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How A Simple Change Of Mindset Can Reduce Stress

How A Simple Change Of Mindset Can Reduce Stress

Recent research shows that people who describe themselves as high in self control (aka control freaks) tend to experience a lot more stress at work.

Why?

They tend to use up all their internal resources at once.  In other words they put everything they have into the task they are doing at the moment and when the task takes longer than expected they don’t have anything left over to face the additional challenges.

Dr. Ein-Gar of Tel Aviv University‘s Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration used shopping as a way to measure this effect.  He gathered hundreds of volunteers and had them go shopping.  He found that those who described themselves as having high self-control were more impulsive in their buying decisions than those who rated themselves as low in self-control.  In fact, high self-control people were more likely to make a spontaneous purchase at the checkout counter without even looking at the price tag.

Dr. Ein-Gar conducted surveys of these people afterwards and found that that those who rated themselves as high in self-control “didn’t foresee certain events like having to wait in line. It’s the same in the workplace when the boss hands out a major assignment moments just before quitting time.”

So how can those of us who focus too much on the task at hand avoid burn out?  A further experiment by Dr. Ein-Gar gives us a clue.

In this study participants were assigned two tasks.  One group was told that they had two tasks, another was not told they would do two tasks.  Those who were warned about the second task did better than the group that was given a ‘surprise’ second task.

According to Dr. Ein-Gar this warning put the first group into something he calls “the marathon mindset” which involves starting slow and pacing yourself.  You can use this mindset yourself but also if you mange others.

As according to Dr. Ein-Gar, “Our results can be applied across the board from managing a business to making sure we run our personal lives more smoothly.”

So if you’re a manager you can prepare your employees by letting them know that more than likely unexpected challenges will come their way on a project.  There will likely be more tasks to do than the ones in the project plan.

“The world may be multi-tasking at a frenetic pace,” Dr. Ein-Gar concludes, “but in thinking like a marathon runner, people with high self-control won’t mind other people passing them. Marathon runners know that the race is long, but the winner is the one who can finish the race at the end with power left over to keep running.”

Link to a summary of the research described above:

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=11812

Think Of This To Boost Creativity In 43 Seconds

Think Of This To Boost Creativity In 43 Seconds

Research has shown that many types of creativity require abstract thought.  And thinking of events in the future causes people to think more abstractly. 

So researchers set up several experiments to answer the question “Does thinking about the future improve creativity?”

Here’s what they did in one experiment.

They divided participants into two groups.  One group was asked to think about their lives one year from now to get them to think about the future.  The other group was asked to think about their lives tomorrow, to get them thinking close to the present.

Both groups were given three insight problems to solve commonly used to measure creativity.  Here’s an example of one of the insight problems.

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this? [Solution given at the end of this post.]

Those participants that imagined their lives a year from now solved a lot more problems than those that thought about the next day.

So thinking about the future did improve abstract thinking and creativity.

It’s also important to note that in follow up experiments they gave participants creative tasks and analytical tasks.  And people who thought about their lives a year ahead did worse than those who thought ahead only 24 hours.

So when facing a creative problem that involves abstract thinking, spend some time thinking about the future.  But when you’re deep in analysis think about the present.

So how will you use these ideas today?  Let me know in the comments below.

[Solution: He unraveled the rope lengthwise and tied the remaining strands together.]

Reference to study above:

Förster, Jens; Friedman, Ronald S.; Liberman, Nira Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 87(2), Aug 2004, 177-189.

Does Kissing Lower Cholesterol?

Does Kissing Lower Cholesterol?

Researchers wanted to know the answer to this question.  So they brought together a diverse group of 52 adults in committed relationships.  Half of this group was instructed to kiss more often for a full six weeks, the other half was not.

After six weeks each person had their blood cholesterol measured and took a questionnaire.  Each member of the “increased kissing” group had their cholesterol go down.  The control group experienced no change.

It’s also interesting to note that there were other positive side-effects of increased kissing.  One is that those who kissed more tended to exercise more, experience less conflict in their relationships and improved communication.

So kissing more often has many benefits besides just feeling good.

But why does kissing lower cholesterol?

Researchers determined through a special kind of analysis called ANCOVA that the increased exercise, reduced conflict and improved communication did not cause the change in cholesterol.

Only stress correlated perfectly with the reduction in cholesterol for each participant.

This is a finding similar to that of other studies showing that a reduction in stress leads to a reduction in cholesterol.

So if you want to lower your cholesterol, start kissing more often.  Or if you know someone that needs to keep their hearth healthy, let them know about this study.  Unlike exercise, this is a commitment that anyone with a partner would enjoy keeping.  And best of all there are no negative side effects.

What do you think of this study?  Please leave a comment below.

Reference to study above:

Floyd, K. , Boren, J. P., Hannawa, A. F., Hesse, C. , McEwan, B. L. and Veksler, A. E. , 2008-11-21 “Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego, CA Online <PDF>. 2010-06-06 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p246054_index.html

How Subtracting The Positive Can Make You Happier Today

How Subtracting The Positive Can Make You Happier Today

A lot of research suggest that thinking about positive events in your life can make you happier.  And that the effect of these kinds of gratitude exercises diminishes if done too often as people adapt to the positive events (I discuss a creative solution to this dilemma below).

The authors of a recent study write:

Having a wonderful spouse, watching one’s team win the World Series, or getting an article accepted in a top journal are all positive events, and reflecting on them may well bring a smile; but that smile is likely to be slighter and more fleeting with each passing day, because as wonderful as these events may be, they quickly become familiar—and they become more familiar each time one reflects on them.

They cite research that shows that the more people think about a positive event, the more it seems explainable.  And the better they understand positive events the less positive emotion they feel about those events.

They go on to further state:

In short, counting one’s blessings—thinking about the presence of the positive events in one’s life—may have only a minor impact on people’s current affective states, to the extent that they have adapted to these events.

So if you’ve already gotten used to how wonderful your wife or husband is for example, thinking more about now it won’t increase your happiness much in the long term.

One solution to this is to think about new things you are grateful for often.  But these researchers tested a much more powerful and innovative solution.

They wondered if there is a way to “unadapt” to positive events?  Is there a way we can make ourselves feel a fresher feeling of happiness for the things we’ve gotten used to?

So they tried the following experiment:

They got 120 college students and put them into two groups.  Group one was asked to describe the ways in which the event happened easily and how it was not surprising the event happened as it did.

Group two was asked to describe why the event may never have happened and why it’s surprising that it did happen.

Participants then answered a questionnaire to see how positive they felt about the events they described.  It turned out that group two had many more positive feelings about these events than group one and experienced an increase in positive feelings overall – something group one did not experience.

Researchers concluded:

…people who wrote about how positive life events might not have occurred reported improved affective states, whereas people who wrote about how positive events did occur, simply described positive events, or did not think about positive events did not report improved affective states

So thinking of how a good event might not have happened makes you happier, something I was surprised to discover.

What do you think of this finding?  Does is surprise you?  When will you use this information to get you to increase your appreciation for some of the good things that have happened to you?

Reference to study above:

It’s a Wonderful Life: Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts
Minkyung Koo, Sara B. Algoe, Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert

Too Much Happiness? Science Shows That Doing Too Much Of This Popular Happiness Technique Is Counterproductive

Too Much Happiness? Science Shows That Doing Too Much Of This Popular Happiness Technique Is Counterproductive

Most people say they’d love to be happier.  However, some of what people think they need to be happy such as money and possessions are only shown to increase happiness for a short time (this study is a good example of this).

Others try exercises that many believe will make you happier.  Some of these techniques are validated by scientific research.  Some are not.

But few are aware that a powerful two-minute technique that’s proven to make you happier can be done to the point that it’s counterproductive.

So what is this 2-minute technique?

It’s a simple gratitude exercise.

You’ve probably heard about this kind of exercise before.  One way of doing it is to merely list 3-5 things you are grateful for.  But you may not have heard one simple fact about it that can allow you to get much more out of it.

Sonia Lyubomirsky, a prominent research psychologist, and her colleagues did an interesting study that shows us how to get the maximum out of our two minutes.

They had one group of people write down three things they were grateful for three times a week and another group of volunteers wrote what they were grateful for only once a week.

Most people thought that doing this exercise more often would produce more happiness.

It did not.

Those who only did the exercise once a week were much happier than those that did it three times.

The explanation.

That if you do the exercise too often, you get used to it and it no longer has as much impact on you.

So to be happier try making a weekly practice of writing down three things you are grateful for once a week.  That’s all it takes to improve your happiness.

And if you really want to know why you should make happiness a top priority consider reading Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. In this book she tells you how happiness builds many of your internal resources.  You become more creative, smarter, more energized and behave better.  The list goes on and on.

She also tells you a very powerful principle regarding a happiness “tipping point” that we all have.  Once you get enough happiness in your life some startling things begin to happen.

I’ll tell you more about this in my next post tomorrow.

Meanwhile, will you try expressing your gratitude in writing once this week?

Consider beginning your weekly gratitude practice today by leaving me a comment about one of the things you’re grateful for below.

References:

Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture Of Sustainable Change

http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~sonja/papers/LSS2005.pdf

Lottery Winners And Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?

http://education.ucsb.edu/janeconoley/ed197/documents/brickman_lotterywinnersandaccidentvictims.pdf

A Simple Way To Make Difficult Tasks More Enjoyable

A Simple Way To Make Difficult Tasks More Enjoyable

About two weeks ago I went running and at the end of my run I saw the high school track near my home and decided to use it help measure my running speed – something I haven’t done since high school (I’m 32 now).

I noticed I was slower than I thought I’d be – running at a pace of close to 11 minutes per mile – but I also noticed that after the second lap I felt I couldn’t bear to do the two more I needed to complete a two mile run.

Since reading psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity, I know how useful it is to reduce negative emotions and increase positive ones (it’s much more useful than I ever imagined) so I figured that instead of just forcing myself to complete the final two laps, I would do something to make them more enjoyable.

I decided to look at completing the next two laps as a worthwhile challenge. I’d read that this works based on research that involved teaching people who respond negatively to events (low resilience) to think of them in the same ways that people with more positive emotions (high resilience) do.

Researchers discovered this strategy by announcing a surprise public speaking task to participants in a study.  Participants had taken a test to measure their resilience before hand.  Some participants had high resilience scores and some had low scores.

All participants experienced stress after the public speaking task was announced regardless of their resilience scores.  Stress levels were measured by heart rate and blood pressure. 

Later, researchers said the public speaking part of the study was cancelled.  The high resilience people seemed to recover right away.   But the low resilience people did not.  Their stress was still high as if they were still anticipating the public speaking event.  This lasted for hours afterward.

When questioned, the high resilience people said that although they were not expecting the public speaking task that they decided to “psyche themselves up” for it and look at it as a challenge.

To see if this strategy could be taught to people with low resilience Fredrickson and her team decided to conduct a second experiment.

This time, they specifically identified people with low resilience scores to study.  All of these people were given the surprise public speaking task as well and told that it was cancelled but with one difference – hey were instructed to “psyche themselves up” and try looking at the experience as a challenge.

This time, after the public speaking task was “cancelled” their heart rate and blood pressure quickly returned to normal.  They got the same results as the people with high resilience scores.

Since I’d recently read about this study, I decided to try the same strategy they were taught – to look at the events as a challenge to overcome.

Once I did, I noticed that I felt better right away. I felt enthused to meet this challenge I’d set for myself. And I actually ran the last two laps a bit faster than the first two.

This gave me a sense of pride. And pride is one of the 10 types of positive emotions that in high enough doses can change your life according to Barbara Fredrickson’s research.

I’ll write more about her research in my next post as she discovered a special tipping point for positive emotions that when reached has far-reaching positive consequences for you.

Until then, leave a comment below.  I can’t wait to hear from you.

Reference for the study: http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Waughetal2008.pdf

Why We Learn More From Successes Than Failures

Why We Learn More From Successes Than Failures

I’ve heard many people say that we should learn as much as possible from our mistakes… and that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  However, recent research shows this common wisdom is plain wrong.

We learn much more from successes than from failures.  I’ll give you proof from scientific research.  And I’ll tell you exactly how to use this information to get better results in your own life.

First, I’d like you to understand how we know this proposition is true.

In 2009 MIT scientists looked into the brain to see what happens as animals, namely monkeys, learn which actions are “right” and which ones are “wrong.”

Here’s what they did.

They had monkeys look at two images on a computer screen that would alternate.  When shown one of the pictures the animal would be rewarded if it looked to the right.  When shown the other picture it would only be rewarded if it looked left.  The monkeys had to figure out which was which by trial and error.

Here’s what researchers found in their own words:

“If the monkey just got a correct answer, a signal lingered in its brain that said, ‘You did the right thing.’ Right after a correct answer, neurons processed information more sharply and effectively, and the monkey was more likely to get the next answer correct as well.  But after an error there was no improvement. In other words, only after successes, not failures, did brain processing and the monkeys’ behavior improve.”

As a result researchers concluded that

“…brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not. Furthermore, when a behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior.”

So our brains are set up to learn from successes so we can duplicate them.  Failures just don’t register as far as learning is concerned (although they may register emotionally, making you feel bad).  And I think with good reason.  It’s just not useful to have detailed knowledge of what doesn’t work.  It’s far more effective to remember what does.

Here’s why this is so important to know.

Every day you engage in useful behaviors.  Some of these behaviors would make you more successful if you did them more often.  This study can give you a powerful clue as to how to make your good behavior more consistent so you can achieve more.

You see the researchers made sure to reward the monkeys for successful behaviors.  In fact the reward is the only way the monkeys (and their brains) knew which actions were “right” and which were “wrong.”

In our world though, we often don’t get an immediate reward for useful behaviors.  Therefore the brain doesn’t learn that you’ve done something “right.” And you may actually stop doing something that would make you successful if you persisted a little longer.

For example, I’ve often found it difficult to get myself to plan my day every day or my weeks even though I know the benefits of doing this.

So how can you make sure your brain learns what it should keep doing in the absence of immediate reward?

The answer is simple.  Create immediate rewards.

There’s two simple ways to do this.

One is to actually give yourself a tangible reward just like the researchers did for the monkeys.  The monkey my have gotten bananas for their efforts but you can give yourself something you’d like to eat, gold stars or points instead.

The second way is easier and may also be more powerful.  That is to take time to acknowledge that you did a useful behavior and allow yourself to feel good about it.  Research by Albert Bandura shows that the sense of pride you get after engaging in successful behavior can actually cause you to do those behaviors more often.

Tomorrow I’ll show you a simple method of developing more pride on your work that also causes you to become more intrinsically motivated and more confident in your abilities all at the same time.

I’m actually using this scientifically proven technique to complete the Thirty Day Blog Challenge.

So tune in tomorrow for my next post which will show you how to enjoy achieving more.

Reference:

Here’s a link to a press release that gives more detail on the study I describe above.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-07/miot-wwl072809.php

How One Word Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

How One Word Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Would you like to know the one word that’s proven to increase the chance that you’ll achieve your goal? 

Recent research from the Journal of Consumer Research not only tells us what this word is but why it’s so powerful (hint: I just used it in that last sentence).

The word is why.  And here’s why it’s so powerful.

Imagine that your goal is to save money.  And you ask yourself how to do it.  So you decide to create a specific plan that involves you spending less money at Starbucks.  Will you take other money-saving opportunities or not?  The answer is “not” or at least not likely.  Those who ask themselves why they want to save money far are more likely to notice other opportunities to reach their goals.  In fact, asking how alone can actually keep you from seeing other opportunities.

Here’s how researchers discovered this:

They conducted several experiment to see how different questions affected people when they had the goal of saving money.  In one study, participants were asked to create a specific plan to save money while another group was asked to focus on the reasons why they wanted to save money.  And the members of a third group were asked to focus on the abstract reasons for saving money and to form a plan.

The members of each group were given the chance to buy candy.

Those who formed specific plans (concrete thinkers) were less effective in avoiding the candy purchase than those who had focused on the reasons they wanted to save money (abstract thinkers).  And among those who focused on the why, the ones that formed plans were the most effective at avoiding the candy purchase.

“Planning is more effective when people think abstractly, keep an open mind, and remind themselves of why they want to achieve a goal,” the authors of the study write. “This strategy is especially effective when the plan turns out to be infeasible (cheaper restaurant is too far away, gym is closed today for a holiday) or when other goal-directed activities become available (walk instead of taking a cab, eat a healthier meal).”

So if you want to reach a goal, focus on all the reasons why you want to achieve it, then form a plan.  Doing so will allow you to be open to many more opportunities to reach your goal and so increase your chances of success.

To find an official source describing this study visit the link below.

https://www.jcr-admin.org/pressreleases/051710114719_Bayukrelease-dec2010.pdf

Purpose Of This Blog

Purpose Of This Blog

This blog will cover everything related to what I call “Self Influence.”  That means anything you can use to influence yourself in a positive way.

I’ll focus mostly on techniques and principles that are evidence based.  This means I won’t just tell you my opinion or tell you what worked for me.  I’ll share with you methods and knowledge that has been proven over and over again to work for thousands of people.  Often this means I’ll be quoting scientific studies.

Don’t worry.  I won’t send a barrage of statistics at you or quote a lot of sciencese.  I’ll make everything totally understandable.

I’ll also translate the science into specific actions you can take starting today that can make you happier, healthier and more effective.