Self-Help Advice You Haven't Heard Before
We sifted through the season's life-improvement books to help you become more clever, more relaxed, more satisfied—and more realistic about how long it will take to make new habits stick.
A Problem-Solving Trick from Sherlock Holmes
Ignore hunches and review the facts out loud.
"Holmes tells Watson everything—something that occurs with great regularity throughout the Holmes canon (and you thought it was just a clever expository device!). As he tells the doctor before he delves into the pertinent observations, 'nothing clears up a case so much as stating to another person.' It's the exact same principle we've seen in operation before: stating mindfulness. It forces you to consider each premise on its logical merits and allows you to slow down your thinking so that you do not blunder. It ensures that you do not let something that is of real significance go by simply because it didn't catch your attention enough or fit with the causal story that you have (subconsciously, no doubt) already created in your head. It allows you to confirm that you've actually understood, not just thought you understood."
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Copyright © 2013 by Maria Konnikova.
A Strategy to Feel Less Fed Up With Work
Learn to distinguish a job rut from a dip (an ultradian dip, that is).
"We cycle through the ultradian stages every 90 to 120 minutes. Practically, this means that for about an hour and a half to two hours after rising in the morning, we feel particularly vigorous and focused. At the end of that interval, however we experience a 20-minute period of fatigue, lethargy and difficulty concentrating. This is the 'ultradian dip.' At these times we need to relax or switch our activity to something different—for example, take a 20-minute power nap, a walk outdoors, meditate, listen to music, read a chapter of a novel or gossip with colleagues (but not about work). In a study conducted with employees of 12 Wachovia banks in New Jersey, those who were prompted to renew their energies in these ways reported being more engaged and satisfied with their work, showed improved relationships with customers and produced 13 percent more revenue from loans than did a control group. Think back to the last time you felt particularly dissatisfied or stressed at work. It's highly probable that you were weathering one of those 20-minute ultradian dips. This doesn't mean, of course, that those feelings of disaffection or vexation aren't symptomatic of a real problem, but it means that we should be cautious about overinterpreting them."
From The The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does (The Penguin Press) by Sonja Lyubomirsky
A Realistic Timetable for Getting New Habits to Stick
Plan to keep at it for at least three months.
"Behavioral research indicates that it takes 90 days to prepare for change, build a new behavior, become confident in the face of high-risk triggers and move past the likelihood of relapse. Brain research also suggests that it takes a few months of practicing a new behavior to create permanent change. More than 75 percent of people maintain a goal for a week, but then they gradually slip back into old behavior. However, research shows that almost all of the people who maintain a new behavior for three months make the change permanent; the probability of relapse after that period is modest."
Excerpt from Changeology by John C. Norcross, PhD. Copyright 2012 by John C. Norcross, PhD. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.
A Daily Exercise to Strengthen Your Love Muscle
Take 10 minutes to think about who you spent time with today.
"The first tool for experiencing more moments of love entails simply reflecting, at the end of each day, on the three longest social interactions you've had that day, and asking yourself how 'connected' and 'in tune' you felt with the people with whom you spent your time. These people could be family, friends, coworkers or completely new acquaintances, and it doesn't matter whether the same person shows up in more than one interaction. [In studies,] reflecting on social connection appeared to penetrate the body to affect enduring heart rhythms. We speculate that the daily question serves as a subtle cue that reminds people that each of their social interactions is indeed an opportunity for something more than just an exchange of goods and information."
From Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do and Become (Hudson Street Press) by Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD.
A Way to Unplug—Without Making a Pilgrimage to Nepal
Practice reading the old-fashioned way (i.e., without checking e-mail after every paragraph).
"We often become reliant on being stimulated by multiple sensory channels—from sounds, sights, tastes, smells and behaviors. The effect of this is a craving, like an addiction, of constantly needing more sensory stimulation. And without this flood of sensory information, it has become common for people to feel chronically bored and sluggish... it's important to retrain ourselves to require much less stimulation. Set aside certain times during the week for focusing on one or two sensory channels. An easy way to start is to concentrate solely on reading one article without stopping or multitasking."
From Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century (Hudson Street Press) by Marc Schoen, PhD.
A 3-Step Plan to Avoid the Shame Spiral
Remember these ninja-warrior moves that will help you become "shame resilient" after even the most embarrassing situations.
"1. Practice courage and reach out! Yes, I want to hide, but the way to fight shame and to honor who we are is by sharing our experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it. 2. Talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I'm trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown. Normally during a shame attack we talk to ourselves in ways we would NEVER talk to people we love and respect. 3. Own the story! I often say this aloud: 'If you own this story you get to write the ending.' When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story."
Reprinted from Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright 2012.
A One-Word Mantra to Help You Deal with Everyday Challenges
Repeat a troubling word—and concept—over and over, until it loses its meaning and its power.
"Acceptance and commitment therapy, a new and highly effective form of clinical psychology, is based on the recognition that almost all psychological pain comes not from experiences, but from the words in our heads with which we describe those experiences. ACT's founder, Steven Hayes, recommends repeating a word like 'milk' over and over for 49 seconds. At that point the patient's mind stops associating the sound with a nutritious liquid and experiences it as a meaningless noise. This disassociation between words and reality allows patients to let go of verbal stories that have been tormenting them. Try this: repeat the word 'milk' until it means nothing to you, then proceed to more emotionally loaded words that often trouble you, like 'failure' or 'bankruptcy' or 'chilblains.' The idea is to rob these words of their sting so that you can deal calmly with life's realities, free from the additional burden of terror arising from your internal narrative."
From Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want (Free Press) by Martha Beck.
A Nudge to Perceive Yourself Differently
Don't focus so narrowly on who you need to be.
"In a recent interview, I was asked, 'Do you love who you've become?' My response was 'I don't believe I've become anyone, I've just released all that was blocking me from who I really am.' When we release our ego's false perceptions of who we are or who we need to be, we can surrender to the truth, which is that we are
love. The love I speak of is an intuitive voice reminding us we're great and worthy, leading us in the right direction and helping us let go of resentment and return to peace. This inner presence has been stifled, but through the practice of self-forgiveness and acceptance we can reawaken this peaceful self-love state."
From May Cause Miracles: A Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness (Harmony Books) by Gabrielle Bernstein.
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