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How to Make Your Day Last Longer

How to Make Your Day Last Longer

Do you have days when you ask yourself how you could make your day last longer?

No matter what your social status, how much money you have and how many people you know, every day your wallet of time is refilled with 24 hours to spend. How you are going to consume it depends on you.

Think for a second about all the moments in your life that gave you the most satisfaction. What was it that made it feel this way? Was it specific people, or maybe the thing you were doing?

Usually these moments are connected with a feeling of deep engagement in some activity, or the sense of being right here, right now. Let us look closer at how we can consciously get into the states of Flow and Mindfulness.

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Flow

This is how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes ‘Flow’ in his book of that title:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

If you want to make your day last longer, you have to possess the skill of getting into Flow. It is not merely about having more time. It is about getting the most satisfaction out of that time. Do you remember some challenging activity that engaged you for several hours? I bet the feeling at the end of it was really worth it!

My adventure with Flow started with eliminating distractors and applying the Pomodoro Technique for just one hour per day. I was amazed how much I could accomplish when I turned off all distractors and focused on one thing completely. Then I started to raise the bar and make most of my activities challenging. This way I was more energized and stimulated. I was learning faster and with greater joy.

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The opposite feeling, known very well to all people, is entropy. Described by Csikszentmihalyi thus:

When we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing.

It is all about moving from entropy to flow. See this short film about finding your creative flow state:

Mindfulness

Your day can be full of activities that get your energized focus, yet there is a completely different state of mind you need as well. It is Mindfulness. It is concentrated attention and awareness about the present.

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Just think about the moment you are reading these words. Think about how you breathe. Think if you are relaxed. Think about the tensions in your body. Look at your hands. Feel the smell. Look at the people and items around you. Consider what you feel and think.

Feel it.

This moment is called: Here and Now. Let it be the 30 longest seconds you have ever spent. Don’t lose your focus!

I started my adventure with Mindfulness during my daily shower. I was thinking about the day: What happened? What have I learned about the world and about myself? At the same time my focus was shifting – I could feel the water, how it touches my skin. How it feels. How it smells. How it looks. I was completely present in that moment. Later I tried to put that practice into every minute of my day, at work and at home – to sense my feelings, thoughts, the feelings and the faces of others, aroma. I swear I felt time slowed down.

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Try it. When you have your next meal, just allocate 100% of your attention to the smell, the look and the way it tastes. This may be your best meal in a long time!

Always remember that when you are left alone, with no demands on your attention, your mind will eventually wander into something painful or disturbing. If you want to make your day last longer, you want to maximize the time that you are in the Flow and Mindfulness states: be completely present in the activity, or just focus on here and now.

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Piotr Nabielec

Author, CEO, Consultant

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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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