Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2015

Rituals for Increasing Happiness

There are things you can do that science has found can increase your happiness. Give yourself the gift of making habits or, even better, daily personal rituals of those things.

The first is gratitude. Making a habit of feeling and expressing gratitude has a measurable effect on people’s happiness. Start by making a daily ritual of reviewing your day and finding one to three things that happened to feel grateful for. Try to find different things each day. If you have trouble doing this, imagine subtracting something from your life and how much that would diminish your enjoyment of life and then feel grateful that you experience that thing or person.

Next is when someone does something for which you can feel grateful, thank them. A general habit of thanking people when they help you or treat you kindly is good, but you can take it up a notch. Once a day find someone who has helped you and deliver a complete thank you. You thank them, tell them specifically what for, and how it impacted or benefited you. This practice has two benefits. First, focusing on gratitude and how people are kind to you will make you happier. and second, thanking people will make them feel appreciated and will improve your connection to them, and that will make you happier.

The next thing is kindness and compassion. Neuroscience found the people with the happiest brains were meditators. And when their brains lit up as happiest? When they were thinking compassionately. Practice thinking of others as just like you, people on this earth for a limited time with hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, doing their best to navigate uncertain challenges. Remind yourself of people who upset you that they are doing the best they can and you behave poorly at times as well. At least once a day, do something kind for someone else. Don’t look for anything in return or even for thanks, just help someone else out. Science has found it will make you feel better.

Once a day give yourself a gift. It can be as simple as having a cup of coffee or listening to a song you enjoy  or a five-minute conversation with someone you love. But treat it as special. Take a break from your worries and distractions and focus your attention on the gift you are giving yourself. Let yourself really experience and enjoy it. Practice savouring these positive experiences.

Make another daily ritual of finding one to three small things to feel proud of. How small? Single choices. A moment where you could have chosen the easier, the unhealthier, the meaner way to act but instead you chose the harder, the healthier, the kinder. When you choose the salad over the fries. When you do something towards your goals instead of watching TV. When you forgive someone who disappointed you rather than holding a grudge. These are the moments to remember and appreciate yourself for.

Keep the moments small so you can feel pride and be humble at the same time. Focusing on these moments when you’ve done well, by your own standards, will make you feel better and will make you more likely to make better choices more often, which will make you feel better. Over the long-term it’s those small choices that matter most.

Posted by: Edward | September 30, 2015

When can stress be good for you?

  1. When you frame it as good for you

The story you tell yourself about the stressful situation and stress itself can both affect how the stress affects you. Instead of stress being damaging, sometimes it can be like exercise for a muscle. It hurts but ultimately you get stronger.

  1. When you can handle its intensity

If the stress is less than an amount that you would be unable to handle, then it is less likely to be damaging to you. Extremely intense stress, such as when your life is in peril, can cause conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

  1. When you choose it

If you willingly entered into a stressful situation, or chose it as a way to work towards a goal of yours, it is more likely to have longer term positive effects for you. When you have a sense of control you are more likely to find it tolerable and even worthwhile.

  1. When its duration is short

Chronic stress is almost always damaging. But if the stressful situation is short in duration, even if it is on the higher end of moderate, most of the time it will prove harmless to you or like building a muscle. Regular low intensity and short duration stresses can be invigorating.

Posted by: Edward | September 22, 2015

Go Beyond the Surface of your Disagreements

In a disagreement, we often butt heads over specific positions or demands. And if we stay at that surface of the disagreement, we will stay stuck in conflict. If we can go behind the positions, we will find feelings, what people want, what they value, and how they believe the world works.

In exploring these, you will find many places where you actually agree. You may find you understand why they hold the position they do. You may find you admire their commitment to their values. Out of a respectful exploration of this shared space of meaning you may together find a way to move around the point of contention and create a flow of agreement.

By going behind the surface of a conflict, you may find a way to feel good, get what you really want, and act in alignment with your values, together. And even if you can’t find a way to agree, you might be able to simply disagree, without needing to dislike each other.

Posted by: Edward | September 17, 2015

The Challenge and Opportunity of Now

Do not ask of this moment, whatever you are experiencing, whether this is good or bad. Accept and affirm that this IS, and ask, how can I respond to this? What can I make of this moment? That is the root of our freedom and power.

What is, is. Judging it as bad does nothing to change it, it only makes us feel bad. What the moment provides, whether we find it pleasant or unpleasant, is a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to not let that moment overwhelm us, to not get bogged down in whether it is good, bad, or ugly. Our challenge is to accept it as it is. If we can do this then the moment becomes an opportunity.

It provides an opening for us to fill with an expression of who we are, who we choose to be. In that opening we can choose how we respond, we can choose to express our values in action. In that way any moment, no matter how unpleasant, can be a triumph. We can use that challenge and its opportunity to bring out the best in us.

This being present in the moment and accepting it without judgement has a name. It’s called mindfulness and it is a skill you can develop. One method is the kind of meditation which shares its name.

A simple version of this is to sit in an upright but otherwise relaxed posture and pay attention to the sensations of your breathing. Whenever you notice that your attention has wandered, gently point it back at the physical sensations of breathing.

It is important to note that when your attention wanders you have not failed at meditation. No, instead, noticing that your attention has wandered and gently focusing it back on your breath is succeeding at meditation. That is how you build the skill of mindfulness. As little as ten minutes a day can noticeably change many things in your life.

The next thing to do is let this growing skill of mindfulness start to invade the rest of your life. You could pick a simple task and bring to it the quality of mind you’ve been training with meditation. Try setting random alarms with your watch or phone and just take a few breaths to feel what you are feeling when they go off.  Take an activity that you find boring and try to make it new in a subtle way only you would notice.

Finally, bring the accepting non-judgemental awareness to a moment you normally find difficult and see if it opens up an opportunity to behave differently than you might normally in that situation. If you find that you do, if you get that cubic centimeter of chance, make the best of it.

Posted by: Edward | August 30, 2015

Letting Your Light Shine

Your life isn’t what happens to you, it is what you do. What happens to you are just your circumstances, anyone could have faced them. It is what you do in the face of those circumstances that makes it your life. You get to stamp yourself on the moments you are given and claim them. But it’s a responsibility as well. Who are you telling the world you are?

Are you broadcasting your largeness of spirit, your ability to accept whatever you are given, face it with curiosity and compassion, and courageously embody your highest values in action? If not, why not? This is the real challenge of your life, to bring your authentic best to any given moment. As Laozi says, who conquers others is strong, who conquers themselves is mighty.

You can start by fully accepting those things in yourself that you’ve let prevent you from embodying your best self. Your shame. Your fear. Your uncertainty. Start with whichever comes up for you, explore it with curiosity for how it works for you, why it is triggered, and what it is telling you. Face it with compassion for the person experiencing it, compassion for the person who learned it, and compassion for the people connected to it.

Now reflect on your values, on how your best self would be in the world. Accepting that what you are experiencing, feelings and all, can not be wished away, how would your best you act? How would that best you stand, move, breathe, look, and speak? Now let as much of that best you into the world as you can. This is your gift, give it as freely as you can.

On this battlefield it is the tiniest victories that count most, so celebrate any time you let a little more of your authentic best into the world.

Posted by: Edward | August 9, 2015

Cultivating a Positive Error Culture

If you want to improve your life, your workplace, and your relationships then a powerful thing you can do is work on developing a positive error culture.

Most of us already have some experience with negative error cultures. That’s when a mistake is a bad thing that is enough to judge a person or their capabilities as a whole. When you feel the need to hide your mistakes or you hear people talking about the need to cover your ass, then you are probably in a negative error culture.

In a positive error culture a mistake, or a bad result, is viewed as an opportunity to improve your way of doing things. An individual error is actually good thing in that it brings a deficiency in your procedures to light. Now you have an opportunity to improve them so the problem will not recur. Errors are part of the process of improving your body of practices.

In order to do this, you have to move the location of the error from the person to the behaviours that generated it. Let go of the need to blame. Stop asking whose fault this is and start asking how did this happen. When you identify the sequence of events, decisions, and behaviours that generated the result you don’t want, then you can begin changing them to get results you do want.

This can’t happen if the people involved feel attacked, devalued, or disrespected. When people feel confident that their value is affirmed and the focus is on the behaviours then they can feel safe enough to be open about what those behaviours were. Only with that openness is real change possible.

Begin by applying this mindset to yourself. When you make a mistake, don’t attack and degrade yourself but instead remind yourself you are a person trying your best, capable of learning and growth. Remind yourself the problem isn’t people but behaviours. Admit to yourself what the error was and explore how it occurred and what behaviours contributed to it. Then figure out how you could behave differently so that the problem will not happen again. Finally, commit to making those new behaviours into habits.

As you become more comfortable with a positive error culture you can begin to extend it to others you interact with. Refuse to participate in blame games. Continue to value and respect everyone involved. And focus on behaviour change. With patience this will transform your relationships into the sorts that get stronger in the face of adversity and the sort that solves problems rather than fights over them.

Posted by: Edward | August 2, 2015

Build Good Habits using Implementation Intentions

One powerful method for building up positive habits is called implementation intentions. These are a specific way of planning that are structured as if-then statements. For example, if I’m going for a walk, then I will take a piece of fruit with me.

The if part provides a context for the behaviour you want to implement and it is best to use a discrete and noticeable event. That event acts as an anchor of and a reminder for the behaviour.

The then part is the behaviour you want to implement. It is best if this is specific and fairly simple. If the intention is too complicated, it is a good idea to break it into smaller parts and implement these over time.

Build your habits slowly and you will have more success. For example, before I added fruit to my walks, I first built a habit of buying fruit at the grocery store. First I started buying apples, and now I buy apples and bananas. And over time I’ve been eating significantly more fruit.

Now, what if you are having trouble with one of your plans? Well, you can use an implementation intention to work on the difficulty. Maybe you wanted to go running after work but when the time comes you don’t really feel like it. One thing you could do is decide, if I don’t really feel like running then I’ll listen to some pump up music while I put on my running clothes. You can be creative and experiment until you find out what works for you.

Using implementation intentions and building your habits slowly can radically change your life. If this has caught your interest then you can start by making one of your own.

Posted by: Edward | May 24, 2015

C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

If you notice you’re in a depressed mood, don’t give in to the urge to figure out why. Obsessive thinking about the reasons for a bad mood is known to psychologists as rumination, and is one of the main drivers of serious depression. Looking for the reasons for a bad mood keeps you focused on the negatives and it keeps you passive. Not only will looking for reasons for your bad mood keep you focused on negatives but your mind is creative, it will come up with entirely new reasons to feel bad.

Instead, ask yourself what can I do now to make things better. This question shifts your focus away from the things which are upsetting you towards the possibility of improving your situation. Just the shift from reasons to actions will start improving your mood, the link between depressed moods and passive inaction is well known at this point. Additionally, now you’ve unleashed the creativity of your brain in a more useful direction.

So let’s say you have noticed you are in a depressed mood and asked yourself what can I do, here’s some suggestions to get you started:

Check your posture. Chances are your shoulders are rolled forward and your head stooped down. Break this pattern. Raise your head, roll your shoulders back, open your chest and take a deep breath.

Check your surroundings. Are you in a dark stuffy room by yourself? If any of that is true, change it. Turn the lights up and open a door or window to air it out. Consider finding someone else to spend some time with.

Check your motion. Have you been lying or sitting still for an extended period of time? Get up and do something physical. Even just going for a twenty minute walk will make a world of difference.

Posted by: Edward | May 17, 2015

Move the Pen

Move the pen. Move the brush. Push the keys. Strum the strings. If there is some creative endeavour you wish you could do, all you have to do is do it. At the base of every one there is a core set of activities and some basic equipment. Get your hands on the simplest version of the basic equipment. Don’t go out and buy the best. You earn better gear by using up, wearing out, or out growing the basic gear.

Get the basic gear and start. Now. “I don’t have time!” the cry goes up. No one has time until they take it. In between two activities, strum a chord. Add two brush strokes during a commercial. I have a notebook in the bathroom. One on my bedside table for when I can’t sleep. One hidden in my desk drawer at work. Shh. Don’t tell anyone. I go to work an hour early to sit in the coffee shop across the street writing. I write on my lunch break. If it matters to you, you have to act like it does. If it matters to you enough, you will steal the time to do it.

You are going to suck, at first. If you are lucky like me, you might not realize how much you suck until you don’t suck as bad. Most of us aren’t that lucky. We all start out no good. It’s what you do next that counts. You can quit and be like everyone else who doesn’t do what they want to or you can keep going anyways. That’s called courage. Be courageous and keep going even though you suck because eventually something magical happens… you get better.

So if practice, just doing it, is the most important part, what’s the second bit? Feed yourself good examples. If you write, read the sorts of things you want to write and read the greats. If you want to play guitar, listen to players you love. Or better still, watch them. Then? Copy them. Try to replicate what they did. And again, it’s perfectly ok to suck, even they did at some point. Hunter S. Thompson typed out The Great Gatsby just to feel what it was like to type something brilliant. I’ve spent the last few months memorizing and singing my favourite songs, and this week I wrote two of my own. Are they as good as my favourites? Hell no. Am I stoked that they exist? Hell yes.

So you’ve started doing what you wanted to do. You steal time for it. You accept that you aren’t as good as you want to be. You’ve fed yourself good examples, and copied them. Maybe you’ve even gotten better. Now what? Find a community. Find people who want to hear, look at, or read what you’ve made. Find other people who are working on what you work on. Find other people who care about what you care about. They exist. Community sustains us in our goals. When you get discouraged, and we all get discouraged from time to time, your community can help you remember why you are doing what you have chosen to do.

I’ll tell you a secret now. This stuff I’ve just told you about getting started on a creative pursuit, can be applied to just about anything you want to learn or improve at. Decide what matters to you, figure out the core activities, and make time to do it now. Move the pen.

Posted by: Edward | April 26, 2015

Fail Better

People fail. They fall short of their goals. They betray people they love. In every possible way, they screw up, disappoint themselves, and others. To err is truly human.

So what happens next? Some people, when they fail, let it destroy them. They feel like broken people, horrible, unworthy of love. In short, they feel shame. Unfortunately, shame can be a trap. If you feel shame, you can’t really move on from your mistake, you essentially live in the moment of your failure.

What is another choice? Instead of letting your failure mean you are bad, not good enough, or unworthy; you can let it be your action that was not good enough. If it is not you but your action that was bad, all you have to do is change your actions. You move on, you learn that’s not a way you want to act.

With this change of perspective, your mistakes don’t make you bad, they make you better. Each error can be an opportunity, if you accept it and commit to changing your actions and yourself. This is a process that is very rewarding but often difficult and uncomfortable.

First, you must face that you did in fact screw up. This alone can be fantastically difficult as many of us have left over ideas from childhood that we have to be perfect. We can’t be. Remind yourself that all human beings make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you are bad, it simply means you are human.

Now, look at the specific action that you feel was a mistake. Decide what of your goals and values it fell short of, select an action you would rather you had done, and commit to acting differently if you get another chance. Additionally, if someone was harmed by your error, I’d also suggest committing to an action to make amends.

It is uncomfortable to make mistakes but if we were unable to, we would never learn, never grow. Our ability to screw up is a vital part of us. So next time you use this capability, face it, accept it, and use it to become a better you.

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