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The Habits That Block Our Path to Happiness

The Habits That Block Our Path to Happiness

The law of attraction is universally known. By now we are all aware of how negative attitudes and behaviors can block us from finding happiness. Despite this, there are some habits that most people can’t seem to shake off, and these are the ones that stop us from finding true happiness.

1. Others vs. Me

Some people focus too much on others. They keep talking about what “they” have and what “they” did. Often, they feel jealous of other people’s achievements, but never dare to step up and take initiative themselves. They fear not being as “good” or “successful” as the other person.

This is a negative attitude.

Don’t think others find happiness and success because they are better than you. Let their stories inspire you instead.

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Standford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls it the “Fixed vs Growth” mindset.

The “Fixed” mindset is the person that remains convinced that their life and mindset will never change while the “Growth” mindset expands its horizons and dares to take chances. Everyone can go from fixed to growth the moment you allow yourself to take a chance and move outside your comfort zone.

2. To Don’t Instead of to Do

Surprisingly it has been found that a “To Do” list actually halts your productivity. Instead of a gentle reminder it has been found to be a source of pressure. A lot of people feel anxious when looking at their list halfway through the day and can only tick of one or two finished tasks.

The failure often either causes them to give up on the list all together or try to get everything done quickly — neither of which brings you happiness.

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Stop making those lists. Instead, write down two things you really want to get done before going to bed and focus on those two only. If you do this every day you’ll find that within a month all your projects are running along smoothly.

3. Worry About Others

Many people keep worrying about what others think of them. They never realize that more often than not, people don’t think about them at all. This is caused by “projecting self doubt”: making it seem as if others are negative about you, without realizing that all the negativity comes from you. This is a very difficult one to let go of, but it is possible.

The best way to do it is by positive affirmations.

Instead of “Oh no, he’s not mailing back, he doesn’t like me!”
Think: “Well, he has a busy job, maybe he’ll see my mail later.”

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If there is no reply after a reasonable time, ask. If you feel self-conscious doing that, you can use this excuse: “My mail isn’t working properly lately. Did you get my last e-mail?” Usually there is a perfectly normal reason for the lack of reply, and you’ve been stressing over nothing.

4. Everything Changes NOW!

Don’t do that: never start all the important changes at once. Take everything one step at a time. If people change their lives in one big go, they often expect the entire world to change along with it. When it doesn’t, there is disappointment and they fall back in their old (bad) habits.

Try to make a change every week or month. Begin with something you are certain to keep up and keep adding to your challenge until you are where you want to be.

5. Waiting For “The” Moment

The perfect moment does not exist: we create it. There are no signs that tell us “now.” If we want to do something, or feel we can contribute something, we have to get it going ourselves. Start it up, get people around you to help you along, and get it of the ground. If you don’t do it when the idea forms, either it will never happen or someone else does it and you lose out.

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6. Forget About “Monday”

A lot of people think: “Well, I failed to start my plan on Monday, I’ll just wait till next week.”

No. Monday is just “a day” a concept created to keep track of time. If you fail on Monday, make it Tuesday or Wednesday. Every day is the right day to start on finding “the new and happy me.”

Featured photo credit: Wayne Dery jr via unsplash.com

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Dannii Cohen

PsyD in Psychology, professional counsellor, life coach and self-help expert

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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