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10 virtually instant ways to improve your life

10 virtually instant ways to improve your life
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    Many of our problems come from within our own minds. They aren’t caused by events, bad luck, or other people. We cause them through our own poor mental habits. Here are 10 habits you should set aside right away to free yourself from the many problems each one will be causing you.

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    • Stop jumping to conclusions. There are two common ways this habit increases people’s difficulties. First, they assume that they know what is going to happen, so they stop paying attention and act on their assumption instead. Human beings are lousy fortune-tellers. Most of what they assume is wrong. That makes the action wrong too. The second aspect of this habit is playing the mind-reader and assuming you know why people do what they do or what they’re thinking. Wrong again, big time. More relationships are destroyed by this particular kind of stupidity than by any other.

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    • Don’t dramatize. Lots of people inflate small setbacks into life-threatening catastrophes and react accordingly. This habit makes mountains out of molehills and gives people anxieties that either don’t exist or are so insignificant they aren’t worth worrying about anyway. Why do they do it? Who knows? Maybe to make themselves feel and seem more important. Whatever the reason, it’s silly as well as destructive.
    • Don’t invent rules. A huge proportion of those “oughts” and “shoulds” that you carry around are most likely needless. All that they do for you is make you feel nervous or guilty. What’s the point? When you use these imaginary rules on yourself, you clog your mind with petty restrictions and childish orders. And when you try to impose them on others, you make yourself into a bully, a boring nag, or a self-righteous bigot.
    • Avoid stereotyping or labeling people or situations. The words you use can trip you up. Negative and critical language produces the same flavor of thinking. Forcing things into pre-set categories hides their real meaning and limits your thinking to no purpose. See what’s there. Don’t label. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
    • Quit being a perfectionist. Life isn’t all or nothing, black or white. Many times, good enough means exactly what it says. Search for the perfect job and you’ll likely never find it. Meanwhile, all the others will look worse than they are. Try for the perfect relationship and you’ll probably spend your life alone. Perfectionism is a mental sickness that will destroy all your pleasure and send you in search of what can never be attained.
    • Don’t over-generalize. One or two setbacks are not a sign of permanent failure. The odd triumph doesn’t turn you into a genius. A single event—good or bad—or even two or three don’t always point to a lasting trend. Usually things are just what they are, nothing more.
    • Don’t take things so personally. Most people, even your friends and colleagues, aren’t talking about you, thinking about you, or concerned with you at all for 99% of the time. The majority of folk in your organization or neighborhood have probably never heard of you and don’t especially want to. The ups and downs of life, the warmth and coldness of others, aren’t personal at all. Pretending that they are will only make you more miserable than is needed.
    • Don’t assume your emotions are trustworthy. How you feel isn’t always a good indicator of how things are. Just because you feel it, that doesn’t make it true. Sometimes that emotion comes from nothing more profound than being tired, hungry, annoyed, or about to get a head-cold. The future won’t change because you feel bad—nor because you feel great. Feelings may be true, but they aren’t the truth.
    • Don’t let life get you down. Keep practicing being optimistic. If you expect bad things in your life and work, you’ll always find them. A negative mind-set is like looking at the world through distorting, grimy lenses. You spot every blemish and overlook or discount everything else. It’s amazing what isn’t there until you start to look for it. Of course, if you decide to look for signs of positive things, you’ll find those too.
    • Don’t hang on to the past. This is my most important suggestion of all: let go and move on. Most of the anger, frustration, misery, and despair in this world come from people clinging to past hurts and problems. The more you turn them over in your mind, the worse you’ll feel and the bigger they’ll look. Don’t try to fight misery. Let go and move on. Do that and you’ve removed just about all its power to hurt you.

    Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to save yourself from being hooked again and Why fear of failure is the most common blockage to success. Adrian’s latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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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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