Book Review-The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

It’s five AM, and the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. I roll over gently, grab my iPad, and start reading. I’m not checking email or catching up on the latest news. I’m reading. It’s my habit, and this one, powerful habit has allowed me to read a book each week for years now. My wife is sleeping next to me, curled up in one arm as I use the other to hold, highlight, and flip pages in the Kindle app. (Which is a skill in and of itself.) This book is about The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Most of what we do is a habit. It’s beyond the everyday wanderings of our conscious thoughts. Like the number of stoplights that were red when you drove to the grocery store, habits keep our cognitive load down and allow us to function in a world that’s overwhelming. (You’ve got a habit for driving and following traffic rules so few of us can recall the number of red lights we’ve seen.)

Keystone Habits

Duhigg starts by making it clear that we don’t have to change every one of these unconscious routines at one time. We don’t have to radically alter our entire lives in one moment to accomplish great things. In fact, greater success is found by intentionally swapping out just one habit at a time – ideally, the keystone habit.

Like the keystone set in architecture, it’s this habit that the other habits are built on. Changing this one thing starts a ripple effect that can change everything about our lives – assuming, of course, that we can find the keystone habit and alter it. Before we can find a habit, we must understand what habits are. For instance, a habit like smoking can be a keystone habit. Once you eliminate smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, etc., may easily change to healthier options.

Defining Habits

Habits are automatic and unconscious; but what do they do and how do we go about changing them? Habits may be typically unconscious, but they’re malleable. (See Peak for more about how elite performers make habits and make them conscious at times.) We can bring them into our consciousness to see what we’re doing and, with careful inspection, what’s trigging us to start the habit in the first place.

Habits have three basic components. First, there’s the cue. This trigger causes our brains to activate a routine – the next part of the habit. The habit ends in a reward of some sort. It could be getting to work, the sugar spike from that cookie you know you shouldn’t have, but you want, or something else entirely.

The key to changing habits isn’t in using our willpower to resist them. (See Willpower for more on willpower.) The key to changing habits is to find the right lever. Change or Die explains how, in most cases, folks who want to make serious life changes fall back to their old habits. Check the heart attack patient one year later, and you’re likely to find them back behind a plate of bacon and eggs instead of fruit and oatmeal. Substitution is the name of the game, and that is where marshmallows come in.

The Marshmallow Test

Walter Mischel’s simple test might be construed by his subjects as mental torture. Imagine the pains running through a child’s mind as they’re offered a tasty treat – like a marshmallow – or twice as much if they can wait a few minutes while the researcher is out of the room. For some, this was torture until they ate the treat in the center of the table. For others, they found ways of distracting themselves and allowed the time to pass by, so they could get twice the reward. (For more on this see The Marshmallow Test.) The interesting thing isn’t this torture of preschoolers but rather the techniques employed by those that were successful in waiting – or their success in life years after the simple test. Imagine higher SAT scores and better overall lives based on the ability to wait a few minutes for a marshmallow.

The real secret here is how to teach these young children – and adults – how to distract themselves, to change the focus of their attention, to something else. In doing this, it’s possible to flip the switch on the train tracks and route the habit train down another path – ideally, one that’s much healthier and more productive.

Interrupting the Cue

A cue is simple. It’s something that triggers your attention. It could be that twinge of pain you feel as you leave your vacation heading back to the real world. It can be the smell of chocolate cookies baking in the oven. It can be anything that your external senses can perceive – or any internal cue that your mind can conjure up.

The first choice for interrupting the cue is willpower. Willpower is an exhaustible resource, like a muscle that gets better with exercise – but with limited capacity. In some cases, simply identifying the cue that leads to the habit and being on the lookout is enough. A bit of attention from our reticular activating system (RAS) and a smidge of willpower and we can interrupt the automatic routing into the preexisting routine. (Change or Die has more on the RAS.)

One of the key challenges is that people don’t attempt to leverage their willpower to reroute the cue. Instead they try to suppress it – or they try to stop the routine once it’s already started. For most of us, this doesn’t work. Our willpower isn’t strong enough to suppress a cue. Our biology is wired to repeat messages that are ignored – often more loudly. The more you deny the cue exists, the louder and more insistent it will become, until it our willpower can’t hold it back any longer.

The other approach – to disrupt the routine once it’s started – is similarly ill-fated. Not only are you trying to use your consciousness to interfere with an automatic process, the delay in completion causes the initial cue to be repeated. A good model for thinking about this comes from Johnathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis. The Elephant-Rider-Path model is my favorite mental model of how our mind works – and it says that the elephant (emotions and automatic processing) are in control, not our rational riders. The work of Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow also explains this epic battle of the mind and how challenging it can be to win with our rational thought – since our unconscious mind can lie to us. (See Incognito for more on interesting ways that it lies.)

In other cases, where there’s too much to overcome, another strategy may be required. That’s the strategy of predecision. That is, before something occurs, we decide how we’re going to handle it. In effect, we rewrite the circuitry that routes from the cue to the routine. We can either force it into a non-routine or a routine that’s better. This strategy is fraught with problems, as quite frequently when we encounter the cue, we’ll override our predecisions. That’s what happened to coach Dungee’s Colts when they were “in the big game.” Instead of relying on the habits that Dungee and the coaches had drilled into their heads, they starting trying to think too much and started trying to second-guess their training. It cost them time, and that time cost them the game.

Finding the Cue

Finding the cues that trigger the routines may be the hardest part. Sometimes the cues are easy – like a visit to the family. Other times, the cues are subtle and difficult to find. However, once the cue is clearly defined, it can be “marked” by our conscious brains in a way that allows us to tell ourselves, “Hey, I need to look at that before blindly continuing.”

Finding the cue takes some careful sleuthing and patience. Setting the flag on it – making it available for our consciousness – is the next big challenge. However, once that’s done, you’ve got a critical break in the flow and the opportunity to change the routing from the cue to the routine.

Breaking the Routing

Effectively, the back side of the cue is routing to the routine. Most of the time, this is automatic. Whatever the default routine is gets run automatically. With our flagging the cue – which can sometimes be difficult – we get a chance to make a conscious choice. If we find that a call from our mom causes us to mindlessly start to eat whatever sweets are on the counter, we can look for the call as a cue – and pick a different strategy. Maybe doodling can cure our need to do something else. If we can’t quite go that far, maybe we can change what we eat to be carrots. It may still be a mindless routine in the end – but at least it won’t have the negative effects that eating sweets will.

It’s the routing that is key. We’ve got to keep the flag on the cue, so we can interfere with the routing long enough for a new default to take hold. For that to happen, we’re going to need some positive feedback.

Feedback

What makes some habits stick and some fade away? That’s the interesting question behind the revival of Hush Puppies. They were introduced in 1958 and were on the verge of being discontinued for lack of sales when something strange happened. In New York City, Hush Puppies became fashionable, and they started showing up in dance clubs and on runways – leading to a revival in the brand. (See The Art of Innovation for more on Hush Puppies revival.)

The answer may lie in the corn fields of Iowa. Everett Rogers worked for Iowa State University, and his work with the farm extension led him to study how innovations were adopted by farmers. He noted five factors for an innovation to spread: relative advantage, compatibility, apparent simplicity (his was complexity, but I’ve flipped it here for consistency), trialability, and observability. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on his work.)

His final factor is the interesting one, as it indicates that you need to be able to see the difference. When coupled with relative advantage, the ability to see the advantages you get is powerful. Hush Puppies might have become a status symbol (see Who Am I? for more on motivators, including status). However, most of our habits don’t fall into the category of status, unless it’s your morning cup of Starbucks coffee.

The ability to see the impact of what you’re doing is feedback, and it shows up everywhere as a key factor. Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman all speak of the need for feedback to enter the highly effective mental state of flow. Ericsson speaks of the need for feedback – often candid feedback – in the development of peak performers in his book Peak. One of the key challenges that marketing programs face is the difficulty of getting good feedback to make informed decisions. Thinking in Systems (and to a lesser extent The Fifth Discipline) reminds us that delays in feedback can cause systems to be unstable. Effective and nearly immediate feedback has changed the way pictures are taken. Digital cameras provide instant feedback and therefore the ability to take pictures again – and learn from mistakes.

In learning, feedback is essential to anchoring the learning into the system. Immediate feedback – not during a test – can make learners dependent on that feedback and can prevent learning. However, in most cases, feedback is a critical component to effective learning. By depriving learners of effective and timely feedback, you can depress or even suppress learning. (See Measuring Learning Effectiveness for more.)

Effective feedback lies at the heart of improvement on many levels. Multipliers use feedback to help employees improve, while diminishers provide little or poor feedback, and as a result deprive people from growing. (See Multipliers for more.)

How Feedback and Rewards Differ

Duhigg calls the end of the cue-routine-reward cycle “reward”; however, the researchers he cites for his work use words like error, bias, and, more importantly, feedback. I’m willing to go out on a limb to shift away from Duhigg’s language, because his language doesn’t accommodate negative feedback. We can change behaviors by attaching tangible, short-term, negative feedback to a behavior. Feedback is a more encompassing word than reward that can take in the complexity of our brain’s decision-making. When we see the cue, we want to pick the behavior that has the best chance of the best reward.

Additionally, reward is an implied singular thing. Feedback can contain multitudes. There can be some positive and some negative feedback. We can net that out in the same way that we can consider all gravity to be concentrated at the center of an object. This center of gravity for feedback – the center of feedback – can shape whether it is more or less likely for a cue to route to a routine or not.

In my work and the work of others whom I trust, shifting the routing from cue to routine is THE key to making change.

Creating the Craving

Duhigg explains that we can get into a situation where we have a neurological craving for something. In this case, we can receive a shot of dopamine before we get the reward. Dopamine, though described as the pleasure drug, is beginning to lose its moniker. As we learn more about dopamine, we realize that it’s not the be-all and end-all of pleasure after all. It plays a role in pleasure and in learning, though the role isn’t as clear-cut as we once thought it was.

Duhigg speaks of Wolfgang Schultz’ work, and how neural activity spikes occur before the reward. However, it’s not clear what these spikes in activity mean. It’s possible that these are the result of mental models being built and run. In correspondence with Dr. Schultz, he indicates that the dopamine receptors may be getting information from the models about outcomes – though this is still unclear. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

We do know that cravings are real. While addictions aren’t primarily based on chemical addiction, there is a neural processing component that drives the continued behavior. It’s not clear whether this is a neurochemically-based problem (a hardware problem) or a thinking problem (a software problem). There are some genetic markers for addiction susceptibility, but the gene doesn’t indicate that you will become an addict, just that it’s more likely. (See Chasing the Scream for more about addiction and No Two Alike for more about the role of genes and environmental interaction.)

Cravings, Duhigg explains, drives the cycle back from reward to cue again. Here, too, I disagree.

Open Loop

Duhigg draws the cue-routine-reward as a closed circle. I disagree with this representation, because the arrows don’t mean the same thing. The arrow from cue to routine could be described as “leads to” – so, too, could the arrow from routine to reward. However, it’s difficult to assign “leads to” to the arrow between reward and cue. I believe that this is because the real diagram is from cue to multiple routines – with connecting lines of varying thicknesses. The step after the cue, the routing, selects the best fit routine – which is the one with the strongest connection. (See Analyzing the Social Web for more on connection strengths.)

The issue is, I think, that Duhigg doesn’t have a representation of a routing component – the critical component – in his model. This is where the action happens and where changes both do and need to occur.

12-Steps

If you want a model of changing habits, a good place to look is 12-step programs, though they occasionally come under fire for a lack of demonstratable efficacy – and because they will allow people to exit on their own. However, arguably no other program or approach has helped as many people overcome their addictions. Why and How 12-Step Groups Work is the subject of a separate post.

Expectations

If you want someone to stick to a decision – to a change in behavior – how do you do it? In short, tell someone. Once you’ve told someone about a decision, it makes it less changeable. Once your friends, family, and community have been told of your intent and expect that you’ll follow through, the odds are that you will.

Our social drivers will not want to wade through the disappointment and the continual conversations of having to face everyone with the lack of change. In effect, we change the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that others tell about us. (See Redirect for more on the impact of stories on change.) It will often provide a firm push into the direction of making things happen.

Making It Visible

Telling someone of your intent is just one expression of the fundamental concept of making your changes visible. 12-step programs say that you’re only as sick as your secrets. The more you can make your thinking visible, the more likely you are to make the change. However, there’s another important role to visibility. By simply making things visible, you make it possible to evaluate things that you never realized might be happening.

Food journaling is an effective way to change eating behavior – because it makes it impossible to ignore the reality of how much food is being consumed. It is no longer possible for our memories to get intentionally fuzzy about that extra helping or the second cookie. It takes what our brains want to be invisible and makes it visible.

The Value of Failure

Failure, when it’s used to teach, can be valuable. Addicts often fail to “remain clean” their first time. They fall back into old habits. They get disconnected from their new support systems. However, successful recovering addicts learn what the trigger was, or what their hubris was, or what “got” them. They put barriers in place to prevent the same thing from happening again. Ultimately, this creates a situation where there are too few gaps for their old habits to sneak through.

Failure is only failure when you give up. Failure can be a powerful teacher as long as you don’t let the failure become fatal. We have to expect that, when we’re changing habits, we’re going to have some failures.

Hope

The most powerful force in the universe is hope. It’s what fuels our ability to get up after a failure. It’s what allows us to believe that we can make a change when no one else has. Hope broke the four-minute mile. Hope got us to the moon. Hope returned Apollo 13 home. The greatest thing that allows you to change a habit is the hope that you’ll be successful. That’s why 12-step programs are so important and powerful. They instill hope that you can change, because someone else has already done it.

It’s my hope for you that, if you’re trying to change your habits, you’ll find the answers in The Power of Habit.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Book Review-When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

There are plenty of stories of people who were in the right place at the right time, and they struck it rich. They bought into Facebook or they decided to start an e-commerce empire at just the right time. The same can be said for colossal failures. Indiana, the state where I live, invested in canals as the railroad was revolutionizing the transportation industry and went bankrupt because of it. Clearly, knowing when to do something – and when to not do it – has a high degree of inherent value. This is the question that When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing sets out to solve – sort of.

Knowing When

I was excited as I read that Daniel Pink was writing a book titled When. I’ve been a fan of his writing since reading Drive. Perhaps he could unlock the mystery of when some of the long-term initiatives that we’re working on would finally come to fruition. Perhaps he would tell me when to stay the course and when the course leads to nowhere. Jim Collins in Good to Great first exposed me to the idea of the “Stockdale paradox” – open to listening and adjusting and at the same time having unwavering faith. The question has remained since then. How do I know when to “stick to my guns” and when to “adjust to feedback?”

On this front, I was disappointed. When doesn’t explain when to move and when to stay. It doesn’t explain when to bet on black. It does help us figure out how to be more efficient in managing our time, but it still can’t answer the question of “when to pull the trigger” on an idea.

Understanding Human Time

It ticks. Why does it tick? Why do we measure time in small units that click and tick away with regular monotony? Perhaps it’s to provide order to the chaos of life. Perhaps it’s to help us synchronize to one another.

Phillip Zimbardo speaks of five different perspectives on time in The Time Paradox: Past Positive, Past Negative, Present Hedonistic, Present Fatalistic, and Future. These are unique to the human condition. Humans are the only animal that we know of that can project themselves into the future. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on this unique capability.) While many plants and animals have their own internal clocks, the human clock seems to be more complicated and adaptable. For instance, Pink explains that the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is thought to be the regulator of our circadian rhythms – that is, our master clock that keeps us in a 24-hour cycle. This clock isn’t a precise 24-hour cycle. We use external queues to synchronize this clock with our reality around us. That’s why we can use strategies when traveling across time zones to help us more quickly adapt to a new time. Basically, we can enhance the factors that allow us to reset our circadian rhythms.

It’s why some people find it hard to sleep after working in the presence of blue light. Blue light – associated with the middle of the day – suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a part of the signaling process that helps indicate to us that it’s time to sleep.

Another dimension of how we tell time isn’t in the 24-hour cycle, it’s in the moment to moment measurement of time as it slips through our personal hour glasses. This is a much more complex maneuver designed for more precise measurement of time. As The Rise of Superman explains, the ability to measure time is a coordinated dance that happens between multiple brain regions, and it’s why, during flow, we lose our sense of time. Flow shuts down glucose, and therefore processing, in some of the areas that are used to keep track of time. (See Flow and Finding Flow for more on flow.)

Ultimately, our human experience of time isn’t always connected to the real flow of time past us. Sometimes our internal clocks aren’t in sync. Sometimes they’re off, and sometimes they can get knocked off their timing based on the very helpful state of flow. In the end, however, there’s more to it than synchronization. Some of us are using different clocks altogether.

Larks, Owls, and Third Birds

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you personally ascribe to Benjamin Franklin’s “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” – or do you prefer to find the quote that drives your life from the monologue of a late-night TV show? As it turns out, there really are morning people and night owls. The morning folks are called “larks” because of their propensity to like the morning. Owls are, of course, more interested in nocturnal living. The “third bird” – which is rarely discussed – is the center of the bell curve, where most of us fit. That is, we neither are up at the crack of dawn nor are we burning the midnight oil. We rise and fall (asleep) in a more moderate range.

It turns out that there’s some degree of shift from one bird to another over time. We tend to become more “lark-ish” as we get older. Some research indicates that we should be moving schooling later in the day, when our children are more alert and at their peak performance. However, we align children to the rhythms of the older adults – and are thereby causing them to not always be at their best.

The “type of bird” that you are influences the best time of day for you to do certain things – and when you shouldn’t.

Time of Day

It’s a tragedy of timing to be the last case a judge has before lunch. The chances for leniency are slim. If you want a parole, you’re not as likely to get it before lunch as you would be right after breakfast or lunch. (See Willpower for more.) The truth is that, in every aspect of life, we have times when we can do great work and times when we drag ourselves through the task. Pink quotes research that says 20% of our variance in performance can be accounted for simply in the alignment or anti-alignment of our natural rhythms. There are times when our brains are tightly keeping reign on the random thoughts and we’re best suited to do analytical tasks and times when we’re more free-wheeling and therefore able to be more creative.

There’s a pattern of peak, trough, and recovery. However, the order of these don’t always occur in the same direction. Some night owls, it appears, experience these as recovery, trough, and then peak. In the peak, analytical tasks are best. The recovery is a place where creativity shines. By knowing how we experience our productivity, we can align what we do to the time of day when we can do it best.

But what should we do in the trough? How do we be productive when our productivity is lowest?

Take a Break

For the most part, we as humans don’t labor in a field through the heat of the day. We’re in air-conditioned offices – or at least air-conditioned cabs of heavy equipment that does the labor that we used to do as humans. As a result, we’re less connected to the strategy that we used to have as a society, where we’d take a midday break to get out of the heat of the sun. However, it seems like having a way to refresh mid-day improves our overall functioning. From making fewer errors to improving our mood, we shouldn’t skip lunch, and we should seriously consider reinstating the kindergarten nap time for adults. Short naps of 20 minutes can substantially enhance performance post-nap. If you can’t take a nap there are five suggestions for a break:

  • Something beats nothing – Don’t hold out for perfect, just take what you can get.
  • Moving beats stationary – John Medina explains in Brain Rules that we are creatures designed to be on the move and we think better when we are.
  • Social beats solo – If we can take a break together, it will be more impactful.
  • Outside beats inside – Getting outside of our concrete and steel jungles allows us to expand our perspective and recover better.
  • Fully detached beats semidetached – A break isn’t a time to catch up on all the other things that you’re not getting done; but if it’s all you can manage, do it.

Cognitive diversity – that is, doing different tasks – seems to be helpful, but not nearly as helpful as taking a complete break from work to recharge. Staying disconnected and allowing for the ability to play seems to have a benefit – even when you consider the cost that it takes in time.

Time of Project

Have you ever noticed that you charge into new projects with vigor? As the project gets underway, do you ever feel like you’re torn away from your energy, and you’re stuck in a friction-generating state that makes it harder and harder to move? You’re not alone. Time works across the day and the scale of human alignment, but it also scales to the arbitrary length of a project. The way that we interact with projects has a peculiar pattern.

The pattern is a punctuated one with a spike of activity right at the mid-point of a project. It’s as if we wake up and suddenly realize that we’re halfway through the time we have, and we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Whether the project is two hours, two days, two months, two years, the halfway point seems to be a point where we take stock of where we are and realize we’re coming up short. It’s not the only point in the project where activity and productivity seem larger. It rises again at the end of the project, as there’s an effort to bring things to a close.

One would think that, given this knowledge, you should shorten projects to unreasonable times to make the beginning, middle, and end come quicker. However, there are two issues with this. First, as is discussed in Drive, deadlines are inhibitory to creative solutions. Second, if you make the deadlines truly unreasonable, you run the risk of alienating the project team members.

This pattern of punctuated activity also corresponds to other temporal landmarks as well. It doesn’t have to just be the rhythm of the project, it can be the rhythm of life.

Temporal Landmarks

In our navigation of our physical world, we look for landmarks. Whether it’s the store that you’ve known forever or the phallic symbol that graces most major cities, we use landmarks to navigate. When it comes to time, we use temporal landmarks. Whether it’s the start of the year, our own birthday, or some other meaningful date, we often use these to organize our effort.

Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield call one group of active people “9-enders” because their age ends in a 9 – and they’re on a mission to do something before the next decade of their life. They’re more likely to run a marathon – by 48%. They’re the people who have something to prove to themselves about who they are and their ability to get things done.

If you want to get someone to take an action for their future self, you’re better off to hit them at the right time – right before their birthday, or particularly when they’re a 9-ender – to drive behavior. Whether it’s getting healthy or saving for retirement, coming off the back of a temporal landmark makes a marked difference in results. However, there’s another aspect – how our language and time interact – that changes the playing field as well.

Strong and Weak Language

Temporally-specific languages – ones where tense is important and expected to be present in all situations – are different from languages where the tense can be inferred – or ignored. The crazy finding is that people who use languages that are strongly temporally-bound tend to see their future selves as someone different and alien to their experience today. As a result, they’re less likely to invest in retirement or work to improve their health.

With languages where time is more fluid and connected, people are more subservient to their future selves. They see the connection between them now and the them of the future. It’s like they ask, “If not now, then when?” When indeed. When can you make time to read about the way that we all see time?

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Book Review-How Will You Measure Your Life?

The question is simple enough. It seems like a question that I’ve answered before. However, somehow the meaning question – How Will You Measure Your Life? – is one that I, like others, thought I had answered but somewhere got interrupted. I was in the middle of writing the answer of my life and I got distracted. I’m glad that I got back to looking at the question through the lens of Clayton Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon’s work.

Lost Along the Way

It’s hard to believe that our careers and our lives are like boats adrift on the ocean without solid wind to drive our sails. However, many people find themselves drifting off course with little understanding of how to get back to where they need to go. The Halo Effect spoke of the probabilistic nature of our lives. While someone might have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, Edison thought differently. Small changes eventually led to the incandescent lightbulb. In Extreme Productivity we spent most of the book hearing about Bob Pozen’s life: how he’s used strategies to get ahead in his life, only to find out at the end that his life is filled with the same random connections and dumb luck that has fueled our own lives.

That isn’t to say that planning a strategy for where we want our lives to go and positioning ourselves in that direction is futile – it’s not. While we may be lousy at predicting what will make us happy (see Stumbling on Happiness), we should try to figure it out – because we’ve still got better odds when we’re shooting for something. In the end our lives, and where we end up, aren’t actually about the destination. It’s about the journey. I mentioned my trip to Mt. Rushmore and the powerful push towards understanding that life is about the journey in my reviews of Changes That Heal and Introducing The Psychology of Success. Sometimes getting a little lost and experiencing the journey isn’t bad – as long as you remember to get back on track at some point.

The Fallacy of Sequencing

Too many people make initial decisions to sequence their life so that they can build a strong foundation for themselves, and then get lost along the way with no clear path about how to get back to what they really want. Do you want to know a secret? I know how much money it will take for you to be happy. It’s roughly twice what you’re making now. I know this because, for all but a handful of people, this is the number that they want.

So as gifted people start their careers to put a financial base underneath themselves, suddenly they find that the stable financial base must be larger and larger. Each time they almost make it, the need for stability gets larger. Adding to that, it’s hard to turn away from people rewarding you with financial incentives if the alternative is less money and higher purpose.

The Fallacy of Planning

If we know that life is about change, probabilities, and that we’ll likely not end up where we intended, why then does it make sense to plan at all? After all, 93 percent of all companies must abandon their original strategy because it proved to not be viable. It would seem that, with these odds, you shouldn’t try for anything at all. However, there is a reason that I learned a long time ago from hunting.

I was learning to shoot with a bow and arrow. I was happy to hit the deer target that had been set up for me. I felt good to be able to hit it at all until my uncle helped me understand the importance of having a narrow target. By having a narrow target (right behind the deer’s shoulder blade) I started to shoot better. Instead of being happy with just hitting the deer, I got specific.

Did I hit my target as often as I hit the deer when that was the target? Nope. However, when I changed my goal and I got specific, I got the ability to use valuable feedback to refine my aim, and as a result I hit the deer more often.

Life is like this. We need to have a specific, narrow target so that we can get realigned. We need feedback from others about what we’re trying to do, so that we can refine it and end up with the right target – for now. So, while you can’t plan out your life, it doesn’t mean that planning is meaningless.

It’s a Job

In How Will You Measure Your Life?, the path wanders through innovation, product marketing, and other topics. One of the interesting stops is learning how people buy products. People buy products to do a job. There’s something that we want and the product – or service – is designed to meet that need. The more we know about the specific need of the person, the more we can design a solution for that problem. The book walks through how to make milkshakes better and recognizes there are two very different needs that milkshakes are hired to do. In the morning, they’re something to keep the commute interesting and provide enough sustenance to prevent mid-morning tummy grumbles. In the afternoons and evenings, it’s something that parents can say yes to after a day of saying no to their child all day.

One product – a milkshake – with two different and, in this case, competing needs. The daily commuter needed a milkshake that they could take their time with and savor during their commute. The parent wanted a milkshake that the child could finish quickly. Two relatively opposite objectives. Finish quicker – or finish slower. This is the challenge with aggregating data. The Black Swan, in conversations about unexpected events, exposes the challenge of averages and their inherent hiding of the details and uniqueness of the data.

Outsourcing Core Competencies

Another sidestep from our measuring our life is the discussion of how some organizations, like Dell, sometimes end up outsourcing so much of what they do that they eventually outsource their core competencies. That is, the thing that made the organization great eventually becomes something that you rely on other organizations to do.

In our personal lives, this has an interesting implication. What are the things in our life that we need to keep because they power our uniqueness, and which do we need to let go because they’re something that someone else can do better, faster, cheaper? An easy question is whether you should do your own lawn maintenance or not. If it’s something that brings you joy or energizes you, the quick answer is keep it.

However, what if you, like me, perceive it to be a chore that must be done? It’s just one more burden of an overburdened life. I can do my lawn maintenance. I am “qualified.” I even have all the tools. However, if I don’t find it enjoyable, should I pay someone to do the work instead of me? Should I outsource this activity so that I can do something else? In my case, the answer is yes. I’d rather write an article a month to cover the cost of doing my lawn maintenance rather than doing it myself.

In the case of lawn maintenance, for me, it’s not a core competency. Writing, on the other hand, is. If I could take a few hours and “crank out” an article and make enough to pay for the lawn maintenance that month, which is a better use of my time? Of course, this assumes that I can get the article assignments.

Breaking the Shell

The chick is struggling to break out of its shell. You can see its struggle. You can imagine yourself in their position. You would want help. Shouldn’t you help the chick break free from its shell? Only if you want to sentence it to death. You see, chicks need the struggle to break out of their shell, just like we as humans need our struggles. (See How Children Succeed for more about our need for challenges.)

It turns out that, if we don’t have challenges, we never develop the toughness that’s necessary for our long-term survival – and for our ability to thrive. If you’ve not been able to struggle, then you’ll grow up believing that others are there to remove all the barriers in your way. It turns out that this self-centered approach to life isn’t good for your contribution to society – or to your happiness.

Happiness Worth Devoting Yourself To

Happiness is hard to come by. Finding lasting joy is a life’s work, and one that many have tried to capture directly or indirectly in their writing. (See Stumbling on Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis for two direct approaches to finding happiness.) Time and time again, studies reveal that people are in relationships are happier. Married people report being happier on average than their non-married friends. That is to say, those in marriages had an intimate connection with another human being. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on Dunbar’s work on social connections.) Certainly, some marriages are dysfunctional and doesn’t provide that connectedness, but on the whole, this connection added happiness to both lives.

If we look back at John Gottman’s work, as described in The Science of Trust, we find that he identifies “Make Life Dreams Come True” as one of the key foundations to sound relationships. How Will You Measure Your Life? describes it as “the path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, and someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.” One key to how I’ll measure my life is my relationships – with my wife, with my family, and with those who I have the privilege of spending time with. Spiritual Evolution remarks, “Nevertheless, on their deathbeds more people probably rejoice in having raised children than in having achieved precious moments of meditational Nirvana.” The One Thing quotes from The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Second on that list is “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends – too often they failed to give them the time and effort they deserved.”

Jobs for Experiences

When you’re searching for your next opportunity, there are all sorts of variables to consider. You can consider the financial gain you’ll get. The authority that you’ll have. Perhaps it’s stability that you crave and that you’re seeking. (See Who Am I? and The Normal Personality for Reiss’ 16 factor model for understanding peoples’ motivations.) One of the useful and longer-term views is to look at the next opportunity from the lens of whether it will create the experience that you want in your life.

Once you’ve determined what you want in your life, you can start to architect your decisions on the path that is most likely to lead to that goal. You may not become a famous author or a motivational speaker, but if these are your aims, there are steps you can take to get closer. You can join writing workshops to learn the skills necessary to become a better writer. You can take classes to become a better speaker. (Or do something crazy like take a class on stand-up comedy like I discussed in my post I Am a Comedian.)

My Measuring Sticks

For me, I’m not looking to keep score. Somewhere along the line, I missed the class on status being important. I’m quite happy to drive an average car. I’m happy in the home that I share with my family. I’m going to measure my life based on the way that I can positively impact others. My wife, my family, and my friends are the way that I’m going to measure my life.

To get there, I’ve got to continue to make money through work, but I’ll do that too from the lens of trying to help others. That, is how I’m going to measure my life. So How Will You Measure Your Life?

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Book Review-Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

It’s an artful thing to create the right choices so that people are nudged gently into the behaviors that are best for them. That’s what Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness is all about – helping people make the best choices for themselves. With the idea of libertarian paternalism, choice architects help to shape the way that people choose.

Choice Architects

Inherent in the idea that you can nudge someone is that doing so is subtle and something they barely notice. There is no such thing as a completely neutral design. Simple psychological factors, like the desire to pick the first option, means that choice architects carefully manage whose name is first on a ballot. Choice architects are the ones that are structuring the system such that the choice that is the best for people is the one they get most of the time.

Most of the time when we’re consumers, we have no idea what work has gone into the choice architecture. We don’t know that we’re subtly being engaged in ways that help us – or help the organization that we’re shopping with. However, these subtle influences are there, as we find impulse items on the end of the shelves in grocery stores and drive past stores that are having going out of business sales – continuously.

As architects of choices we rarely consider all the factors that might go into someone selecting a particular choice. Instead, we create a list of choices quickly and move on. Rarely do we think about the order that the choices occur in or what the default answer should be.

Nudge insists that there is no neutral choice design. So whatever we do, whether by intent or by design, will shift the results – at least slightly.

Libertarian Paternalism

Paternalism is thinking about the consumer as a child who cannot make good decisions. Authoritarian or dictatorial paternalism restricts the choices that consumers have, and only gives them the solution that they must “choose” because someone – a choice architect – said this is the only solution for them. Most of us would resist this attempt to enforce a choice on us. It’s what we expect out of communist dictators, and, certainly in the United States, we’re not going to stand for it.

Libertarian paternalism has the same basis but instead of preventing what the choice architect sees as sub-optimal solutions, the choices are allowed, but they’re deemphasized. The degree to which you must go out of your way to pick a different choice is a measure of how truly libertarian it is. If it’s easy to choose, it’s libertarian. If it’s hard to choose, it’s more authoritarian – disguised as a real choice.

The authors believe that libertarian paternalism is OK, or even a moral obligation where authoritarian paternalism is wrong, but admit that the line between these two extremes isn’t always the easiest to distinguish.

The goal is to balance the number of people getting the perceived optimal solution while maintaining their ability to make choices for themselves.

The Paradox of Choice

The first step is to ensure that the person has as many options available as makes sense. The challenge with this is knowing how many options make sense. In an ideal world, every option would be available to the chooser, but in a practical world, choices promote inaction, and inaction is frequently (if not always) not the best option.

The Paradox of Choice skillfully points out that we like our choices less the more options we have – and we make fewer decisions. In short, more options are the enemy to actions. If we want someone to make a choice, we need to manage the number of options.

Forced Choice

Brené Brown is careful when confronted with forced choices – “either-or dilemmas,” as she calls them. She wonders in Rising Strong who has something to gain by forcing the choice. In the case of our nudges, the hope is that the person making the choice is benefited. With an ethical choice architect, the forced choice causes the person to steer their own course. With luck, the choice architect created the situation to keep most of the people off the rocks most of the time.

The forced choice is a tool of the choice architect. They get to make someone choose between A or B, and in the process cause the person to indicate what they think is better. The problem with the forced choice, in addition to whether it really serves the person making the choice, is that too few people take action, even when faced with a straightforward choice, and what is to be done with the folks that fail to make a choice.

The Power of Default

The next tool in the choice architect’s toolbox is the power of the default option. If you do nothing, you’ll get option C. This option is often very powerful in terms of the number of people that fall into it. The option is typically one which isn’t particularly risky, because no one wants to inflict undue risk on someone just because they didn’t decide; so the choice architect creates a safer, but less rewarding, option to be the default.

We learned that the default answer is the one which is taken when neither the rider nor the elephant are paying attention to what’s happening. (See Rider-Elephant-Path in The Happiness Hypothesis for more on how powerful the defaults are.) The default is all too often the most popular answer, because people making the decisions are neither experts nor sufficiently engaged to research the correct result.

Inertia

Without insisting that the default is a specific action, most consumers fall victim to the “status quo bias.” That is, they expect that things are going relatively OK now, so why would they change? In fact, while we sometimes describe people as change adverse, it’s not that they’re change adverse at all, they just see no point in it.

John Kotter’s work in The Heart of Change and Leading Change includes a model, in which first step is to break this inertia by creating a sense of urgency. This is sometimes called a “burning platform” from which people must jump. While this is an aggressive strategy, it’s often needed to fight the strong pull of the status quo bias.

Controlled by Experts

Too often, consumers find themselves in a foreign land. The foreign land isn’t on any map that you find, but is instead demarcated by the front door of the store they walk into. Whether it’s buying a new TV or shopping for wine for a special evening, the consumer is rarely as educated as the store workers. In this scenario, it’s relatively easy for the salesperson to overwhelm you with technical jargon and features and to nudge you into purchasing what they want you to buy.

In retail, particularly electronics, it’s common for manufacturers to run contests for store employees based on their ability to sell that manufacturer’s products – sometimes even a single product. In these cases, the manufacturers are intentionally tipping the scales in their direction through nudging the sales folks.

Nudging and Shoving

The distance between a nudge and a shove are often too close to call. Nudges aren’t forced: they are, after all, libertarian paternalism. But even in the spirit of not removing options, sometimes the influence of the “expert” salesperson can drive people to a product in a way that feels more like a shove than a nudge.

The focus of the book is on nudges, though it’s clear that, by knowing what is a nudge and not a shove, there’s an inherent risk that some people will use shoves instead of nudges – because in the short term, they’re often more effective.

Mistakes in Choosing

Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow and Hubbard in How to Measure Anything speak volumes about how our ability to make guesses, the right choices, and decisions can be systemically flawed. The rules of thumb that we use to make our decisions are sometimes grossly distorted in their applicability or effectiveness. I have a deck that isn’t square on the house, because the person I hired used the rule of thumb – based on the Pythagorean theorem – of a side length of 3 feet and a side length of 4 feet should have a diagonal of 5 feet. That’s easy enough when the deck is small, but when it’s a 20′ by 40′ deck, the amount of measurement error is substantial.

It’s because people make so many mistakes in choosing that it’s important that choice architects exist to disrupt the incorrect application of rules of thumb or other knowledge in domains where it’s not helpful.

Unintended Consequences

It used to be that Christmas clubs were great ways for banks to make money. People deposited money on a regular basis in an account that accrued little or no interest. They could withdraw these funds to purchase gifts for Christmas. It was an ingenious idea for the banks and, at a level, helped consumers. No one wanted to be caught short at Christmas and be unable to buy toys for their children. So the banks really won, and the consumers who weren’t capable of saving throughout the year with normal options were given a solution.

However, another choice opened. That is, the ability to charge things on credit. So now, even if you didn’t have the money to pay for the toys that you wanted to get your children, you could borrow that money on a credit card and pay a substantially higher interest rate on the money that you borrowed – making the banks more money.

This is a case where the choices got away from the choice architects but in a way that further favored the banks. No one would have necessarily predicted that credit cards would virtually eliminate Christmas clubs, but that’s what they did. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on unintended consequences – even on well-intended interventions.)

Social Nudges

While I’ve shared about structural nudges – those relying on the architecture of the situation – they are not necessarily the most powerful. As is revealed in Influencer, there are many ways to influence a person, some of which are social. Social nudges have accomplices who sway the decisions of others. Whether the accomplices are knowing accomplices being paid, or are instead just caught up in the system themselves and decide to amplify the message to capture others through social media, they are accomplices nonetheless.

The researcher Solomon Asch demonstrated that if you asked someone a simple question, you could get 100% right answers – unless the subject heard someone else give the wrong answer. In those cases, even though the questions were easy, the subjects gave incorrect answers as much as 1/3rd of the time.

Epidemics

So powerful are social nudges that they can sometimes create a panic. In Seattle in 1954, there was an epidemic of windshield pitting – that never actually was. Someone noticed pitting on their windshield and shared this with their friends, who also noticed the pitting. They got together to wonder what was causing this damage to their cars and proceeded to drag more people and media in. That is, until it was finally concluded that pitting was a normal effect of driving a car. The pits had been with the cars all along, but someone noticed them, and concern for folks’ precious cars continued to feed more energy into the epidemic.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens all the time where something has been going on “forever”, gets discovered, and becomes some conspiracy plot that must be addressed.

Priming

Epidemics are facilitated through a concept called “priming”. That is, we’re more likely to follow a train of thought once it has been laid down. This is at the heart of social hacking. Social hacking is the art of gaining access to systems, equipment, or information by use of social, rather than technical, means. In simple terms, just getting someone to say yes a few times before they answer a question they should tell you no to increases the likelihood that they’ll say yes. (See my book review of Social Hacking for more.)

By creating the expectation that there is something going on or a preferred choice, we sensitize our reticular activating system (RAS) and become more aware. The RAS is important for our wake-sleep cycle, but also pays a critical role in what we look for – and what we look for, we’ll find. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Checklist for the Choice Architect

As choice architects, we should consider how to create effective nudges, and here’s a book-provided mnemonic for that:

  • iNcentives
  • Understand mappings
  • Defaults
  • Give feedback
  • Expect error
  • Structure complex choices

You may not get your nudges exactly right but maybe this review is just the nudge you need to read Nudges.

Raise Your Line

Book Review-Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality

Most books about success have some obvious plot lines. Work hard. Do the right things — even when it’s hard. They share their unique perspective on the world and then provide the recipe for getting success by following their steps. Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality certainly fits into this category. It’s a collection of ideas that Robert Stevenson believes will help you elevate your life. Certainly, this can happen, but the story is a bit more complicated than that.

What Works for the Goose Works for the Gander

One of the challenges with popular leadership, management, and self-help books is that they promise success. If you simply follow this formula you will succeed. As was discussed in the Heretic’s Guide to Management, this isn’t likely. It’s more likely that the author will find a set of behaviors that work for them to improve their life. These behaviors may be generally applicable to everyone – or unique to their situation. For instance, if I shared that you should read a book a week and blog about it, you might think I’m crazy. However, it works for me. There’s no telling whether it will work for you or not.

The old saying that, “what works for the goose works for the gander” may not be the case – depending upon what the author is sharing. For instance, I mentioned that The ONE Thing recommends focus when that may or may not be the right answer. As Bold pointed out, different leaders have different approaches to how to manage (or ignore) risk. It takes different strokes for different folks.

Reading Between the Lines

What about how you implement the suggestions they offer? I’ve mentioned my appreciation for and my struggle with the Stockdale paradox from Good to Great in my reviews of On Dialogue, Willpower, The Psychology of Hope, and Rising Strong. How do you know when to persist with an idea and when to adapt to what the market is telling you? I get plenty of feedback on the projects that I’m working on. Some of that feedback may be well-intended, but can send me in the wrong direction. (I get lots of that.) How do you know when to follow the voices you’re hearing, and when to stand firm on the idea that you started with? There are no answers here.

They say that the devil is in the details – and that’s certainly true. All the cliché advice in the world won’t help you be successful if you don’t understand how to make it a part of the way that you live. It’s the making it a part of your life that is the hard part. Thus while there’s some good advice in Raise Your Line, I wonder how much people will be able to integrate it into their daily lives.

Choosing Hard Work

Glassier described in Choice Theory that we make choices, and those choices determine our outcomes. He speaks of choices – even choosing to be depressed. (Which I think isn’t wholly a choice but has psychological components.) The good (and bad) news about these choices is that they lead us towards other outcomes. (For why I say lead us toward, see The Halo Effect for more on probabilistic thinking.) All-in-all, if we’re willing to work hard and make hard choices, we’ll generally end up better off in the end.

There’s the old cliché “work smarter, not harder”; but like all clichés, it’s important to realize that it may not be possible to understand how to implement this. The reality is that the saying is intended to keep people thinking about how to optimize their efforts, but has been applied to folks who are working hard and don’t seem to be making any progress. Said differently, it’s a way to guilt people into thinking that they’re not doing enough. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt – and shame.)

Over the years, I’ve observed that lucky people are the ones that make the big splashes in the news and who are at the top of the wealthiest men on the planet. However, looking deeper, I’ve discovered that many of these men worked very hard for what they got. Albert Einstein admitted that he wasn’t the best student. However, he explained that he was much more persistent than his other colleagues.

Fear of Failure

One of the recurring themes is the fear of failure. I’ve spoken about it in my reviews of Creative Confidence, and Helping Children Succeed. It’s the belief that failing at something makes you a failure – or more precisely, it somehow makes you unlovable, and no one wants to be unlovable. Being a vulnerable human, there wouldn’t be someone to rescue us when we get overwhelmed.

The fear of failure prevents us from success – or raising our line – by keeping us stuck. We become paralyzed – or diverted – by the fear of failure, and are never able to walk the path we’re supposed to walk.

It was years ago now. I was in a training session. The point of the trainer’s exercise was that putting a puzzle together is easy once you know the solution, but that puzzles are hard until you know the solution. I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, he simply asked the class if anyone wanted to solve a puzzle. Generally, I score well on 3D spatial manipulation. The puzzle was a simple pyramid created of several pieces. I set about solving it and got relatively close when the trainer – realizing that his beautiful exercise was about to be spoiled — decided to provide me a bit of misdirection. I don’t know if I would have solved the puzzle if he hadn’t misdirected me. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s easy to get misdirected. It’s easy to get afraid of trying something and turn into another direction. The trainer later admitted that he believed I would solve the puzzle and thought the misdirection would keep his exercise from being ruined. I was surprised by my failure – but it didn’t stop me from trying again.

Excellence

When it comes to excellence, there’s a lot of frustration. In fact, it’s frustration with the status quo that drives people towards excellence. What we’re doing today isn’t enough. The Fred Factor exposed how you can be excellent in anything that you do, even if what you do is as mundane as being a mail carrier. You don’t have to be in some powerfully influential role. You don’t have to be a captain of industry to pursue and find excellence.

I think that the greatest barrier for most folks to get to excellence is that they don’t believe that it’s achievable to them. What I’ve learned along the way is that the cost of excellence is low. All it takes is an inability to accept the status quo. The powerful way that it makes you feel is worth the effort.

Folks ask if it’s exhausting to try to push forward in every direction to the maximum extent possible. The answer is “yes, at times.” It’s not that excellence doesn’t take effort – mostly it takes thought – but it’s that if even only a few of the things that you do with excellence are recognized, it’s worth it.

Motivation and Persistence

If you want to get somewhere you must keep going. You must find a way to get yourself motivated to start, and the persistence to keep going when the going gets tough – and it’s going to get tough. I’ve been in business (this time around) for more than 11 years now. There have absolutely been times when I’ve wondered if the stress and challenges are worth it. There have been times when my friends have had to remind me that you must keep getting up to the plate and you must keep swinging – because the alternative isn’t much fun.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s an interesting cliché. It’s interesting because it’s correct only if you’re willing to define “dawn” as the time when it starts to get more light. That is, dawn may be at 3 in the morning when only the first hints of light start filtering over the horizon, through the atmosphere, and towards our eyes. Sometimes when you’re trying to keep yourself motivated you have to seek out the dimmest hints of light and remember that they mean you’re headed in the right direction.

The book Switch speaks of the need to follow the bright spots. That is, whatever is working, do more of it. However, this can be looked at from the opposite position. That is, whatever seems to be working – and motivating you to continue – do more of it. Instead of doing more of the action because it’s working, consider doing more of it because it’s motivating you. Even if you know that ultimately whatever it is won’t scale or get you to where you want to go, keep doing it because the motivation may be more important than the end goal. (See Traction for more about models that won’t get you where you want to go – but you may want to do anyway.)

For me, long-term success, something lasting, comes when you can withstand the challenges of day-to-day life and business. The way that you withstand the challenges is to keep motivated. For me I know that we can do amazing things. We can save pain and save lives, figuratively and literally. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there, but it is the way that I motivate myself to keep going.

Be Exceptional

It’s easy to be exceptional. It’s easy to be different and special. One way to do that is to read a book. Stevenson quotes that 80% of Americans didn’t buy or read a book in the past year, and 70% haven’t bought a book in five years. Maybe it’s time to put yourself in the minority and Raise Your Line.

The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life

Book Review-The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life

There’s a running joke in the National Speaker’s Association (NSA). Someone addresses the members and asks if they’ve heard about NLP, and then says, “Wait, of course you’ve heard about NLP: this is the NSA.” In other words, understanding NLP – or, Neuro-Linguistic Programming — is an expectation in the NSA. Why is that? Well it’s a historic program for self-help through cognition. As a result, it’s expected that you just “know” about NLP. In truth, I did know about NLP, but the problem was it was so long since I was exposed to it that I barely remembered much. That’s why I needed something like The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life as a refresher.

It’s All About the Mindset

In the 1970s the idea that you could change your life by thinking was new, radical, and different. Thus when NLP was developed, it was a new idea. Of course, since the 1970s things have changed as we’ve learned about neural plasticity and the ability for our brains to grow and change as we think thoughts and develop practices. (See Mindset for more about neural plasticity.) While NLP as a specific protocol has been discredited scientifically, there’s a different way to view NLP.

I don’t view NLP as a rigid protocol for how to make your life better. I don’t see it as a cure-all. I don’t even see it as a properly structured clinical protocol. There’s little point in seeing it as a specific clinical protocol, since I know too few of them will validate when the research is tested. (See The Cult of Personality Testing, The Heart and Soul of Change, and House of Cards for some of the problems with clinical psychology.)

I see it as another interesting perspective on how people’s inner worlds work. It may not have the rigor of scientifically-based work like Incognito, but it’s an interesting view of the world.

Maps and Territories

Incognito drove home an awareness that how we perceive the world isn’t how the world really is. Our mind plays tricks on our consciousness to make us believe that we’re perceiving the world correctly, when in truth, we’re only perceiving the world as we can. NLP speaks of how we build internal models – maps – of the world we perceive, and how that map can be inaccurate.

Map-making in the real world is an exercise not in adding things to the map, but is instead an exercise in not adding things – in deciding what to omit. When we build our maps of our world, we necessarily omit details, simplify, and sometimes distort the real world to make our maps work. We do this because maps – both in the physical world and in our rational minds – are simplifications. If the map really matched the “territory” (the NLP word for the real world), then there would be no reduction in it, and would therefore be too complicated for us to process. We need the simplification that our internal maps provide.

However, things change and our maps get out of date with reality. We stumble across our distortions and trip ourselves up on the reality that we can’t see. An awareness in NLP is that we have to always be tending to our maps, to make them as rich as we can and to make updates for the updated information that reality brings.

Disassociation

One of the benefits of being a consultant is that I get to see most problems from a distance. They’re not my problems. They don’t directly impact my livelihood. Instead, I can see things more objectively. NLP teaches you to create this dissociation from the voices in your head. The idea is that you can move the movies that play in your head farther away and desaturate their color – thereby minimizing them and making them feel less real.

By approaching the things that cause fear and anxiety from a distance, it’s possible to create separation and dissociation from them. This minimizes their impact and makes them less powerful over our decisions and actions. Whether the visualization exercises of moving thing farther away and turning down the color are effective as a dissociation exercise or not, the benefits of dissociating are real.

Connecting Communication

There are many places which recognize that people communicate differently. Dialogue speaks about Power, Meaning, and Feeling as ways to communicate. Emotional Intelligence talks about connecting with others through language and body language. NLP recognizes the power of mirroring, or matching the other person that you’re communicating with, and how powerful it can be to reflect to the other person what they’re thinking.

Brighter Futures

In the end a key idea with NLP is that the person you’re working with should look forward to a brighter future. That is, NLP leverages hope as a powerful tool for lasting change. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about how powerful hope can be.) If you want a better future, perhaps a good starting point is The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.

Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

Book Review-Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

You can’t make it very long in business without a bit of grit. The statistics are daunting. Within 5 years, 80% of the businesses that were started won’t be around any longer. You can’t raise a family without a bit of grit. There are many times when you’ll wonder as a parent, “Am I doing this right?” In area after area of our lives, it’s easy to see where grit is required to accomplish our goals and live life to the fullest. That’s why Martin Meadows’ book Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up is such an important read.

The Trough of Disillusionment

Gartner created the idea of a “hype cycle” to graphically represent the emotions behind the release of new technologies, tools, and techniques. After the initial trigger, there is the peak of inflated expectations, followed by the trough of disillusionment. This is followed by the slope of enlightenment, and ultimately ends with the plateau of productivity. Gartner doesn’t run the line to the right far enough, though: there’s also some level of “sunsetting” that happens for every technology where it falls out of favor.

The beauty of the model is that it explains quite well how new technologies are adopted. Like Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations, it contains a model for the classic pattern that innovations diffuse with. However, the hype cycle is about the emotions felt through the diffusion process. While its name is associated with the “hype”, or hyperbole, the labels for the sections make it clear that, at its heart, we’re talking about the emotional component of the adoption.

Everything we do in life seems to follow a similar cycle. We fall in love and have our inflated expectations that we’ll never fight. We start a new job, and there’s nothing wrong with this organization. Over time, we begin to see things more accurately – or perhaps too pessimistically – and believe that perhaps our new love isn’t the right one for us, or this organization is sicker than the last one. (The Paradox of Choice
discusses some of the factors that can lead us to buyer’s remorse about our choices.)

Our real defeat in whatever we’re doing comes from the trough of disillusionment, when we allow our mind to decide for us that what we’re doing isn’t worth it, isn’t going to work, or isn’t what we want. Grit is the mental toughness that can prevent our minds from believing that we’re not good enough to be successful or that the goal isn’t worth the work. We don’t get exhausted as much as we think and feel that we are exhausted, and we become it.

Mental Toughness

There are three general views on mental toughness. There’s the naïve view that you just power through it. You lace up your Nikes and “Just Do It.” There’s the view that it’s some meditative state of nirvana that can only be reached by a backpacking expedition to Tibet. Then there’s the view of those who have been in the trials that required mental toughness. (One example is the book, which is like a journal of a man who has walked a hard road, called The Road Less Traveled.)

Each month, I sit with a group of CEOs to talk through where we are, and to get advice on how to move our businesses forward. And each month, I’m amazed at the challenges that life throws at us. Collectively, the challenges are crazy. One guy had an opportunity with a large oil company disappear because the agent managing the introduction literally died. Industries he was pursuing have collapsed out from underneath him. Another member of the group watches his fortune rise and fall based on the oscillations of the retailer’s whims. Each month, I watch these guys get pounded on by fate, and wonder whether they’ll “make it”, or whether their current project is just another failure on their road to success. (See Rising Strong Part 1 and Part 2 for more on the role of failure and getting back up.)

I’ve been in business this time around for over 11 years. There have been several times when I have considered giving up and moving on. I’ve considered the idea that I’d take a job somewhere and “hide out” long enough to regain my strength and will to fight again. I never pulled the trigger because everything didn’t line up quite right, but it’s something that I’ve considered.

It’s hard not to consider whether what you’re doing is right. If you’re trying to reach your peak, you’ve always got to be mentally rehearsing and evaluating what you’ve done. (See Peak for more about peak performance and what you do to achieve it.) Self-evaluation is a requirement when you’re trying to be the best you can be, and this self-evaluation drives you to the question about whether “it” will work, whatever “it” is.

Whether you’re a Navy Seal candidate who is trying to get past the limits of your body’s toughness through the pain and fatigue or you’re a business man who has struggled for years, the key to success doesn’t rely on your physical capacity or your business idea: the key to success rests on your ability to keep your head in the game.

Willpower

Grit is — in part — the same as willpower. (See my review on Willpower if you want to compare perspectives.) The Psychology of Hope
considers it an essential ingredient for hope (and therefore happiness). While there are many that say it’s essential, the definitions sway between authors. Some believe that willpower is about self-control. Others believe that willpower is about “get up and go.” Obviously there are other perspectives as well. Willpower might be a shortcut way for describing a category of mental processes that are used to overcome barriers put in our way. (See Demand for how little a barrier needs to be to stop us.)

The problem with willpower is that isn’t a single thing. There are differing abilities to cope with different kinds of adversities in different areas of our lives. Willpower may be the resolve to push through our struggles – but everyone experiences their struggles differently. It’s hard to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”, as the old Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” points out.

Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins in Good to Great discusses the Stockdale Paradox, which he explains as, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Grit taken to its extreme is that unwavering faith. I’ve always had a problem with discerning between when you should continue to persevere and when it’s time to find another passion to pursue.

I call this spot where there’s a paradox that has no answer the “and then the magic happens” point of the story. That is, there’s no way to predict what will happen. You don’t create a special set of magical conditions that move you from one reality to another. Only by random chance, dumb luck, and perseverance are you successful. In fact, as I have come to accept more-and-more that life is a series of probabilities and not certainties, I realize that sometimes just the act of continually trying is enough to be successful. (See The Black Swan for more about probabilities and our failure to predict.)

Ringside Seat

For the battle that rages in my head as I attempt to discern when it’s time to try something new and when it’s time to “double down” and make another push to make my latest dream a reality, there are arguments like, “Better to live to fight another day”, and “nothing hard ever came easy to anyone.” Good grit isn’t always deciding to push through things. Good grit is deciding when to move to the next challenge.

Maybe it’s time for you to get your own Grit.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Book Review-Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

If you were to ask people about their biggest failings, the one thing that if they could get a handle on their lives would be better, what would it be? It might be that solving a lack of willpower might top the list of failings – as it does in research on the subject. We’re all subject to times when our willpower is weak. However, what is willpower and how do we build it up for the times we need it. That’s the subject and goal of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

 

Defining Willpower

Often people will describe their lack of willpower from the perspective of eating more than we should. However, this is just one dimension of willpower. There are, however, four different categories for willpower which are:

  • Control of thoughts – The ability to focus our attention on appropriate or desirable activities or the ability to stay on a single train of thought.
  • Control of emotions – The ability to regulate emotions so they don’t become excessive or overwhelming
  • Impulse control – The ability to resist temptations
  • Performance control – The ability to manage speed, accuracy, and completeness to complete the task at hand.

In addition to these categories, power can be broken into its magnitude and stamina. That is can you avoid the most alluring desert or not or can you resist it for the entire evening. So willpower isn’t just one thing as we like to simplify it into. The fact is that you may have great amounts of willpower in one area, and little or none in another area.

The difference between good willpower and those with little willpower seems to have more to do with the situations and habits they create for themselves rather than a natural wellspring of willpower.

Stacking the Deck

Sitting at a table with your friends you reach over and grab another chip from the bowl which sits just within comfortable reach and within your peripheral vision. The conversation drifts between the game of cards, politics, and “last week’s goings on.” All the while you’re silently munching on chips. When you wake up the next morning and weigh yourself you discover – much to your horror — how many chips you really did eat.

The challenges you faced here weren’t high-stress or a “bad day at work.” The situation was setup to weaken your willpower. You were distracted by stimulating conversation (so you weren’t paying attention to your consumption.) The logistics were such that your subconscious was fed a constant stream of data about the availability of the snack. Your ease of reach could make the acquisition of the chips transparent.

In short the cards were stacked against you. The situation itself required a huge amount of willpower to resist and engaging conversation with friends was more than enough distraction to prevent you from summoning up the willpower that you normally have.

Willpower Exhaustion

When muscles get tired and have really been torn up by the process of their exertion and are quite literally unable to apply as much force as when they started. Slowly the more you exert yourself the more damage is done to the muscles. In the case of muscles, like willpower as we’ll see in a moment, after some time and recovery you’ll have a greater capacity. When your body has a chance to rest after physical exertion it goes about the process of rebuilding the muscles which were torn up and in a desire to prevent damage again they’re rebuilt slightly better and slightly stronger. This is how over a long period of concerted exercise body builders transform their bodies into muscular machines.

While building up their muscles in a pattern of strain and recovery, they quite literally can’t do as much at the end of a strenuous workout as they could do at the start. Their physical ability has been reduced – or in some cases exhausted.

Willpower works much like our physical muscles in that as we expend it, we’re expending some of a fixed amount of capacity. With our physical muscles it doesn’t matter whether we’re lifting weights or walking up the stairs, we’re consuming from the same pool of resources. With willpower it doesn’t matter if we’re making decisions or resisting chocolate cake, we’re drawing from the same pool of resources.

That’s why it’s important to recognize that we can exhaust our willpower. With rest and self-care, it will recover, but for a time we’re completely unable to muster any additional self-control. In 12 step programs they speak of the risky time of HALT which is an acronym for: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. As it turns out these are all conditions that require a great deal of willpower and can send us hurtling towards willpower exhaustion and in the case of an addict, tumbling back into the addiction.

On the one hand, it’s important to exercise your willpower “muscles” on the other hand it’s important to know how to exercise them in ways that improve your chances for success. Part of that is managing your situation and part of that is building enduring habits. However, before you can build the right habits, you have to know how willpower is fed.

Blood Glucose

Many moons ago I had the privilege of working on a study which leveraged technology to assist patients with diabetes. This was my introduction to blood glucose – and the things that go wrong when your blood glucose isn’t carefully managed. Patients with diabetes are unable to properly regulate their blood sugar on their own. Their body either doesn’t produce insulin to keep the blood glucose low, or the body resists the insulin to such a degree that it can’t produce enough. (Technically there is one other option one’s liver can be converting too much fat into blood glucose but that’s rarer.) The result of too much blood glucose is that the patient’s blood becomes more like a syrup and this causes a whole plethora of complications from damaging the retina to increasing the work the heart must do and loss of neural sensation from the extremities.

In the management of this disease sometimes patients managing their own care and overzealous physicians create the opposite problem that is there’s not enough blood glucose for the body to function. The brain as the powerhouse of the body starts shutting down – like rolling brownouts in the power grid – causing some truly whacky responses. However, the blood glucose problem doesn’t just effect patients with diabetes. Low blood sugar is common in adults – just not as severe. The result for regular adults is that their body – and its largest power consumer, the brain – have to start conserving energy. As we learned in The Rise of Superman, while the brain’s normal energy consumption is the same, it can shut down places where energy is being consumed in order to prioritize other systems. When we’re depleted of blood glucose the brain shuts down the anterior cingulate cortex which is the center of self-control (and manager of the self in general). So when our blood glucose is low, we have less willpower.

One of the factors that leads to low blood glucose is high consumption of (blood glucose?) which is caused when we exercise willpower. So we quite literally run out of the body’s energy source – at least temporarily – when we’re using our willpower.

Situational Management

Consider the scenario that we introduced above where you’re snacking unconsciously on things which are within eye sight and within reach. What if we moved the bowl across the room or out of our peripheral vision? We’d eat less. If we want to simply replace the fattening snack with a healthy alternative, the odds are that we’ll eat that instead. (In smaller quantities, generally.) By manipulating the situation, we manipulate how much willpower we must direct towards our eating habits – and given the limited nature of our willpower, conserving it can be a good thing. (I spoke of a longer view of situational management in my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.)

Sometimes increasing willpower is creating situations where it’s not needed and is therefore not consumed. If you’re an alcoholic, then perhaps your first career choice may not be a bartender. With easy access to the addictive substance you fight, you’re bound to find times when your willpower is waning.

In Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis we were introduced to the model of the rider, the elephant, and the path. Situational management is all about managing the path. What’s going to be the default behavior when neither your reason nor your emotions are exerting control? The other component of the path is, however, creating the right habits to start with.

Creating Habits

The best way to use willpower, it turns out, is to use willpower to develop habits which then eliminate the need for willpower. If you get up each day and exercise – then you’ll get up each day and exercise without the willpower fight that accompanies the decision to exercise or not.

The precursor to a habit sometimes is the introduction of the “bright line.” That is the line you’re unwilling to cross. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, says “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” That is once you’ve decided that you’re never going to do something, you need not consider the option again and therefore you don’t need to consume willpower to decide.

Once you’ve made the bright line decision, you can create habits around behaviors that you do want. In 12 step program circles there’s an idea of a stoplight. A stoplight has red, yellow, and green lights. The activities we do on a given day fall into three categories. Red activities are the things that we don’t want in our lives. Be it drinking, smoking, overeating, or something else these are the things that we know are bad for us and that we’ve decided (with our rational rider) that we’re not going to do. Yellow are those activities which aren’t bad in and of themselves but they sometimes lead to the red behaviors that we want to avoid. We avoid yellow behaviors not because they are inherently bad but because of where they can lead. Green activities are life giving to us. They renew us, enrich us, or make our lives better. We want to create more of these activities in our lives – these are the activities that we want to turn into habits.

Using our precious willpower to create habits around our green light activities isn’t easy – but it frees us up to use our willpower in other ways later. It eliminates the need to fight to do the green light activities while at the same time refreshing and renewing us and there by building our willpower.

Habits, according to The One Thing, take on average 66 days to form. Thus successful people focus on the development of one habit for two or three months and once that habit is formed and solidified they work on the next habit. John Kotter when speaking of organizational change in Leading Change and The Heart of Change
cautions for the need to reinforce change in the organization – the same is true of habits, they need to be reinforced. Benjamin Franklin was someone who was considered to have well-worn habits and to be a man of great willpower (except when it came to women) and even he admitted that building his habits – and supporting his virtues – was a life-long endeavor.

Building Willpower

I first encountered a living statue while in Las Vegas for a conference. I was walking through Caesar’s Palace and amongst the statues were sometimes people who were performing by not moving. Much like the Buckingham Palace guards they have to choose not to react to the people around them. (Excepting in the case of the living statues for those who choose to leave them a tip.) Willpower speaks of Amanda Palmer who brought the European tradition to the United States and more specifically to Harvard Square.

Palmer would stand on a box for hours at a time fighting the urge to scratch her nose or do any sort of physical movement. In the process she was demonstrating and developing her willpower. She would come home from her performances absolutely exhausted though she had barely moved. However, slowly and consistently she’d leverage the willpower she had and through it’s consistent use develop it further.

David Blaine is also profiled for his feats of endurance. Interestingly, and surprisingly, despite the ability to marshal his willpower for amazing feats, David Blane without the push of public eyes admits to not exercising willpower. Though he’s developed a set of mental tricks that he can use both to develop his willpower over the long term and the ability to marshal out the capacity he does have, he chooses not to exercise it every day – or in every part of his life. Instead when he’s preparing for a new stunt, he’s creating little goals and achieving them. He’s using repetition and practice to change little things over and over again until the momentum of his changes seem spectacular and unreachable by others.

Not Using Willpower

If willpower is an expendable resource perhaps the answer isn’t to build willpower but to stop using it all together – without the consequences of succumbing to temptations and lack of self-control. Creating “bright lines” and establishing habits are big and long term ways to conserve willpower by making decisions ahead of time about how you’ll behave. They’re in fact powerful examples of the strategy of precommitment.

In Greek mythology Odysseus had his shipmates tie him to the mast with orders to not listen to his cries to be set free or to change course while they were passing an island which was reportedly inhabited by sirens. By making it impossible for him to make a decision concerning his fate or the fate of his men he had precommitted to a course of action and saved himself the agonizing struggle between his desires and his willpower.

Another variation of this strategy is to make your decisions public. It’s easy to rationalize a private decision (See Change or Die for the major and minor defenses of our ego which include the tools necessary to distort reality.) Twelve step programs advocate accountability partners whom you agree to discuss your falters with. David Blane’s approach to making his willpower public is the extreme. Whether being encased in a block of ice or suspended above people in a glass box, Blaine’s demonstrations of willpower were excessively public – and therefore are great examples of how making your use of willpower a public matter can be a way to provide additional support and leverage to the willpower you have.

Seeing the Future

One of the common characteristics of people who are described as having little willpower is their focus on immediate gratification. They’ll take higher risk for lower reward than successful people with more willpower. That is success seems to be associated with the ability to see the future.

Mischel’s famous marshmallow test has come up before in Emotional Intelligence (and other books), the idea of delaying gratification being powerful isn’t new. However, what is new is that people who are considered to be of greater willpower (those with higher earnings) seem to set their sights much further in the future. They’re not looking an hour or two into the future, they’re looking years down the road. This vision for what they want in the future and the willingness to make small continuous decisions towards that goal seems to matter.

So while folks with a great deal of willpower can’t literally see the future, they certainly do envision it more often and more vividly.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The fable of the tortoise and the hare is well known. The hare is capable of easily outrunning the tortoise in short bursts of fury. The tortoise, however, has learned through years of being outrun in the short term that his strength lies in perseverance. The tortoise knows that as long as he continues towards his goal – no matter how slowly – he’ll eventually get there. The hare with natural speed knows that he doesn’t have to try. He can afford to be lazy and lazy he becomes.

Successful people are people who have decided to be tortoises – committed to making slow steady progress over the long term to develop their willpower, create the right habits, and leave themselves in the right situations for success. There’s no quick fix or one-time treatment to magically improve willpower. It takes hard work over a long period of time to create the kind of future that includes a large source of willpower and the need to not have to use it.

Short and Long Term Goals

You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice to plan for success. You’ve seen the value of planning instilled by numerous teachers and leaders over the years. However, as you dive into creativity and innovation you begin to realize that most innovation didn’t have a plan. Whether it’s the random idea or taking the random idea and making it real sometimes “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” according to Robert Burns. So what’s the real story on planning and setting goals?

First, goals presuppose that you can know what is best in the future by looking at what you know now. Daniel Kahnman in Thinking: Fast and Slow described the planning fallacy by explaining that they “describe plans and forecasts that are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios.” Here the planning fallacy takes on additional character. It also refers to the mistaken belief that you know today everything you need to know. Whether it’s Helmuth von Moltke’s admonishment that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” or something more mundane than the art of war great men (and women) recognized the need to adapt. (Some examples of extraordinary men are in Extraordinary Minds.)

Jim Collins in Good to Great speaks of the Stockdale Paradox where leaders must hold onto their visions while constantly being confronted with reality. In other words accepting that the world is as it is, not as we want it to be. Bob Pozen admits in his book Extreme Productivity that even though he works hard and plans that his life has often taken unexpected turns that made his old plans obsolete. He had to adapt to the situation he was in and reset his goals and aspirations to match his circumstances.

At the same time, even if you don’t subscribe to Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich strategy or The Secret, there is something to planning. There’s something to having aspirational goals and a fixed endpoint that you set your sights on. It allows you to weather the momentary setbacks without wavering in your belief that you’ll reach the end goal. It allows you to accept the undercurrents pulling you – temporarily – from your goal. By having the endpoint in mind you have a frame of reference with which to recalibrate your efforts.

From a willpower perspective then, is it better to plan – or not plan? As it turns out the answer is both. The development of strategic goals is good. Knowing where you want to go greatly improves your odds of getting there. The impact of long term goals on willpower seems negligible. However, setting too many rigid short term goals creates an internal conflict between what you said you would get done and what you actually got done which depletes willpower and makes it hard to get done what you really want. More than that it sets you up for a cycle of guilt and shame which further depletes your mental resources. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame.)

Too much focus on short term goals may also focus us too much on the things that we’re not getting done. Rather than silently fading into the background and being forgotten the short term goals remind us of our unfinished business.

Unfinished Business

Have you ever had a song “stuck in your head?” Of course you have, we all have. Why does it happen and what can we do about it? It turns out our brains don’t like unfinished business that we can’t wrap a neat bow around. When you hear half of a song because you get out of your car or you’re interrupted by a phone call your subconscious is trying to finish the song. Since most of us can never finish the song from our memory and without further interruption it’s stuck in our head.

This is an example of what is called the Zeigarnik effect. That is our propensity to want to finish our business. One interesting trick for addressing this is, however, to simply create a plan to resolve the unfinished business later. It seems like our brains can’t tell the difference between planning to resolve something and having actually resolve it. As a result we can create a to-do list with the item on the list and then move effortlessly through our next task without the nagging song in our head or the thought that intrudes on our reading.

Weight Loss and Management

We started with the idea that most people consider willpower in the context of eating and dieting. Though this is a narrow application of willpower it is the one that most people admit to struggling with. As it turns out, that makes a lot of sense.

Consider our conversation about blood glucose above. Our bodies know that they need blood glucose to survive and when it begins to drop we’re naturally signaled to seek out sources of food. In the process the portions of our brain which are the sources of willpower are shut down to conserve energy. The net result is that the time when we most need willpower to prevent us from overeating is the time when we least have it available.

We’re further challenged in that avoiding a bar is easy to do. Since food is required for life, we can’t exactly avoid all food. So as it turns out the greatest test of willpower may be maintaining our weight. Perhaps you can pick up some hints from Willpower.

Influencer

Book Review-Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change

Do you have influence? Most of us want to believe that we wield influence like a machete that can cut a path through the jungle striking a bush or tree in our path and having it instantly fall out of our way but most of us who have tried to wield this weapon have been disappointed. We have left a wake of poorly adopted changes that are unwelcome proof that there’s opportunity for improvement when it comes to leveraging our influence. Influencer seeks to help us to understand how to successfully influence change and what we might have done wrong in our failed attempts to influence others to change.

 

Six Sources of Influence

Key to Influencer is the idea that there are six powerful sources of influence that most of us don’t use in the right proportions or at the right time. As we’ve influenced other’s we’ve leaned heavily on one or two of the six sources and it’s because we’re not leveraging them all together that we’re not as effective as we can be. The six sources of influence are:

Motivation Ability
Personal Personal Motivation Personal Ability
Social Social Motivation Social Ability
Structural Structural Motivation Structural Ability

As you can see they break down into two dimensions. The first dimension around motivation and ability and the second dimension about the scale – whether personal, social, or structural.

The motivational categories are relatively straight forward in that they’re seeking to provide the energy for the system – the drive to change things. The other side, categorized as ability, is really about preventing barriers and providing resources. It’s about how you change the dynamics of the situation so that they’re easier. If motivation is the gas pedal in the car, ability is releasing the emergency brake.

The Reality of Change

As I mentioned in The Heart of Change and Leading Change, even those like John Kotter struggle to make organizational change work consistently. The failure rate on organizational change projects is appalling. There are so many forces inside the organization designed to resist change it’s very difficult to get change accomplished. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about the factors in an organization that resist change.) So while there’s a culture that is talking about how the world is changing faster now than it ever has – we’re just as resistant – if not more resistant to change than we’ve ever been. There are so many change initiatives and programs that it’s hard to pick the ones to look at much less decide which approach is right for your organization.

The result is that we’ve got a reality where we need to have adaptability and to be able to change our organizations but it’s more likely that we’ll try and fail. We’ll further entrench the cynicism that has already taken hold of most of the members of the organizations that we work for.

Fuzzy Objectives

Perhaps the most powerful speech ever given in the history of mankind was when John F. Kennedy laid out the plans to safely transport a man to the moon and back as a part of a special message to congress on May 25, 1961. Specifically he said “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” His goal was quite specific in the objective and in the timeframe. It was a crystalizing vision that was specific and engaged the emotions of a nation which believed they were losing the space race to the Russians. However, most of the objectives that we see inside of an organization aren’t so clear.

Improving morale is certainly a worthwhile endeavor but without any sort of metric or clear timeline it’s still fuzzy. What’s more it’s not clear to most folks how to actually change that. While we may not personally know how to build a rocket we know that there are people who do who were tasked with getting us to the moon and back. However, most people don’t know how to improve morale or who we would go get to do that work.

There are lots of ways to improve morale. The Romans pacified the masses by bread and circuses. You can improve moral by having a Christmas party or a summer picnic. However, these are short term solutions to the challenge of improving morale. When we’re looking for morale improvement are we looking for a lasting change in the perception – or are we simply looking to change the number to hit our latest set of management objectives?

By clearly articulating our goals we can set on a course to achieve them. If the goals can’t be clearly articulated then there is little hope of reaching them.

Measuring Change

As Edward Deming noted, “You get what you measure.” This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the good side if you measure the right things for change you can accomplish the change. On the bad side if you measure the wrong thing, you’ll get that too. The beauty of measurement is that by planning measurements you’ll develop a better understanding of the objective that you want to accomplish and in that you’ll automatically tighten the objective itself.

One of my “Nine Keys to SharePoint Success” is planning measurement. That is you have to plan how you’re going to measure change to be successful. Often people and organizations don’t put enough effort into designing the metrics. We look for simple process measures which indicates we’ve completed the process or we look for the results that we’re hoping for, but rarely do we look for creative metrics that are somewhere between the behaviors we’re asking for and the results we’re hoping for. They are a blend of both leading and lagging indicators.

Leading vs. Lagging indicators

Anyone who has ever tried to lose or manage their weight knows that the ultimate end judge of success is the scale. There’s no other measure that stands up to the number on the scale. However, there’s nothing you can do – directly – to change the number on the scale. From a systems point of view (See Thinking in Systems) our weight is largely a matter of the additional stores that we’ve put on by way of fat. In order to influence the amount of fat that we have stored in our bodies we have to burn more energy than we take in. We can control how much energy we expend by exercising or making small changes such as walking up the stairs. We can change the amount and type of food we take in to control the number of calories that we’re getting. There are other factors like our metabolic rate that influences our total calorie burn but really by managing the number of calories we take in and the number we put out through various forms of movement we control our weight.

So the leading indicators for success in managing our weight may be the number of calories that we’re taking in – as most weight management programs focus on. In fact most of those programs are focused on making the problem simpler so we can actually achieve our goal of taking in less calories. Tools like Fitbit and other fitness bands track our relative activity level. Together these metrics help us to predict what will happen on the scale.

There are many things that you can measure like the number of pushups that you do or the amount of fat that you take in. These may help you assess what will happen on the scale, but they’re not the best predictors. These leading metrics can impact the end result – the lagging indicator – we’re looking for but only when all other variables are the same. If we pick these metrics we’ll likely be disappointed as our leading metrics don’t lead to the results we’re looking for. A good leading indicator reasonably predicts the outcome of the lagging indicator (result) that we’re looking for.

As it turns out figuring out what the right metric for an initiative is – well, it’s difficult.

Right Metrics

Metrics are necessarily a simplification of success. They measure just a part of the equation. The end result doesn’t measure sustainability. Returning to Kennedy’s call to go to the moon, we know from the book Lost Knowledge that we’ve forgotten how we got there. If the objective was to get to the moon we’ve accomplished the goal but more often the goals are layered and we really wanted to build the capacity to get to the moon. A one-time program is a good start but sustainability tends to be much more important in business.

Norton and Kaplan created the concept of a balanced scorecard in 2005. The idea is that you wouldn’t look at a single indicator to determine the health of a system. Instead you would look at a set of metrics that together gave you a picture of how the organization or initiative was working. Instead of deciding whether to look at the lagging indicators for which there was little direct control or leading indicators that might impact the real goal but aren’t necessarily directly correlated, you could look at both. In fact, they encouraged a look at a small set of metrics that together created a sketch of how things were operating.

Knowing that you don’t have to get everything into a single metric makes it easier to pick metrics – but it doesn’t instruct you as to how to pick metrics. Here are a few of my tips:

  • The overall goal – If it’s getting to the moon it’s binary and insufficient but it’s the first starting place for the metrics. In cases where you’re looking for a particular sales goal, the goal can be much more useful.
  • The prerequisites – In our moon example we needed to have a rocket design that had sufficient thrust to escape the gravity of the Earth. The rocket capacity might be one of the metrics that you would track.
  • Leading Behaviors – Behaviors which you believe are tied to the goal are good metrics. The key here is ensuring that the leading behavior really does drive the result.

Storm the Castle

One of the characteristics of an influencer is their ability to over-determine their success. (This goes by other names in other contexts.) The heart of this idea is that influencers don’t leave important variables to chance. If there’s a question about whether there’s enough internal marketing for an idea, they’ll lobby for additional messaging. If they’re concerned about the outcome of an important decision they’ll plot out a plan for all the possible outcomes so they’re ready to respond when they’re informed of the results of the decision.

If they’re looking for a connection to a person or organization, they’ll look for multiple connections from different angles to ensure that their linchpin connection doesn’t fail. Influencers know that failure isn’t an option – it’s a certainty. It’s just a matter of time and preparation. The more preparation you put in the longer it will be until the failure – and quite often the lower the impact will be.

Influencers aren’t afraid to overdo it when the component is essential to their objective.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

How do you get normal people to behave as monsters? It turns out that it isn’t hard. It seems like we’ve all got monsters inside of us who aren’t limited by our rational thinking. Consider the research by Stanley Milgram which discovered that 65 percent of research subjects were willing to administer seemingly lethal shocks to another person when they couldn’t see the other person. More troubling is that when he introduced an accomplice who was willing to do seemingly lethal shocks to an unknown and unseen accomplice, the percentage of people who would administer seemingly lethal electrical shocks stood at 90%. So in answering the question of how folks could be complicit in the extermination and genocide of Jews during World War II we found the monster – and we are he. Also, when an accomplice refused to issue the shocks only 10% of the research subjects would administer the shocks.

Humans have a fundamental attribution error which leads us to believe our poor choices are based on circumstances and others poor choices are based on their character (See Crucial Conversations, The Advantage, Switch, and Beyond Boundaries for more.) We explain away our weaknesses and vilify others. What Milgram’s research shows is that we are the villain – at least 90% of us are. The way that we can truly influence the world we live in is the way that Milgram accomplished it – by demonstrating to someone that they have a choice. That they can say no. The more that we can make the normal behavior the one that we want the easier it will get.

Social Norms

It turns out that we’re not so driven by our rational minds as we would like to believe. In fact we’re not as driven by our emotional considerations as we would like to believe. The rider (reason) and the elephant (emotion) are often blindly walking down the path of the social norm. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the model of the Rider, Elephant, and Path and how it works.) In Thinking, Fast and Slow we learned that our unconscious processing (System 1) often makes judgements that it passes along to our conscious processing (System 2) that our conscious mind doesn’t question. So even when we are able to think about something we may not be able to question the social norms in which we live. (See also Incognito which talks about the unconscious being aware before our consciousness is.)

This is the second, social, and third, structural, portions of the motivation framework. It’s the social aspects that drive social norms and the structural components that drive the social norms – much like how calculus is able to tell you the slope of a line at a given point, structural influence drives social influence.

Personal Motivation

We’ve all been through some sort of a motivational event. Perhaps it’s not an event where at the end it seems like everyone would sign up for a six month mission to the Congo but there are definitely times when we feel like we’re sold on an idea. If you’ve ever been to a time share event you’ve experienced the psychological warfare that is designed to get you to buy into a time share – and it’s effective. However, personal motivation created in those ways don’t last. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that it’s an illusion.

To create personal motivation there are four tactics that you can use:

  • Allow for Choice – You can’t expect to motivate people to an activity if they don’t have a choice. If they can’t say no then they won’t say yes. (See Choice Theory for more)
  • Create Direct Experiences – Make it real for them by engaging them in what they’re going to be doing. The more real you can make it – and the more the person can feel it the more they’re likely to want it.
  • Tell Meaningful Stories – Sometimes you can’t involve people in the solution directly, sometimes the only answer is to give them a vicarious experience through an emotionally engaging story.
  • Make it a Game – A lot has been made of gamification these days but it’s more than badges and achievements. Making something a game is creating the balance between ability and challenge that is essential for flow. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman)

The reason we need to create personal motivation lies in the marshmallow experiments of Walter Mischel. Children who were able to delay gratification were much more likely to succeed in life. (See How Children Succeed, Introducing Psychology of Success, and The Information Diet for Walter Mischel’s famous test.) As Steven Wright says “Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.” By teaching the skills necessary to delay gratification we’re able to improve the possibility that we’re going to accomplish our goals – both personally and organizationally.

In truth most of the challenges that we have with folks when it comes to motivating them isn’t the fact that they have some moral or character defect. Instead the issue is simply moral slumber. That is that they don’t realize the problems that their behavior is causing. It’s not that they are callus and don’t care for others. It’s that in the moment, in what they’re doing, they aren’t realizing their impact on others.

Personal Ability

If I were to tell you that right this very second there’s an asteroid barreling down on the Earth and it’s quite likely to end all life on the planet I won’t motivate you. I’ll create deep emotions of dread and anxiety perhaps but I won’t motivate action. The reason for this is simple. You can’t do anything about an asteroid barreling down on the planet. It’s unlikely you know anyone who could do anything about this. You would be motivated to change the outcome but intensely frustrated that you have no power to change it.

When we work on personal motivation and we create a burning desire in someone to make a difference but make no effort to create a belief in the person that they are up to the task of achieving the goal that the motivation is aimed at, we create frustration. So the other side of the coin from motivation is creating ability – or at least the perception of ability.

Often times the object of the motivation can feel overwhelming. How can you solve starvation in Africa is an immense goal. You can’t possibly solve that by yourself. However, what you may be able to do is save one child, one family, or one village from starvation. By narrowing the focus of the motivation into something achievable we create the perception of personal ability.

There are, however, other ways of creating the belief of personal ability necessary to drive someone forward. It can be a framework “proven” to be successful on the kinds of problems that you’re interested in. It might be training on new skills that you can use to get closer to or work on the chosen motivation. It could be – as it often is for me – reading a book and trying to understand the insights that it offers so I can unwrap one more layer of the mysteries about why organizations rarely change.

For me, increasing personal ability is at the heart of lifelong learning as well as flow. (See The Rise of Superman, Flow, and Finding Flow for more on flow). Improving personal ability is about a willingness –if not a hunger – for learning and the application of continual challenges to continue to drive improvement – often through flow.

Social Motivation

Perhaps one of the most telling examples of how people motivate others is the work of Everett Rogers as described in his book Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers explains how innovations – particularly farming innovations – disperse through the community. He identified five factors that lead to adoption but also how the cosmopolitan tendencies in people made them more motivated to adopt a change – and in turn how this would help to motivate the peer groups which they operated in.

While Brene Brown may caution against shaming (See Daring Greatly), social shaming is a powerful force and it can be a powerful force for good. Consider what happens when you report to a household their energy consumption – almost nothing – as compared with what happens when you show a household how inefficient their consumption of energy is when compared to their neighbors. The resulting social shaming causes even the most hedonistic and unconcerned home owner to start to consider their energy usage.

Social Ability

Have you ever wondered how Weight Watchers works? I don’t mean how the point systems works. I mean how the program works. How is it that you can get together a set of folks who all struggle with their weight and the end result is that they – for the most part – lose weight? The answer lies in the social connectivity that is built. Weight Watchers groups are designed to support and reinforce the successes that people are having and to support those that are struggling. It seems like a simple thing but it works.

Similarly how did two drunks create Alcoholics Anonymous, a twelve-step movement, and a path for “sanity” in the lives of otherwise broken people? The aspects of acceptance and support help motivate alcoholics to not drink. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about acceptance.)

This is at the heart of social ability – leveraging the support and acceptance of others to motivate us to do better.

Structural Motivation

Any organization is perfectly designed to get the results you’re getting. If you want to change the results you’re getting – change the organization. In systems thinking (see Thinking in Systems) our goal is to find the best leverage point on the system to effect change. This is quite often to change the equation. When you change the reward systems you change how everything works making it easier to create the social and personal motivators that you need. All too often folks reach for these big levers and hope that the downstream influences will just line up correctly. Politicians set policy and law and hope that they’ll get the results they want. However, often what they’re looking for doesn’t happen.

As was discussed in Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, there are some systems so complex that they become wicked problems where you can’t predict the outcome when you change the system. Instead, you have to accept that what you’re doing may have different – and sometimes opposite consequences. Drive describes how sometimes providing extrinsic motivations sometimes destroys or reverses intrinsic motivations. So on the one hand, the big lever in the system is changing the game so that there’s a new set of motivations. On the other hand, using the lever may not have the reaction that you’re looking for. The Law of Unintended Consequences (discussed in my review of Diffusion of Innovations) guarantees that there will be some unintended consequences of every change you make – those intended consequences may be a big deal – or they may be trivial. Consider for a moment the experiment to tame the Red Fox which has resulted in the Russian Domesticated Red Fox – and that while selecting only for one attribute – inherent tameness – they happened to bread in other changes such as spotted fur. The fur differences aren’t a problem – but they are an unintended consequence of breading for tameness.

With this in mind structural motivation are the carrots and sticks that we can use to try to control the situation. While these are necessary, they’re the last thing to choose – not the first.

Structural Ability

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

If you were trying to predict which researchers would work with one another, what do you think the largest factor would be? Would it be that they have the same or similar disciplines? Would you think that it would be how far apart you place their desks that would matter most? Perhaps not and perhaps it’s not the strongest factor in your situation but sheer proximity has a profound effect on collaboration. Churchill was right when he said that we shape our buildings then they shape us. Great buildings change the nature of how we interact together.

Structural ability is about creating the right circumstances so that the desired outcomes are easy. For instance, if you’re working on your weight it’s about hiding the candy and sugar and setting healthy fruits and vegetables out on the counter – or better yet by keeping food out of sight all together so it’s not something you think about. In the case of a building if you want serendipitous interaction then creating large open foyers can be helpful as can a subsidized cafeteria so that employees want to stay together and sit at big round tables to talk to one another.

Demand talked about hassle maps and particularly how some rather small and insignificant hassles have a big impact on outcomes. Structural ability is removing those hassles, small barriers, and insignificant hurdles so that the right answer is the easiest answer.

Discussing the undiscussable

Influencing others is difficult. Being a good influencer is being someone who wants to grow other people. The best way to create real growth in people is through creating groups of safety where the undiscussable can be discussed – where there are opportunities to examine old patterns of thought and old ways of acting can be done. We won’t look deeply into ourselves unless we feel safe. We don’t discuss undiscussable topics unless we know that there will be no repercussions.

Whether you’re talking about the sex trade in Thailand or the destructive impact that your secret behaviors have on the community, being an influencer means in part making the impossible to discuss only difficult to discuss – and then discussing it. Being an influencer isn’t for the faint of heart, for those unwilling to slay the sacred cows (You can learn more about sacred cows and being defensive in general in my post Defensive Routines), but influencers are powerful. Read Influencer to learn how.

Hardwiring Happiness

Book Review-Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence

I’ve never considered myself particularly gifted at mixing audio for live performances. I’ve been a servant who has done them. There’s been more than a few worship services that I’ve supported over the years where I’ve been doing the mixing. However, I’ve never considered it to be a gift of mine. Experience has taught me how to use some tools to make things sound better and how to keep myself out of trouble. However, perhaps the most useful thing that running live sound has taught me is that you can listen through the noise and pick out a single voice or a single instrument. If you focus your attention on it you can hear how hard the keyboardist is playing – or pounding — the keys. You can hear when the electric guitar starts to muddy the vocals. You can hear when the electric bass is too loud – or too soft.

However, most folks don’t hear these things when they’re listening to music. They simple don’t listen with the intentionality of figuring out how to make the music better – and why would they? If you can’t change the music why try to find specific things in it? Most of the time we go through life just enjoying the music. We sit back and if we get a little bad with the good so be it. If we need a little more rest or feel a bit too stressed, it’s not a big deal. However, for some just listening to the music without being intentional isn’t a happy thing. For some the happy song isn’t so happy. This is at the heart of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. That is that it’s possible to focus your attention on parts of the music of life that make you happy. You can breathe them in more deeply and in doing so improve your happiness in life.

Feelings that Grow into Moods

If you’ve spent much time with babies you know that some babies just seem happier – and some of them are just – well – less happy. There’s something to them from the very beginning. This is what the Happiness Hypothesis would call winning the cortical lottery. They’re naturally born with a higher happiness “set point” than others.

As children grow older it seems like they’re all moody as hormones and the creation of new neurons seems to push them from mood-to-mood over days and weeks. Through the storm of these moods you can still see the child’s natural happiness “set point” coming through like the harbor that they always return to when the storms are done. Moods are much less permanent than the neurological happiness “set point” but are still able to hang on for days, weeks, and sometimes even months.

Compared to the relatively stable foundation of moods, feelings can feel like a plastic bag caught up in the wind, moving wherever the wind blows. Feelings seem to mostly fit into the space of the mood. Rarely do you have a sullen mood and a feeling of intense joy. There’s just something incompatible between a positive mood and a negative feeling – and vice versa.

This is the order we often think of happiness. We consider it from the perspective that our feelings are cast upon us – that we don’t have the capability to change them. If you believe that you are helpless and can’t change your neurological set point why even bother to try to become happier? Well, Mindset points out that our situation isn’t nearly as fixed as we believe it to be.

What if the flow occurs – sometimes – in the opposite direction? What if by directing your feelings you impact your moods? What if your moods become so long that they actually change your happiness “set point?” This is, of course, the point of the book that you can learn skills to direct your feelings which will lead to better moods and ultimately a shift in your neurological happiness “set point.”

Pack Your Happiness

What if instead of just unconsciously listening to the music of life you started to actively look for the happy things in life? We’re not talking about just the top of the mountain type happiness experiences. I’m talking about the everyday moments of warm-heartedness that we often look by. Consider the smell of your favorite coffee brewed by your spouse just because you like it. Perhaps it’s the sun on your face as you sit at a stoplight on your way to work.

You can choose to focus on the traffic or you can focus on the warmth of the sun. You can find happiness in little things or you can find the negative. Your reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of your brain that controls attention along with your sleep-awake cycle. You can teach it what you want to focus on more. Consider the last time you bought a new car. Before you started shopping you probably rarely ever noticed another car on the road like the one that you wanted. However, once you started the process and decided on the new car, you likely saw many more of them. It’s not like the car suddenly hit the streets. It’s that your RAS started focusing you on them. (You can see more about RAS in Change or Die.)

Hardwiring Happiness is about choosing to focus on the things that will bring you joy.

Love

There was once a time when folks sold untested and unproven medicines – snake oil – to cure a variety of diseases. Now we have the Food and Drug administration to oversee manufacturer claims about effectiveness of their drugs. Strict regulations have curtailed the outrageous claims that some manufacturers were making and have – generally speaking – made it easier to know that a drugs claims are backed up by some level of research. (Despite this there are still many findings in prestigiously published research that are reversed on further review and study as was discussed in The Heart and Soul of Change.) One thing that is challenging for the Food and Drug administration to test or regulate are feelings like compassion – or said differently love.

While hope may be the primary ingredient in placebo (as was discussed in my review of The Heart and Soul of Change) , Love is like the daily vitamin. It’s not associated to specific resolution of pains but is amazing at improving your overall health. The Bible says that “Perfect love casts out fear.” We’ve learned that fear, shame, guilt, and other “negative” feelings are detrimental to our health. Daring Greatly brought us face-to-face with the shame and guilt we all carry and how that shame and guilt can bring us down. Love – including self-love and compassion – is the general cure for the maladies caused by these emotions.

From giving and receiving love we develop a sense of peace and joy that leads us to a long-term happiness. We unconsciously expect the law of reciprocation. If we give love then we are more likely to expect that others will do the same. And for us love is like that blanket insurance policy. We don’t have to go it alone if others love us. It becomes more ok to fail and less stressful. It’s no wonder that love can have such a profound impact on our happiness.

Neural Darwinism

From a neurological standpoint there’s a battle going on. It’s not the survival of the fittest that Darwin discussed. It’s the survival of the busiest. That is to say that the neurons that are the busiest are the ones that are the most connected to the rest of the brain and the rest of life. Instead of being off in a lonely place with few roads, the neurons that you fire tend to wire. That is they build pathways between themselves and other neurons and make it easier to get back to them in the future.

What this means on the journey of developing happiness for yourself is that if you want to be happy you should make a point of encouraging happy thoughts. Some may say that they don’t have happy thoughts but that’s not true. We all have happy thoughts and sad thoughts. We can all focus on, enhance, and amplify the time we spend thinking about happy thoughts and in so doing create a long term bias towards them.

Consider the idea of addition and subtraction. For most of us we’ve overlearned our addition and subtraction tables. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about overlearning.) Because we overlearned them we rarely think about them when we’re doing a task that requires basic addition and subtraction. They’ve become so wired into the rest of our brain that they’re automatic. (See Thinking Fast and Slow for more about System 1 – the automatic system.) We can learn happiness the same way so that it’s automatic and doesn’t require a thought. However, just as learning our addition and subtraction tables took effort at first to get it ingrained in us, so too must we focus on learning to soak in happiness until it becomes automatic.

Leaning a Ladder against Happiness

There’s not a direct line between our circumstances and how we feel. In truth, there’s a ladder. Chris Argyris created a metaphorical ladder of how we take the information through our senses and create meaning – and judgement from it. (I discussed this in my review of Choice Theory as well.) While most folks want to blame their circumstances for their level of happiness I can tell you that in my own experience and in the research I’ve read from Stumbling on Happiness to The Happiness Hypothesis and beyond, people in the same circumstances see things differently. They focus their attention on additional data – they apply meaning to the data they have – build assumptions – and so on.

I can tell you that I’ve seen people transform their attitude through recovery/care programs. From the time where they’re unhappy to the time when they are happy their objective circumstances haven’t changed. Their finances may be out of control, there may still be impending doom in their marriage but their attitude changes and they become happier because of how they choose to view things—not because things have changed.

The point here is that it’s not your circumstances that controls your happiness – it’s how you choose to see your circumstances.

Desire to Be Happy

So the key to being happy is to truly desire to be happy. Some will say that they strongly desire to be happy – and yet their behaviors say something entirely different. In recovery programs they tell you to believe behavior – that is you’re only really ready to stop an addiction when you’re ready to change your behaviors. (I’m not speaking directly about the addiction. I’m speaking more about dangerous behaviors that lead to indulging in the behavior.) The first step in a 12 step recovery program is to admit you have a problem. It’s that admission – or in this case determination – that drives the rest of the process forward. It’s great that you’re interested in being happy – but are you committed to becoming more happy. Are you willing to invest time in life giving activities that make you happy – or are you too busy to make time?

Good enough for now (Not seeking perfect)

One of the final factors that influences the ability to be happy is the desire towards perfectionism. Whether it’s perfectionism in ourselves or in the things that we do, perfectionism is hard work and a road filled with only disappointments. In the language of The Paradox of Choice we should seek to be satisficers – looking for good enough – rather than maximizers – looking only for the best. The trick is that there is no best. There is no perfect way. There’s only good enough for now. So go be happy enough for now – until you’re ready to be happier. The first step may be reading Hardwiring Happiness.