“All of the significant battles are waged within the self,” wrote Sheldon Kopp. Some of our biggest inside battles involve changing habits to create a more meaningful, congenial life with others. Instead we instinctively, unhappily focus our self-talk on two things: those who seem much happier and more successful and our past failures, betrayals and regrets.
Try these powerful simple research-based tips for turning the page to the chapter of the adventure story you are truly meant to live now.
“Life is like a 10 speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use,” Charles M. Schulz once wrote. Gretchen Rubin told Anne Kreamer that when clerking for then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “I realized that I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” Rubin turned her hobby into her job, writing The Happiness Project, on the New York Times best-seller list for years.
Like many of us, you may need a nudge towards identifying your strongest specific passions. Find Your Strongest Life provides a concrete approach for anyone, even though it was written for women.
Alternatively, many are already keenly aware that they have diverse talents yet are stumped about how to create a life where they can use them. See how others have succeeded in Marci Alboher’s One Person/Multiple Careers.
2. Get Greater Performance with Additive Thinking
Yet performance improvement is also satisfying. Learn from mistakes and increase performance and satisfaction, by avoiding subtractive thinking. That’s feeling and expressing regret for what didn’t work out, suggests Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in their new book, Top Dog.
For example, “If only I’d made that shot.” Instead immediately de-briefly with yourself and others immediately afterwards, about what specific things to change. That’s additive thinking: “If only I’d driven to the hoop rather than settle for the jumper,” suggests the co-authors: “Additive thinking helps competitors learn from mistakes and recover after a setback.
3. Sidestep the Doubled-Edged Sword of Comparison
As soon as you notice that you are feeling “less than” or “better than” others step back a moment emotionally. Save yourself from the twin pangs of torment.
Instead, Tony Schwartz suggests you follow family therapist, Terrence Real’s advice. When feeling envious, ask yourself “How do I hold myself in warm regard, despite my imperfections?” When feeling superior, ask yourself, “How can I hold this person in warm regard, despite his/her imperfections?” or, adds Schwartz, “What do I truly appreciate in this other person?”
Even and especially when you get intimidated, envious or irritated with someone else, an empowering way to switch moods and perhaps cultivate a connection is to offer apt assistance. “It’s actually the difficult situations in your life that make you who you are. NOT the easy ones,” believes Adam Rifkin, an inspiring example, in Give and Take, of attracting opportunities, influence and friendship, through generous, astute giving.
4. Drop Phrases That Sap Your Natural Strength
Some of the most familiar phrases that make us feel weak and look ineffectual around others:
• “I’ll try”: Meaning I probably won’t.
• “No worries”: This insidiously popular response subliminally sticks the opposite conclusion in the listener’s mind.
• “I can’t”: Indicating that I don’t think well of myself, so why should you?
5. Choose Positive vs. Restrictive Self-Talk
Saying “no” to temptation is much easier, research shows, when we change the script we tell others ourselves. Instead of feeling like we are restricting ourselves, we can reinforce our sense of personal empowerment, in the moment when we are most tempted. Instead of saying to yourself: “I can’t eat that ice cream sundae.” tell yourself, “I don’t want a desert.” As difficult as it is to stick to healthy new habits, it’s even more difficult to shed old ones, yet this is one way to start.
Instead of leaving dirty dishes in the sink after a meal or papers spread out on the desk when a project is done, tidy up for your return to that place, suggests Oliver Burkeman, citing Thanh Pham who calls this habit “clearing to neutral.”
Like Burkeman, I had a default bedtime of 10:30pm, believing research cited by Tony Schwartz and others, that sleeping six hours or less is one of the surest ways to burn-out. When I choose to stay up later, it is for a specific reason and the exception to my rule. Consciously “adjusting your defaults” as Jon Kabat-Zinn dubs this approach, helps us stay present in the moment. Methinks that makes us more able to see what is actually happening in a situation, be more empathic and sometimes make wiser choices, for ourselves and for those around us.
What are some actionable research tips that have enabled you live a fuller, more meaningful life?