17 Remarkably Inspiring Quotes to Spark Real Joy in Your Life

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Life is not without its highs…and its lows.

If you’re going through a rough patch, there is always something you can do to put an extra spring in your step. For example, Marie Kondo, author and Japanese organizing consultant, recommends decluttering your space and ascribing to a radically tidy philosophy. But it’s not the decluttering that matters most. Kondo explains, “What matters is keeping those things that bring you joy.”

Here are 17 remarkably inspiring quotes to spark real joy in your life.

1. “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

2. “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” — Rumi

3. “Try to make at least one person happy every day. If you cannot do a kind deed, speak a kind word. If you cannot speak a kind word, think a kind thought. Count up, if you can, the treasure of happiness that you would dispense in a week, in a year, in a lifetime.” –Lawrence G. Lovaski

4. “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” — Mark Twain

5. “You can’t reach for anything new if your hands are still full of yesterday’s junk.” — Louise Smith

6. “Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun.” — Don Miguel Ruiz

7. “Life is a game, play it; Life is a challenge, Meet it; Life is an opportunity, Capture it.” — Unknown

8. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” — Oscar Wilde

9. “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” — Anne Frank

10. “In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” — Gordon B. Hinckley

11. “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” — Marianne Williamson

12. “Live life to the fullest. You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece. Laugh some every day. Keep growing, keep dreaming, keep following your heart. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

13. “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

14. “Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: true fulfillment.” –Tony Robbins

15. “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.” — Katharine Hepburn

16. “Do anything, but let it produce joy.” — Walt Whitman

17. “You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.” — Oprah Winfrey

When Inspiration Strikes

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When Inspiration Strikes
Photo by Raul Varzar | Unsplash

Meditation practice should always be inclusive and workable. In fact, a wholehearted, mindful embrace of everything that arises in your mind is the only path to true freedom. It is critical that all thoughts—including inspiring ones—be included in meditation practice. So the moment when inspiration strikes is really the perfect opportunity to put this vision of inclusiveness and workability to the test! Here are some tools that can help you affirm your inspiring thoughts without letting them distract you from the focus of your practice:

1. Make an Agreement with Yourself
Before beginning a period of meditation, reflect for a moment on your commitment to bringing your inspiring thoughts into the heart of your meditation practice. Place a pad and a pen beside you. Make an agreement with yourself that you will allow yourself to record onlyone inspiring thought per sitting period.

2. Focus the Mind
If your mind is scattered, it is helpful to cultivate a degree of concentration and calm before bringing the awareness to thoughts and emotions. You may find it helpful to do this by focusing on the changing sensations of your breathing for a while.

3. Note Resistance
It is not uncommon to feel that the process of thinking is an interruption of what should be happening. So start by becoming aware of any resistance to these thoughts: do you feel it in your body? Where? Perhaps across the shoulder blades, or in the face, the groin area, or the stomach? Is there an experience of tightness or tension in your mind? Include this resistance in the field of your awareness.

4. Note Fear
If you are worried that you will forget the thought, fear has entered the picture! It is critical that you also include the energetic experience of fear in your practice. Where do you feel the changing sensations associated with the fear? The emotional transition from resistance to fear is a wonderful opportunity to observe the laws of karma at work. Insight into the laws of cause and effect and the interdependence of the mind and the body is an important aspect of meditation practice.

5. Use A Mental Noting Practice
If you tend to get excited when inspiration strikes, it may be interesting to examine what is happening. Mentally noting these feelings and reactions to your thoughts may help. Try: in breath, out breath, and note: “inspiring thought, excitement, thought”; then again, in breath, out breath, and note: “worry, fear, another inspiring thought,” and so on.

6. Maintain a Sense of Humor
Try giving the inspiring thoughts a humorous label as soon as they arise, like “Einstein!” The simple label will not only help you realize the cyclical pattern of your thoughts, but by not taking your thoughts so seriously you will probably dilute any impulse to turn them into a problem.

7. As a Last Resort, Write Down the Thought
If a thought keeps relentlessly recurring, document the inspiration on your notepad, maintaining awareness of each intention as you do so: the intention and sensation of opening the eyes, the intention to reach for the pen, the sensations as your arm moves, the sensations of grasping the pen, the intention to reach for the pad, hearing the scratch of the pen on the paper.

By mindfully making a place for inspiring thoughts in your meditation practice, you affirm these thoughts and—who knows?—you may even get enlightened in the process!

♦From In the Lap of the Buddha by Gavin Harrison. © 1994 by The Dharma Foundation. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc., http://www.shambhala.com.

 

17 Powerfully Inspiring Quotes for Enchanting, Fascinating, and Influencing People

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Need a skill that can bolster your personal and professional relationships in incredible ways?

 

Learn how to enchant others. An enchanting person has a special aura about them — they have a unique ability to attract and fascinate, to charm, to be down to earth, sincere, and open-minded. Who wouldn’t want to be enchanting?

 

Here are 17 quotes that will show you the power of enchantment.

1. “Charm almost baffles definition, yet it is quickly recognized by the world.” — Grevillea Kleiser

2. “Enchantment is the oldest form of medicine.” — Carl Jung

3. “When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.” — Guy Kawasaki

4. “We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” — Laurie Buchanan

5. “Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it.” — Brigitte Bardot

6. “‘Aura’ is what one reflects in the heart, what you bring into the world, and what people want to learn from you.” — Ozuna

7. “Sometimes your joy is source of your smile, but sometimes, your smile can be the source of your joy.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

8. “Influence is like a savings account — the less you use it, the more you’ve got.” — Andrew Young

9. “The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh.” — Lucian Freud

10. “Unleash your influence not authority.” — Joseph Wong

11. “Charm is the ability to be truly interested in other people.” — Richard Avedon

12. “I have always tried to live by the ‘awe principle.’ That is: Can I find awe, wonder and enchantment in the most mundane things conceivable?” — Craig Hatkoff

13. “In order to be enchanted we must be, above all, capable of seeing another person simply opening one’s eyes will not do.” — Jose Ortega Y Gasset

14. “Nothing’s more charming than someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously.” — Melissa McCarthy

15. “One of the best ways to influence people is to make those around you feel important.” — Roy Bennett

16. “Charm: the quality in others that makes us more satisfied with ourselves.” — Henri Frederic Amiel

17. “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” — Brené Brown

Whether you’re about to enter a job interview or want to improve at making small talk, don’t forget to bring out this powerful skill of enchanting others.

PUBLISHED ON: MAR 28, 2019

How To Practice Yoga At Home If You’re An Absolute Beginner

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY MOLLY CRANNA.

There’s an image that comes across my Instagram feed about once a day of a wellness blogger in their light-filled apartment, surrounded by house plants, doing yoga and looking very casual about it. The thought of doing yoga at home sounds ideal; you don’t have to deal with people, spend any money, or even leave the house. But in actuality, when I try to do yoga at home, I get distracted and end up scrolling my phone in child’s pose on a yoga mat.

“One of the best things about yoga is that it can be done almost anytime, anywhere — including at home,” says Jade Alexis, a yoga trainer on the audio-based workout app Aaptiv. The problem is, without a yoga teacher around, or a proper app to walk you through the workout, it’s tough to know what exactly to do. You need to at least have a plan or intention each time you flow at home.

So, whether you also aspire to be an at-home yogi, or you just want to do yoga in private, ahead are some tips from Alexis and Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, yoga instructor and founder of Naaya Wellness (New York), a wellness collective for people of colour. With a mat and the right attitude, you too can be a yoga-flowing homebody.


1. Know a few basic poses.

When you’re starting out with your at-home yoga practice, it’s a good idea to have a vocabulary of postures that you can work with. Alexis and Dhliwayo suggest learning: cat cow, child’s pose, downward-facing dog, plank, cobra pose, upward-facing dog, warrior one and two, chair pose, and low lunge. If you know those, you can piece them together a beginner flow, like Sun Salutation B, Alexis says. Look up videos or images of the poses to get a sense of how they’re supposed to be done, but try not to get wrapped up in what they look like; how you feel is more important.

2. Listen to your body.

Form is essential in yoga, but without an expert to guide you through the poses or make physical corrections, it can be difficult to know if you’re doing it “right.” The best way to make adjustments or tell if you’re making mistakes is to just pay attention to how you feel, Alexis says. “Regardless of wherever you are, it’s important to listen to your body,” she says. “If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your body and ease of the posture.”


3. Try an online class.

The internet is full of tons of free yoga classes and resources for you to take advantage of — arguably too many. Dhliwayo is a fan of yogis Sara ClarkRocky Heron, and Dianne Bondy. The beauty of taking an online class is that you can stop it at any time, or rewind a section if it gets confusing. And of course, the Aaptiv app has lots of audio yoga classes that you can try that are varying lengths, styles, and levels of difficulty.

 

4. Get some gear.

You don’t need much to do yoga, but ideally you’d have a clutter-free space to practice, a good yoga mat, and most importantly a positive attitude and patience, Alexis says. Blocks can also be super helpful if you’re just starting out, because they essentially bring the floor up to you, which is imperative if you don’t have flexibility yet, Dhliwayo says. Other props like blankets help you be more comfortable in a pose, and can be nice to have during a restorative practice, she says. Music and calming essential oils can also help make your home practice feel more special, but those aren’t must-haves.

 

5. Don’t stress the names.

Often in yoga classes, teachers will use the Sanskrit names to define yoga poses, which can make it seem way more confusing. “Many people are concerned with knowing the names of poses, but that comes with time and I tell beginners to not worry about names when they get started,” Alexis says. Instead, just find beginner classes that will walk you through the individual poses, she says. With enough repetition, it’ll eventually click.

How To Spend The First Hour Of Your Work Day On High-Value Tasks

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Don’t begin the activities of your day until you know exactly what you plan to accomplish. Don’t start your day until you have it planned. — Jim RohnEvery morning, get one most important thing done immediately.There is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you’re already in the flow.And the easiest way to trigger this feeling is to work on your most important task in the first hour.Use your mornings for high-value workLean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

Low-value activities, including responding to notifications, or reacting to emails keep you busy and stop you from getting real work done. Make time for work that matters.

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen says, “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Research shows that it takes, on average, more than 23 minutes to fully recover your concentration after a trivial interruption.

Productive mornings start with early wake-up calls

“In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6 a.m. on weekdays.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, for example, wakes at 4 a.m. and is in the office no later than 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger gets up at 4:30 to read, and Square CEO Jack Dorsey is up at 5:30 to jog.”

The first quiet hour of the morning can be the ideal time to focus on an important work project without being interrupted.

Don’t plan your day in the first hour of your morning

Cut the planning and start doing real work. You are most active on a Monday Morning.

Think about it. After a weekend of recovery, you have the most energy, focus and discipline to work on your priorities.

Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy planning what to do in the next eight hours.

Do your planning the night before.

Think of Sunday as the first chance to prepare yourself for the week’s tasks.

Monday mornings will feel less dreadful and less overwhelming if you prepare the night before.

If you choose to prioritize …

There are one million things you could choose to do in your first hour awake.

If you choose to start your day with a daily check list/to-do list, make sure that next to every task you have the amount of time it will take to complete them.

The value of the of putting time to tasks is that, every time you check something off, you are able to measure how long it took you to get that task done, and how much progress you are making to better plan next time.

Get the uncomfortable out of the way

You probably know about Brian Tracy’s “eat-a-frog” – technique from his classic time-management book, Eat That Frog?

In the morning, right after getting up, you complete the most unwanted task you can think of for that day (= the frog).

Ideally you’ve defined this task in the evening of the previous day.

Completing an uncomfortable or difficult task not only moves it out of your way, but it gives you great energy because you get the feeling you’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

Do you have a plan from yesterday?

Kenneth Chenault, former CEO and Chairman of American Express, once said in an interview that the last thing he does before leaving the office is to write down the top 3 things to accomplish tomorrow, then using that list to start his day the following morning.

This productivity hack works for me.

It helps me focus and work on key tasks. It also helps me disconnect at the end of the day and allow time for my brain to process and reboot.

Trust me, planning your day the night before will give you back a lot wasted hours in the morning and lower your stress levels.

Try this tonight.

If you’re happy with the results, then commit to trying it for a week.

After a week, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to add “night-before planning” to your life.

Want to get more done in less time?

You need systems not goals. I’m creating a new course, Systems For Getting Work Done to help you create a personal productivity system to get 10X more done in less time. Sign up to be notified when it launches.

This article first appeared on Medium.

The 1 Key Word To Happiness

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We all want to be happy. That’s obvious. But how much would people pay for a moment of happiness?Researchers did a survey — and the answer was about $80.


Other than pure love and dodging discomfort, people were willing to pay the most for happiness.

Via The Upside of Your Dark Side:

  • $ 44.30 for calm tranquility,
  • $ 62.80 for excitement,
  • $ 79.06 for happiness,
  • $ 83.27 to avoid fear,
  • $ 92.80 to avoid sadness,
  • $ 99.81 to avoid embarrassment,
  • $ 106.26 to avoid regret,
  • $ 113.55 for love.

(Suddenly heroin is looking pretty cheap, and Starbucks is an absolute steal.)

At $80 a shot, well, I’m about to save you a lot of money.

What’s it take to become happy very quickly without dramatically changing your life (or spending $80)? The key to happiness really comes down to one word:

Attention.

We all have regrets and worries. We all have bad things we could think about. But they don’t bother us when we pay them no mind. The Buddha once said:

We are what we think.  All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.

And research is agreeing with him. People always think more money or a better this or that — a thing or event — is going to make them happier.

But when we look at the data, very happy people don’t experience more happy events than less happy people.

Via 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior:

Ed Diener and Martin Seligman screened over 200 undergraduates for levels of happiness, and compared the upper 10% (the “extremely happy”) with the middle and bottom 10%. Extremely happy students experienced no greater number of objectively positive life events, like doing well on exams or hot dates, than did the other two groups (Diener & Seligman, 2002).

So it’s not really what happens. It’s what you pay attention to and the perspective you take on things. “Look on the bright side” is a cliche, but it’s also scientifically valid.

Paul Dolan teaches at the London School of Economics and was a visiting scholar at Princeton where he worked with Nobel-Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

He explains the importance of attention in his book, Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think:

Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together… The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention… So changing behavior and enhancing happiness is as much about withdrawing attention from the negative as it is about attending to the positive.

Make sense, right? So how can you and I put this to use?

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself about attention that can have a profound affect on your happiness.

Are you actually paying attention?

“Savoring” is a powerful method for boosting happiness. It’s also ridiculously simple:

Next time something good happens, stop whatever you are doing, give it a second and appreciate that moment. Pay attention to it.

Savoring is all about attention. Focus on the bad, you’ll feel bad. Focus on the good and… guess what happens?

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

The key component to effective savoring is focused attention. By taking the time and spending the effort to appreciate the positive, people are able to experience more well-being.

“Stopping to smell the roses”? It’s true. People who take time to appreciate beauty around them really are happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.

This isn’t speculation. Studies show slowing down and appreciating good things boosts happiness and reduces depression.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

In one set of studies, depressed participants were invited to take a few minutes once a day to relish something that they usually hurry through (e.g., eating a meal, taking a shower, finishing the workday, or walking to the subway). When it was over, they were instructed to write down in what ways they had experienced the event differently as well as how that felt compared with the times when they rushed through it. In another study, healthy students and community members were instructed to savor two pleasurable experiences per day, by reflecting on each for two or three minutes and trying to make the pleasure last as long and as intensely as possible. In all these studies those participants prompted to practice savoring regularly showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.

Do one thing at a time. Pay attention. Enjoy it. You’ll feel less busy and you’ll be happier.

(For more on how to savor those precious good moments in life, click here.)

Okay, you’re going to pay more attention. But maybe that’s not your problem. You might be paying attention to the wrong things.

What are you paying attention to?

Why are lawyers 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and more likely to end up divorced?

Training your mind to look for errors and problems (as happens in careers like accounting and law) makes you miserable.

Via One Day University Presents: Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness (Harvard’s Most Popular Course):

I discovered the tax auditors who are the most successful sometimes are the ones that for eight to 14 hours a day were looking at tax forms, looking for mistakes and errors. This makes them very good at their job, but when they started leading their teams or they went home to their spouse at night, they would be seeing all the lists of mistakes and errors that were around them. Two of them told me they came home with a list of the errors and mistakes that their wife was making.

Don’t pay so much attention to the bad. Pay more attention to the good. Stop looking for problems. Enjoy what you have.

Gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”). Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?”

This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.

And feeling gratitude doesn’t just make you happier. It’s correlated with an objectively better life:

…we found that gratitude, controlling for materialism, uniquely predicts all outcomes considered: higher grade point average, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, as well as lower envy and depression.

(For more on how to use gratitude to improve your life, click here.)

Now I know what many of you may be thinking: I agree, but my attention span is terrible.

Well, we can do something about that too.

Can you pay attention?

You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.

Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

Do you remember what the previous paragraph was about? It’s OK, I’m not offended. Chances are that your mind will wander for up to eight minutes for every hour that you spend reading this book. About 13 percent of the time that people spend reading is spent not reading, but daydreaming or mind-wandering. But reading, by comparison to other things we do, isn’t so badly affected by daydreaming. Some estimates put the average amount of time spent daydreaming at 30 to 40 percent.

As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explained in the Harvard Gazette, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

This is why you keep hearing so much about mindfulness these days. Meditation can help you train your attention. A 2011 Yale study showed:

Experienced meditators seem to switch off areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts, anxiety and some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Researchers used fMRI scans to determine how meditators’ brains differed from subjects who were not meditating. The areas shaded in blue highlight areas of decreased activity in the brains of meditators.

(For more on the easiest way to learn how to meditate, click here.)

Another issue may be that you’re not really noticing what truly makes you happy and unhappy. It’s a common mistake. But one we can fix.

Are you paying attention to what makes you happy and what doesn’t?

When something makes you really happy, jot it down. Then do that thing more often. Daniel Nettle jokingly refers to this as “Pleasant Activity Training.”

Via Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile:

This staggeringly complex technique consists of determining which activities are pleasant, and doing them more often.

Yeah, it’s stupidly simple. But as Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker explained in my interview with her, you probably don’t do it:

…people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier.  However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time. For example, if you ask people to list the projects that energize (vs. deplete) them, and what people energize (vs. deplete) them, and then monitor how they actually spend their time, you find a large percentage know what projects and people energize them, but do not in fact spend much time on those projects and with those people.

(For more of the things research has proven will make you happier, click here.)

Okay, time to bring out the big guns. This is something you can do at any moment to make yourself happier. And all it takes is asking yourself one question.

Are you paying attention to what’s going on right now?

You probably spend a fair amount of time worrying about the future, regretting the past or reliving an argument that ended long ago.

And that means you’re not paying attention to what’s happening right now. None of those negative things are actually occurring here in front of you. If you were focused on right now, bang, you’d be happier.

When happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky studied the happiest people, what did she find?

They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.

That thing you’re making yourself miserable about: is it here, right now, in front of you? Or are you projecting into the future or the past? Pay attention to the present and you’ll probably feel much better.

(For more on what makes the happiest people in the world so happy, click here.)

Still paying attention? Let’s wrap this up.

Sum up

Most people don’t do anything to make themselves happier.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Researchers found that the majority of the subjects they studied were not able to identify anything they had done recently to try to increase their happiness or life satisfaction.

Be the exception. It’s simple. Try shifting your attention to the good around you.

Worrying about the future or dwelling on the past or letting your mind wander is a prescription for unhappiness. Those things aren’t in front of you and they’re not real. As Mark Twain once said:

I have had a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

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This article first appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

Why You Need To Follow Your Passion, Even If It Requires Sacrifice

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I call this “the passion trap”.A quick look over at Amazon suggests that “follow your passion” is a lucrative bit of advice. But (and I’m definitely not the first to say this) it’s not the best advice. And I’m a much happier, more “successful” person for interrogating the reasons behind my passions.!

Story time.

The first email I ever sent was to Stephen Hawking. I sent the email in the spring of 1998 when I was 16 years old from a computer at my high school (because I didn’t have internet at home) using a friend’s AOL account. I had just finished reading Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and knew that I wanted to be an astrophysicist (or a cosmologist). I emailed Hawking to tell him how much of an inspiration he was to me and how passionate I was about physics.

Passion. Follow your passion. For those of us lucky to have choices in our life trajectory we’re bombarded by advice to follow our passions. Chase your dreams. Go to culinary school. Major in whatever you love. Drop out and start a company! Listen to no one, just follow your heart!

When I was in high school I was a physics and math chauvinist. I saw psychology and the biological sciences as “soft”. My love for physics was probably planted in part by this goofy book:

I’ve always been inclined toward the sciences, but that book lit a fire in me. It got my imagination going about what could be possible if enough smart people got together to work on a Big Idea. This creative aspect of science really drew me in and, I’ve come to realize, shaped my career.

Whenever anyone asked 10-year-old me what he wanted to be when he grew up, I’d answer “an astrophysicist”. Yeah, I wasn’t the coolest kid. But that spark stayed with me and I found some fun outlets. I spent a lot of time in high school playing video games, role playing games with friends, etc. All of the nerd-flavored creative outlets.

As for school, it was easy and I coasted through.

Home life was… non-standard… so when I was given the opportunity to skip my senior year of high school to attend the University of Southern California I seized it. One late August night in 1998, at about 2 am, I called up my buddy Curtis and he drove me to Los Angeles to drop me off at college.

I immediately declared as a physics major and kept going with all the “advanced” versions of the courses. Around the same time I discovered that I enjoyed socializing and I made a lot of new friends. One part of my life was rewarding, the other was not, so I stopped going to classes. I did poorly, but I had a lot of fun doing it. My love for physics started waning due to the monotony of the work and the lack of wonder exhibited by the professionals I saw working in academic physics.

The only reason I didn’t drop physics sooner was the fear that my physics friends would make fun of me for “going soft”. And because I didn’t know what else to do.

Physics was all I’d ever wanted to do. Physics was my passion.

There’s that word again.

Becoming a astrophysicist was this grand ideal I’d built up for myself. It had become part of my identity. Once you start defining yourself by one thing—a political belief, religious affiliation, career, family, whatever—you lose identity to that thing. You reduce the number of paths to happiness and success and wrap your entire self around it.

To put it mildly: that can be unhealthy.

Modern psychological thinking generally breaks “passion” into two distinct subtypes. In their highly influential 2003 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper, Les Passions de l’Âme: On Obsessive and Harmonious Passion, Vallerand and colleagues differentiate harmonious passion (HP) from obsessive passion (OP):

Harmonious passion (HP) results from an autonomous internalization of the activity into the person’s identity. An autonomous internalization occurs when individuals have freely accepted the activity as important for them without any contingencies attached to it. This type of internalization produces a motivational force to engage in the activity willingly and engenders a sense of volition and personal endorsement about pursuing the activity. Individuals are not compelled to do the activity but rather they freely choose to do so. With this type of passion, the activity occupies a significant but not overpowering space in the person’s identity and is in harmony with other aspects of the person’s life.

Obsessive passion (OP), by contrast, results from a controlled internalization of the activity into one’s identity. Such an internalization originates from intrapersonal and/or interpersonal pressure either because certain contingencies are attached to the activity such as feelings of social acceptance or self-esteem, or because the sense of excitement derived from activity engagement becomes uncontrollable. Thus, although individuals like the activity, they feel compelled to engage in it because of these internal contingencies that come to control them. They cannot help but to engage in the passionate activity. The passion must run its course as it controls the person. Because activity engagement is out of the person’s control, it eventually takes disproportionate space in the person’s identity and causes conflict with other activities in the person’s life.

I hate to go all “Medical students’ disease” here but this really seems to capture the gist of my personal physics passion struggle. Breaking out of that was very hard for me. It really felt like I was abandoning my identity. Or like I was lying to myself about who I am.

During my sophomore year I lived in a crazy place. One of my friends wanted to take a psych class and, because I had a free slot in my schedule and I had no idea what to do, I took that class with him. The classes I did attend were pretty cool. Dammit if it didn’t turn out that people, and not just particles, are fascinating, too!

Fast forward one semester: I go to register for classes my junior year and find out that my grades had been too low for too long and I was basically kicked out of school. Long story short: I plead and begged, got a one-semester reprieve, got my shit together, and became a psychology major. I finished all the required courses in a semester.

I devoured the stuff.

At the time USC only had a cell/molecular biology major. No cognitive neuroscience. So I basically made my own major (though my final degree was in Psychology). I took C++ and Java classes, AI, Philosophy of Mind, Communication, etc.

I volunteered in a research lab as an RA and discovered that my ability to write code was a semi-magical skill because I could automate a lot of laborious manual jobs. I learned that I had a “knack” for approaching problems that way.

Really my interests as a doe-eyed wannabe cosmologist kid aren’t that different from my doe-eyed adult neuroscientist self. My weird childhood, party-fueled and tumultuous college years, and crazy friends made me odd but kept me optimistic and protected me from being jaded. Ironically I now use a ton of math and physics in my neuroscience work.

Take that chauvinistic past-me.

Now, instead of asking “how are we all here, these tiny specs in the vast universe, pondering our origins?” I spend my days asking “how are we all here pondering our origins, we tiny specs in this vast universe?”

Ask yourself if you are harmoniously passionate, or obsessively, and if the answer is the latter, remember you are not your job, your belief, your class, your color, or your passion. To paraphrase a dear friend of mine: don’t follow your passions, follow your competencies, and you might just find you enjoy doing something you’re good at.

(Note, some of the above also comes from my answer to For those who work in neuroscience, how did you end up there? Were you interested in it from the beginning?, which is relevant here.)

This article originally appeared on Quora.

Why Daydreaming Can Improve Your Mental Health

Author Article

stockfour/Shutterstock
Source: stockfour/Shutterstock

How many times do you catch your mind wandering when you’re plodding through your day’s activities? As you slip into reverie, for example, do you see yourself relaxing at your favorite beach resort? How about imagining the big event you’re attending next weekend? Are you starting to think about who you’re going to see there, and what you’ll wear? After a few seconds, you snap back to attention and focus your mind back on what you’re supposed to be doing. Perhaps you were in the middle of a meeting and realize that everyone is waiting for your answer to a question posed to the group. It’s also possible that you were trying to finish a repetitive task on your desktop, and while clicking through an endless number of cut and paste operations, you started to time travel back to the weekend before. Maybe you’ve just gone to the gym for an hour and spent most of the time thinking about a problem in your relationship.

The effects of daydreaming or mind-wandering are generally thought of as negative. When attention is diverted, you’re more likely to make a mistake — and while driving, you certainly do need to focus all of your senses on what’s going on around you. Apart from all the other potential hazards that can come from distracted driving due to cell phones, GPS, and even the car radio, drifting off into oblivion should certainly rank high on that list of dangers. At work, though, or while involved in your household routines, is it really all that bad to retreat into your thoughts, if only for a moment?

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Kelsey Merlo and colleagues (2019) decided to take a new approach to studying the age-old question of why people daydream, and what effects daydreaming can have on people’s productivity. The authors note that despite how common it is to think about something other than what you’re doing (they claim perhaps as many as half of all waking moments), the work and organizational psychology literature virtually ignores the phenomenon altogether. Most studies of daydreaming have a cognitivefocus or pin the activity down to the brain’s “default working network,” which produces internally generated activity. As in that example from the gym, your mind dissociates relatively easily when you’re involved in automatic activities. This is when the default working network allows you to split your consciousness.

Other terms refer to daydreaming in a more negative light, noting its repetitive nature in the form of rumination or worry. From the standpoint of the Georgia Tech researchers, mind-wandering or daydreaming can be defined as being stimulus-independent, in that the content of the thoughts are not a reflection of sensory input or related to the task being performed at the moment. Such thoughts can be fanciful, such as imagining yourself winning the lottery, or pragmatic, as in planning what to make for dinner. They can be related to work, as when you try to plan out your schedule for the day, and they can be triggered by stimuli such as the phone ringing, which reminds you that you have an important call coming up later in the day.

The comprehensive study conducted by Merlo and her associates took a person-centered approach in which participants provided, in their own words, the causes of their daydreaming, the content of their daydreams, and the results they felt followed from the mind-wandering interlude. The authors focused, as they stated, “on the lived-through experience of a mind wandering episode as that episode is experienced subjectively, by the worker him/herself” (p. 3). They also wanted to allow participants to experience mind-wandering in real situations rather than in the artificial conditions of a lab. They wanted to see, as they proposed, “the dynamic nature of mind wandering as part of work experience” (p. 4). This approach allowed them the flexibility to study daydreaming in its natural environment, while also maintaining scientific rigor. According to “grounded theory,” it’s just as valid to analyze open-ended responses (if done in a systematic manner) as it is to apply the methods of survey research and quantitative analysis.

Participants in the Georgia Tech study, then, were all working adults, obtained from two university sites, whose average age was 40 years old. They represented a diverse set of occupations, and half were white/Caucasian with the remainder identifying as African American (45 percent) or Asian (5 percent). In the open-ended interview that the participants completed, the less technical term “daydreaming” was used rather than “mind-wandering.”

The analyses, then, rather than representing statistical tests, reflected the broad themes that emerged across interviews, divided into the three areas regarding the onset, ending, and outcome of daydreams. Looking first at onset, or triggers, these ranged from internal states (sadness, fatigue, or boredom), direct prompts (looking at something or someone), an internal progression (thinking about one thing that then leads to another), being in a meeting, and just taking a natural break (such as being in between projects). You can enter a daydream at work, then, either because you’re inwardly triggered to do so by a mental state, externally stimulated by something that happens to you, or by being in a work situation that naturally fosters daydreaming.

People snapped out of their mind-wandering, the authors reported, for similar reasons. They can be faced with external cues, such as the “ping” of an email landing in their inbox, internal cues, or becoming aware that they were daydreaming, or by the daydream reaching its natural conclusion, and there being nothing left to daydream about. You might wake from your daydream, then, because someone is standing in front of you and demanding your attention, or because you realize it’s time to get back to what you were doing.

Most interesting from the standpoint of daydreaming’s effect on your mental health and productivity were the responses that participants provided about the perceived outcome of a mind-wandering episode. They described some negative impacts, such as feeling guilty about having drifted off from their work tasks, or continuing to experience a negative mood state from the daydream if it involved worrying or reliving a sad event. However, many of the participants believed that daydreaming had benefited their emotions and their work performance. One software consultant noted, “Because they are so short, and I find them to be pleasant, they never hurt me.” Some noted that they worked harder after the daydream ended to catch up any lost time or effort. A financial administrator started making fewer mistakes after a daydream break, “because I was getting bored with the task.”

The authors were struck not only by these positive outcomes, but also by the fact that mind-wandering seemed to be a process that the participants stated they could control. They could decide to avoid an aversive work environment with a brief mental wander somewhere else, and when they wanted to end the daydream, they could readily do so. As a result, the authors concluded, “mind-wandering may be able to be used strategically to enhance work experience” (p. 12). The micro-break which the daydream provides can help to combat fatigue and strain during the day, because “it allows individuals to cognitively and affectively disengage from their work demands” (p. 13). You don’t need to wait until the weekend or your next vacation, the findings suggest, to get the mental health benefits of a break. Although mind-wandering seems “mindless,” at another level, using your daydreams to enhance your well-being can be an exceptionally mindfulness-boosting experience.

To sum up, the Merlo et al. findings suggest that the occasional daydream, especially the one that allows you to unfocus and then refocus, can be one of the best ways to become better at what you’re doing. The associated feelings of being refreshed and ready to tackle your next task can become just the antidote you need to lower stress and boost your feelings of day-to-day fulfillment.

19 Ways to Get Through a Challenge, According to Science

Author Article

Waiting in line at the post office. Paying attention to a monotone lecture. Commuting on a tuna-scented train. Life is full of unpleasant and necessary tasks like these — what psychologists call “aversive activities.” A new studyasked a simple question: What are the best ways to get through them?

19 Ways to Lose Your Lazy

For the study, which was published in December in the European Journal of Personality, researchers sought to discover the key to success (at least, self-reported success) in aversive tasks. Was there a secret recipe for perseverance?

To start, though, they asked exploratory questions via the crowdsourcing platform Mechanical Turk. What strategies did online respondents use to “keep themselves going” through mentally and physically taxing challenges? Researchers boiled responses down to 19 broad strategies, which included giving yourself a pep talk, promising yourself a reward at the end of the task, and taking a substance (say, chugging an energy drink).

The strategies were as follows:

  1. Changing the activity itself, or how it’s performed (without adding an external incentive), like running slower on the treadmill or taking notes while you study
  2. Changing the environment in which the activity is performed, such as working from a coffee shop or taking a new running route
  3. Reducing or removing distractions and temptations like closing social media or turning off your phone
  4. Seeking social support like taking a friend with you to the gym
  5. Taking a substance like drinking coffee or downing an energy drink
  6. Task enrichment like listening to music while you work out or watching TV while you fold laundry
  7. Focusing on the activity itself and how you’re performing it
  8. Distracting your attention by focusing on something else
  9. Anticipating self-reward like playing a video game when you’re done with homework
  10. Focusing on the negative consequences of not completing the task
  11. Focusing on the positive consequences of completing the task
  12. Goal setting, or breaking the task down into sub-goals, like “I will write 200 words in the next 20 minutes.”
  13. Monitoring progress, like checking how much time is left in your workout
  14. Planning/scheduling, like setting a specific time for performing the activity
  15. Reappraisal, or using a different frame of mind for the activity (for example, imagine you’re running in a race)
  16. Motivating self-talk, or telling yourself you can do it
  17. Thinking about the finish and letting yourself know you’re almost done
  18. Suppressing the impulse to quit even though you want to
  19. Emotion regulation like trying to stay in a good mood throughout the activity

Researchers then asked a second group of Mechanical Turk recruits to take a self-control assessment and rate each of the 19 broad strategies. How often did they use each type? All the time? Never? This gave a sense of which strategies were most popular.

More importantly, by comparing the strategy ratings with the respondents’ self-control assessments, the researchers could get a sense of which strategies were most popular among people with high self-control. For these people, the most popular strategies included things like setting goals, making plans and schedules, regulating their emotional state, and focusing on the positive consequences of the unpleasant activities at hand.

Then came the meat of the study: Researchers followed 264 participants, mostly female students, for a week. Each day, they checked in with study respondents seven times; the check-ins were always at least an hour apart and conducted via a digital survey that expired within an hour.

The survey had three parts. First, it asked respondents if they’d done something unpleasant in the last hour, and if so, what type of unpleasant task it had been. Then it asked them what strategies they had used to persevere through the task. Finally, it asked if they had successfully completed the task.

You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It

Ultimately, there was no silver bullet. People used different strategies for persevering through different types of activities. For example, respondents rarely used “task enrichment,” like listening to music, for emotionally challenging tasks like a relationship talk, but that was common for physically challenging tasks like running on a treadmill.

However, a cluster of strategies still emerged as possible keys to success. Focusing on the positive consequences of finishing an activity — or, conversely, on the negative consequences of abandoning it halfway through — was linked with success. Another successful strategy was imagining the finish line was near, even when it wasn’t. (In other words, it was helpful to break the task into a series of mini-tasks, so you were always near a finish line.)

Finally, emotional regulation — so, doing whatever you need to do to boost your mood, or at least keep it from falling into the deepest depths of despair — was correlated with success. Once people were in a bad mood, their tenacity dropped.

Researchers found that among respondents with high self-control, focusing on positive consequences and regulating emotions were especially popular. However, these strategies didn’t explain self-controlled people’s higher success rate with aversive tasks. They seemed to still bring some special sauce to their treadmill workouts and dull study sessions that transcended any one strategy.

Even if you’re a naturally self-indulgent soul, though, you can use perseverance hacks to get closer to your goals. You don’t have to be innately disciplined to send a package at the post office — though we won’t lie. It helps.

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Learn more about how to get through challenges in Angela Duckworth’s book“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Strangest Way I Ever Improved Myself

Author Article

For a few months I tried, almost every day, not to utter a single word for the whole day while living my normal life. I’m married, have three kids and at that time, I had a full time job.

I never succeeded.

But I tried more than a hundred times, and I think my biggest accomplishment was to say something only about two dozen times in one day.

It was definitely strange and I definitely improved. I imprisoned words in my head and it triggered a cascade of changes.

1. Self-awareness

I became more aware about my internal dialog. Normally, it goes on autopilot and spills from your mouth without an ounce of conscious reflection. Because I kept the words inside me, I had a chance to notice how they bounce inside my head trying to get out.

2. Emotional Intelligence

I’m an introvert. Give me some good books and I can spend a few months not seeing another human being.

But I’m also a human being. We are so social animals and we don’t admit that. When I kept my mouth shut, I quickly realized how many of my verbal interactions were just an attempt to create a rapport with others. My words weren’t meant to convey information. Rather, most of them were meant to emphasize my positive traits, make me feel better because I was trying to impress others or simply create a bond with people.

That was a huge discovery for me. Quickly, I recognized the same patterns in other people. Once I became aware of how much we interact only to socialize, I was able to notice when someone tried to inflate their ego, to impress others, to entice compassion with a self-pity party or say something only to be heard in the conversation, with no sensible agenda at all.

Nowadays, it’s very hard to make me angry in conversation. I see through the other person’s words straight to their intentions.

And I find people less irritating. I have a workmate who simply loves the sound of his voice. In the past I wanted to rip the guy’s guts off. Now I’m telling myself: “Well, I’m exactly the same; only the scale differs a bit.”

3. Self-control

“There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought. It is the hardest work in the world.” — Wallace D. Wattles

Taming one’s tongue is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It’s an enormous mental effort. My practice of silence increased my focus, sharpened my attention to details and contributed to my ability to work deep for extended periods of time.

Steering your speech is almost as hard as steering your thoughts. Everything you say begins in your mind first. The most efficient way to control your tongue is by controlling your thoughts. And if you can control your thoughts, you become a master of your fate.

Of course, I didn’t gain the ability to think whatever I want to think in each and every second. Probably every novitiate for a Buddhist monk is better at that than me. However, my ability to steer my thinking and mindset definitely increased, and it improved while living my totally average normal life!

4. Personal philosophy

I rebuilt my personal philosophy from “Live to just get by” to “Progress is my duty.” I credit my silence to at least part of how swift and smooth this process was. I was able to control my thoughts better, thus I was able to get a grip on my internal interpretation of everything that happened in my life.

This is a crucial part of changing one’s philosophy. You can read a lot, you can interact with successful people, but it may be all in vain if your self-talk is destroying your progress as you build it.

You can diminish every success principle and deride any good advice in your mind and stay the same, despite of loads of new insights. That’s the secret behind the phenomenon of self-help junkies who read and listen a lot, but progress very little.

I avoided this trap thanks to my silence. I became self-aware of my thoughts, so I could quickly notice when I torpedoed my own progress. I didn’t allow my internal voice to neglect what I was studying, thus I was able to solidify my new personal philosophy relatively fast.

Or is it not so strange?

Scientists have concluded that it’s beneficial for our health — it lowers blood pressure, boosts the body’s immune system, decreases stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline, promotes good hormone regulation, and prevents plaque formation in the arteries.

A 2013 study found that two hours of silence could create new brain cells in the hippocampus region, and a study from 2006 concluded that two minutes of silence relieves tension in the body and brain and is more relaxing than listening to music.

Scientists connected silence with increased creativity, better cognitive abilities, and relief from insomnia.

Shut up. Silence is a powerful tool for improvement.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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