer.

Daily Visualizations

The power of visualizations can’t be understated in my opinion.  Your mind is a powerful tool and visualizing what you want most actually helps you realize it more quickly.  Learn more about visualizing and practice it until you are super clear what your life will look like after you’re no longer binging and purging.

I’ll add to this one more thought and that is the power of telling our new story.

Creating a new life for yourself is about telling yourself a new story about the life you want to live.  It may feel like a lie at first, at least it did for me.  But eventually my life became my new story.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Having an environment that is supportive and makes you feel good as much as possible can help.  Maybe have music you like around, cards that have positive statements, buy yourself flowers, throw away old junk or clean up clutter, have snacks you enjoy around for when hunger starts so you avoid getting hangry (hunger + angry).

Forgive Quickly & Celebrate

If you eat a little too much or do binge forgive yourself quickly and move on.  The less time you spend on what didn’t work or where you slipped up, the more energy you’re giving to your brain to reinforce that behavior. Instead, we want to reinforce what is going well so the brain learns quickly to have us do that again.  Self-forgiveness is a wonderful act of self-love.

Celebrate!  Giving yourself acknowledgement for the little successes because their reinforce re-wiring, be kind to yourself and supportive to yourself so you have the encouragement to press on – self coaching

Extreme self care

Extreme self care is about getting enough sleep for your body, staying hydrated, lowering your stress, nurturing and rewarding yourself.  What we think of as self care I find really needs to be re-examined.  Many of us are running around so busy and depleted it’s hard to be our best self, let alone give it a go to change a really entrenched habit like bulimia. Extreme self care asks us to take a good look at what caring for ourselves could look like and realize it might look a little extreme compared to what others are doing.

And that’s OK.

It’s not my deal if someone can live on 4 hours of sleep, run 10 miles a day, get the kids to school, work a full day, make dinner, make love to her husband, work on her new book, and practice her favorite hobby before she tucks herself into bed.  I’m not that person.  I have learned what I need to feel and be my best and so I do it.  I do it for me and the people around me.  When I’m my best, I can be my best qualities and my life works better.

Goal #2 Eat Adequately

This step is specifically for bulimics who are restricting or haven’t come into balance with normal eating habits.  This is actually the first step as I mentioned if you’re not eating healthfully and in balance.

There are a lot of ways you can learn to eat more normally for your body and your lifestyle. Kathryn explains in the podcast a few ways to get started if you need to work on this goal. She talks a little about four methods for eating during recovery that include:

  1. Planned eating
  2. Servings-based eating
  3. Calorie minimum eating
  4. Intuition-based eating

Please have a listen to the podcast for greater details and insights into each one.

What I tell my clients is…EXPERIMENT!

You don’t know what works for you and neither does anyone else!  You haven’t learned it yet, so you’ll need to be open to trying a few things until you feel good about your eating.

My recipe: Try and learn. Fail and learn.  Keep evolving.

If you don’t know what normal looks like, start learning.  Find people who have success or what you want and see if you resonate with the message and try it out.  Maybe try a program for 2 – 4 weeks and see how it makes you feel.

You’ll need to put in time to get this dialed in.  Make it a goal to try and experiment until you have balance and feel good consistently.  You may find that while you’re experimenting you can also experiment with goal #1 dismissing the urges to binge.

One item to note is working with a nutritionist.  I’ve had some success with nutritionists when I get a good referral.  Not every one I’ve worked with has had the best solution for me or have they been aligned with my values. If you can get a good referral, give it a try. You don’t have to work with one, but some find it helps.  There are also forums and support networks around nutrition online. Just be sure you don’t get into any focused on diets. Diets are not the answer.  You just need good sound information about how many calories you need, how much protein, fat and carbs to take in and if there are any things to avoid for your body type.

My Final Message of Hope and Inspiration

Sometimes people contact me who have been bulimic for 20, 30 or even 40+ years. I can hear in their voice they’re either resigned that nothing can work or they’re open and willing to see.  Even if you’ve tried recovery for years and years and nothing’s worked, there is still a way you can stop this behavior.

Bulimia is about habits you created and habits you can change.  The power lies within.

I hope you will find inspiration to try again…just once more.  That could do it!

What is one decision you can make a decision and take action on this week based upon something you heard?

Please share in the comments below or email me. I’d love to hear from you.

If you’re interested in bulimia recovery coaching check out my programs and contact me for a complimentary 30 minute session.  Please remember to order Kathryn’s book Brain Over Binge Recovery Guide online.

With love and light,

Polly

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Bulimia’s Health Issues

Bulimia – The Physical Health Issues

A post from my friend and writer/blogger Laura Chapman.

Generally, when bulimia is discussed, it is the psychological effects of the condition which are highlighted. This is in many ways right – Bulimia Nervosa is a mental health disorder, and the impact it can have upon the mind is utterly devastating. However, it is important that the very real and very dangerous physical effects of the condition do not get lost or overlooked. Bulimia Nervosa can cause some incredibly serious physical health problems, many of which sufferers are unaware that they are at risk of. Here are just a few of the physical issues which may arise from bulimia.

Reproductive Troubles

If you are a women, it is likely that a prolonged period of purging could lead to serious reproductive issues – including (but not limited to) trouble conceiving and amenorrhea (abnormal reproductive cycles). If you do manage to get pregnant without your body fully recovering from the ravages of bulimia, you are at a seriously increased risk of pregnancy complications such as hyperemesis gravidum (the life-threatening pregnancy-related sickness which killed Charlotte Bronte and recently hospitalised the Duchess of Cambridge), and the likelihood of going through the trauma of a miscarriage rises exponentially. Post-natal depression is also common among bulimic mothers. In general, the female reproductive system suffers enormously during bulimic episodes. Some may find that their periods cease altogether as the body diverts precious resources to more immediately crucial organs (such as the heart and the brain). Others may find that the disruption to the menstrual and hormonal cycles cause intense mood swings and searing menstrual cramps – it is not uncommon for pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder to present as co-morbid with bulimia. If you wish to be a mother, or at least wish to have a healthy menstrual cycle, it is imperative that you seek treatment for bulimia as soon as possible.

Heart Problems

Constant purging can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. This throws the entire body out of balance, but its effects upon the heart are particularly noticeable. Purging, and the dehydration it brings with it, place enormous strain upon the heart muscle.Chemicals lost during purging include sodium, potassium, and magnesium. All of these are absolutely essential for maintaining a healthy heart. Potassium in particular is needed to keep muscles ticking over as they should. When potassium levels get low, people may develop a condition known as ‘hypokalemia’, which prevents the muscles from working as they should. As the heart is a muscle, the potential for serious and even fatal consequences is high. It is often thought that people with eating disorders die of starvation – but all too many bulimics pass away from heart problems related to purging. Singer Amy Winehouse suffered from heart problems related to her bulimia which may well have hastened her untimely death.

Bad Breath

The acid regurgitated during purging by vomiting can start to corrode your gums and eat away at your teeth. This not only causes your smile to look pretty awful, but can give you some serious dental problems and/or gum infections. Bad breath in these cases is the least of your worries – mouth infections and rotting teeth are associated with an awful lot of nasty bacteria slipping down your throat and attacking your internal organs. So this is bad news on both a cosmetic and a physical level.

Kidney Failure

Some bulimics purge through vomiting, others through laxatives and diuretics, and still others through excessive exercising. Both of the former two purging methods can cause permanent kidney damage. The dehydration caused by vomiting and laxative use to induce purging are extremely bad for the kidneys, which really struggle to cope under such conditions. The use of diuretics to purge water and salt from the body also causes the kidneys to be put under an immense amount of strain. The kidneys are not designed to operate according to binge and purge cycles, and will quickly start to show signs of strain if binges and purges become frequent. Kidney damage is often irreperable, and very serious. Those who damage their kidneys through bulimic purging may need a transplant, and even then may have to be on dialysis for the rest of their natural lives. Sadly, many bulimics die from kidney failure before they can get help for their condition.

To read more from and learn more about my friend visit Laura Chapman’s website.

Additionally, you can download my (Polly’s) ebook called

How to Help a Friend with Bulimia