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Make Yourself a Fear Friend

Life gets scary—especially when you're trying to, say, change careers, start a new relationship or just get through an awful doctor's visit. In expectation of such events, Anthony Gunn, PhD, author of Walk Tall: 100 Ways to Live Life to the Fullest, suggests we all make what he calls fear friends. "A fear friend will support but not rescue you when fear is present," he writes. Do let such a friend listen, encourage and support. Don't ask her to control the situation or tell you what to do. You may already have such a buddy, but giving her an official title will remind you that you are officially not in this overwhelming place alone.

Categorize Your Failures

Every time something fails in our lives, that voice in our heads wails out, "This failed! I'm a failure!" One day, we may just stop trying. Stanford University professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have come up with a new approach in their book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. To deal with setbacks, we need to understand that there are different kinds—each with its own respective coping strategy. First, they write, figure out whether the failure is a screwup ("a simple mistake about something you normally get right"), a weakness ("a mistake that you make over and over") or a growth opportunity ("a failure that didn't have to happen").

With a screwup, they write, we can apologize to all involved and move on. With a weakness, we're probably aware of the issue and have tried to fix it, so our best strategy at this point may be to avoid "the situations that prompt them" in the future. With a growth opportunity, however, you need to really sit down and pay attention. Since this failure didn't have to happen, why did it? What can you do next time? Growth opportunities are the failures we need to pay attention to, write the authors, rather than getting distracted by the other two types. So, the next time you blow a first date or present all the wrong numbers at the meeting, override that voice in your head and ask yourself calmly, "What kind of failure is this?" Answer, apply the solution and repeat as needed. (Hint: Double-check your math, and don't take your blind date to a family reunion).

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Stop Liking, Loving and Hating

Saying that you like paper clips or love a website or hate leggings without long shirts is a fast and instinctual way to make a point. But it also doesn't require much thought. In his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Wharton professor Adam Grant writes that to create new ideas, we need new ways of looking at old ones. Nancy Lublin, former CEO of, forbids her employees from using words such as "like," "love" and "hate," he writes, because she thinks "they make it too easy to give a visceral response to a suggestion without analyzing it." She wants them instead to verbalize their feelings about what moves them about an idea: What do they like about it, specifically? What don't they like? How could they change what they don't like? Try this at the office...or in your personal life, where, in our opinion, this technique may work just as well. Refusing to "hate" anyone and instead having to explain three reasons why you don't want to spend time with a person may just surface three issues you two could discuss—and resolve.

Ask This One Follow-Up Question

Sometimes, our problems feel so huge and insurmountable. When this happens, writes Brian Tracy in his forthcoming book, Get Smart! How to Think, Decide, Act, and Get Better Results in Everything You Do, grab a piece of paper and write down your problem. Then ask this question: "What else is the problem?" Continue asking that question and keep answering it. As Tracy writes, "this systematic process" will usually identify the real source of your complaint——if not a way to tackle it. For example, if your original complaint is, "I feel distant from my partner," then asking, "What else is the problem?" might result in a list such as: 1) your partner works until midnight every day; 2) your partner doesn't call you during the day; and, 3) the two of you haven't had a vacation together in two years—all of which are smaller problems that, unlike a big, abstract issue, can be solved.

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Create a Send Filter

Our days are defined by the insistent pinging of new emails arriving. But Georgetown University assistant professor Cal Newport may have a solution for this in his book Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In a Distracted World. Step one is to not reply. This feels rude, but if you're getting emails from too many people, asking you to do too many things and answer only the ones you want, or need, to tackle, the other senders may not even notice that you didn't reply guessed it...they are also sending and receiving too many emails. Step two is to set up a send filter, which is a statement on your blog, social-media account or website that politely states that you can't respond to all emails. Take Newport's filter: "I'll only respond to those proposals that are a good match for my schedule and interests." If you don't have such a public presence on the web and are just overwhelmed by your personal email, you can establish a send filter by creating an automatic response with a message such as: "Thank you for emailing! Unfortunately, I can only respond to commitments I can say yes to—and it may take a few days."

"I was worried, when I first began using a send filter, that it would seem pretentious—if my time was more valuable...and that it would upset people," writes Tracy. "But most people easily accept the idea that you have a right to control your own incoming communication, as they would like to enjoy this same right. More important, they like the clarity. Most are okay to not receive a response if they don't expect one."

Say "I See That You're..." in Tough Conversations

Like it or not, sometimes people we care about get upset with us. When this happens, try to verbalize the emotion that you are observing the other person, writes Emma Seppälä in The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success. Seppala, science director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, adds that sentences like “I see that you’re frustrated” can “improve the relationship you have with the other person, who will feel heard and understood.” Even more importantly, by showing the other person that you see their feelings , they have a chance to tell you about the root of the problem. One caveat: this method does not require you to say “I see that you’re right and I’m so, so wrong.” Unless, of course, this is actually the case.

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Leave Your Cellphone in Your Purse

Sure, we all know that taking a phone call in the middle of good talk with your friend or partner usually gets you both flustered and off-topic. But studies now suggest that the mere presence of a phone (even turned-off phone) can undermine a conversation, write media scholar and M.I.T professor Sherry Turkle in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. How? It causes people to engage in lighter conversations about sports and weather—instead of revealing their real thoughts and feeling because they think they are going to be interrupted.