3 Ways to Defeat Decision Fatigue

Jun 20
2017

Starbucks offers 80,000 drink combinations, making the simple act of ordering a cup of coffee a maze of multiple decisions.

Much as we like having lots of choices, the hundreds of small and large decisions we must make every single day do nothing to improve our decision-making skills. Just the opposite, in fact. The more choices we have to make —almond milk or cream; whether or not to close a million-dollar deal — the more susceptible we are to the dangers of decision fatigue.

Decision-making takes a biological toll on us. It taxes the part of the brain that controls our thoughts and impulses. As a consequence, the prefrontal cortex — our “inner CEO” —  looks for shortcuts to conserve its energy. Researchers call this type of mental depletion “decision fatigue.”

In response to decision fatigue, your brain may push you into quick and irresponsible action, just to avoid expending energy on the painstaking act of choosing. Or it may try to reserve its energy with analysis paralysis, and agonize over options to sidestep making any decision at all. Fend off decision fatigue so that your brain can focus on your most crucial choices.

Sidestep Unnecessary Decisions

Consciously choose to use your decision-making energy. Consider the decisions you make each day — even the simple things, like what to have for breakfast or prioritizing your inbox. Use technology to make things easier, or delegate tasks to others. Remember, it’s okay not to make a decision — even when others want you to. You can offer perspective or advice, but if you have no clear preference or choice to make, opt to let other people choose. Next time someone asks where you want to go to lunch, for example, simply say, “You decide.”

Go It Alone When Possible

Begin the decision-making process with the end in mind. It’s great to get feedback from others, but we can’t accommodate everyone’s point of view. Streamline the process to conserve your energy. Separate input sessions from your actual decision-making process to give yourself time to absorb and consolidate all the information. Sketch out your considerations and all salient points, and know your own mind. When it’s time to make the final choice, do so on your own.

Don’t Hedge

Indecision is exhausting; a massive drain on your resources and energy. Decision-making isn’t always linear; you can move forward and then retreat. But each time you waver, it takes more energy to move forward again. Vacillation spikes your fear of the unknown and builds resistance to making a definitive choice. As you tax your brain to evaluate endless options, you’re also straining it to regulate your emotions. Uncertainty leaves you subject to manipulation by outside forces. Make your toughest or most emotionally challenging decisions first, or carve out time to consider them when you’re mentally and emotionally fresh.

It’s great to have options. Use your decision-making skills wisely to stay in control of your energy and your choices. In fact, I just downloaded the apps for my two go-to coffee chains and set them up with my regular drinks. Now when I want to place an order, I just hit favorite. One decision down … a few dozen more to go.

Let me know your techniques for reducing your daily decisions in the comments field below.

Take An Artist’s Approach And Redraw Your Life With Passion

May 16
2017

My very first and only work of art, loosely speaking, was created in Mrs. Levine’s 5th grade class: a vase filled with springs flowers. I clearly remember sitting down at my desk, with the art book opened to the page with the picture, sharpened pencil in my hand, drawing what I saw in the book. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was supposed to do — after all, I was only 10 years old. I just looked at the vase filled with flowers and tried my best to draw what I saw in the book on the paper. If a line went astray I didn’t panic. I just made it into something that worked — a leaf maybe, or I just erased and started again. I just kept going, and when I was done no one was more shocked than I to see a vase and flowers on the page. Perhaps the flowers weren’t perfect bluebells or roses, and I wasn’t going to be the next Monet, but I was thrilled with what I’d done, and for the next few days that picture infused me with a passion to draw things and be an artist — at least until something new caught my eye.

As kids, we find passion and inspiration in so many things, and we don’t tie ourselves down to believing there is one and only one plan for how things are supposed to work out in our lives. Yet I watch so many adults struggle each day to discover passion in a life that doesn’t look like the one they planned. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone get ensnared in the world of “what should have been,” “could have,” and “was supposed to have been.” Gloomily, for many people, that struggle is something that dominates their adult life.

Why is it that as adults we find it so difficult to infuse our lives with passion when it doesn’t look like the life we originally planned?

For a lot of us it’s because as adults we believe that we know precisely how best to execute the strategy that will assure our happiness, success, and aspirations. In the end, it’s a simple exchange: we swap experimentation and learning for comfort and control. We falsely believe that if we don’t deviate from the strategy, then the conclusion is a certainty. And that all we have to do is play it safe, follow the strategy, and problem solve our way back to certainty when something goes awry and therein lies the trap.

Playing it safe is really like throwing an adult version of a temper tantrum, and trying to problem solve your way back to what you want by blaming outside forces — for not attaining what you wanted, other people for screwing it up, or even forces beyond your control for interceding — does no good for anyone. Whatever the justification, it keeps you trapped in guilt and uncertainty, never being able to let go of the past to see your way to the future. Playing the superhero and riding the adrenaline high of being the expert-problem-solver only leaves you temporarily feeling like you’re making forward progress. Problem solving and looking at what should have and could have been and what went wide of the mark will exhaust you and leave you chasing a false reality — that you can have what that strategy was supposed to deliver. The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter, it won’t ever matter again, and maybe it really never mattered at all in the first place.

Our plans were never meant to be a pledge of a certain ending — only the artist’s first drawing or a first pass at what we thought the picture might be. Infusing your life with zeal and passion, especially when it doesn’t look like the life you planned starts when you embrace the deviations and follow the lines that go awry with a sense of improvisation and openness. Seeing where the future takes you opens doors to prospects and passions that you never contemplated before. There is power and freedom in knowing you can always erase the sketch and dream grander. Or a sense of newfound excitement when what you see on the page inspires you to explore something, which at first might seem a bit abstract but ultimately ignites a new passion in you. As you do this, you should only care what could be because it is the only thing you have, and perhaps is what was intended for you all along.

Are you ready to take out your sketchbook and begin drawing a new plan for what comes next? You might be wondering what happened to the picture I drew. It still hangs framed in my home as a reminder that sometimes not knowing what you’re “supposed” to do in life may surprise you.

Happy Drawing!

Where Has All The Empathy Gone?

Oct 26
2016

where has all the empathy goneWe appear to be living in a world that grows more adversarial every day—just take a look at social media, TV, politics, or your last contentious project meeting. We’ve become so fixated on what divides us that we walk around in a constant state of emotional hijack—bothered, stressed, angry, worried, and unwilling to lay down our shields for a moment to see a situation from another’s standpoint or tune in to what someone else might be thinking.

We are so frazzled that even the slightest difference opens a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon between people. Thoughtlessly, we defend entrenched positions and talk past each other in anticipation of an attack by the other person. Attacking, demeaning, and scoring points trumps listening for understanding, recognizing, and valuing another’s point of view. Our public and private dialogue swiftly descends into name-calling, insult hurling, table-flipping madness. Each side escalates in lockstep punches and counter punches, rapid-fire accusations fly, and no one can be heard since they are all shouting over each other. Nothing ever gets resolved.

In recent months, I’ve often found myself wondering: Where has all the empathy gone?

Regretfully, it appears that for the most part we’ve lost any semblance of our capacity to call upon this essential and powerful tool. If there is any expectation of reversing course, we must resist becoming antagonistic and combative, and respond with empathy rather than antipathy, despite the storm swirling around us.

Reconnecting with our capacity for empathy means first getting really clear about what it is and is not. Once we’re really clear on that, we can then pivot and spike our empathy EQ.

What Is Empathy And What It’s Not

Empathy is simply defined as, “The ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others. Empathy is tuning in to what, how, and why people feel and think the way they do and being able to emotionally read other people.”

What empathy isn’t can sometimes prove even more useful. Empathy has nothing to do with being agreeable, polite, or even nice to people. It isn’t about your impressions, feelings, or thoughts about the circumstances at the heart of the conversation—that would be sympathy. And it certainly isn’t about acquiescing or being in agreement with the other person.

These time-tested strategies are vital in grasping what another person’s perspective is, along with what they are thinking and feeling—particularly when it’s dramatically different from your own vantage point.

Remain Cool Amid The Fury

When pushed to our limits, we all can lose our cool, temper, and focus. It doesn’t take long to go from being mildly upset to being in an all-out rage, and we can cross the threshold without being aware that we were anywhere near it. Remaining cool amid the fury starts with:

  • Understanding Your Emotional Triggers – These hot buttons when pushed will trigger intense emotional responses in you. Have some preset responses that you’ve practiced and can call upon when confronted with a trigger to diffuse that stress and give you time to regroup.
  • Take Your Emotional Temperature Periodically – Recognize how you’re feeling physically, your internal self-talk, and your non-verbals (expressions, motions, and posture). Any changes that indicate you’re less focused and more agitated are your early warning signs that you’ve got to be more conscious and considered in what you’re saying and doing. Slow down the pace and start listening more than speaking until the heat dissipates or diffuses.

Being Neutral Isn’t The Goal

Neutrality might be prized in most situations—except when we are talking about empathy. Empathy is about anything but being neutral. In fact, it necessitates being absolutely focused on the subjective vantage point of the other person and how they experience the world. Seeing the world from another’s vantage point isn’t always easy. Getting it right means doing two things extremely well: listening and asking questions that unearth the information you need to see their model of the world.

  • Listening, as Mark Goulston says, like a PAL – with purpose and without an agenda gives you the information you need to work with. You’ll see how the other person sees and experiences the world and their circumstances. Done well, it influences your responses and supports you in being of service to the other person. The sense of connectedness from listening like a PAL diffuses the emotionality and tension that otherwise might exist.
  • Asking questions that go beyond the superficial details unearths what is truly driving the person’s actions and how they perceive the matter at hand. You can’t discern the complexity of what they are thinking any other way. Questions that move past the superficial facts and generate deeper levels of thinking on the part of the other person often lead to revelations that will help you respond in a more empathetic way.

However, developing one’s listening and questioning abilities isn’t all that it takes to be more empathetic. Being able to express empathetically what you’ve heard involves not only listening and asking the types of questions that elicit informative responses, but also becoming adept at tuning in to emotions and feelings that accompany those words and thoughts.

Banish “I” From The Beginning Of Your Statements

Pretend that you don’t even know the word “I” can begin a statement where empathy is concerned. Beginning with “I” makes it all about you: your thoughts, your sentiments, and how you’re feeling along with your opinions, your perceptions, and your biases and judgments. Empathy is about acknowledging and recognizing the existence of another’s viewpoint without rendering judgment or trying to persuade them to consider an alternative perspective in the moment. The power of empathy lies in the building of a shared experience of their perspective, validating their right to hold it, and requiring no need on their part to defend it to you.

We all have a choice to make: to offset the tension and choose to be more empathetic and less divisive.

Are you willing to do what it takes to stand in someone else’s shoes, see the world with their eyes, and understand their perspective—even if you don’t agree with it or even if you find it outlandish? If so, share your past experiences or how you would attempt to do this below.

Spike Your Assertiveness EQ

Aug 02
2016

spike-your-assertivenessIQ is fixed and immovable therefore the actual key to spiking your performance is to nurture, balance, and develop your EQ skills. Infusing your life with just the right mix of EQ skills that work for you is a great way to separate yourself from the competition, and vital to living a less-stressed and happier existence.

Are you ready to spike your EQ? If so, let’s take a look at one of the most misunderstood EQ skills: Assertiveness. A bit ironic, isn’t it?

We often confuse being assertive with being aggressive—failing to realize that aggressiveness is assertiveness gone wrong.

Assertiveness isn’t aggressiveness. The failure to make that distinction leads to hurting others, discounting others’ desires, appearing unlikeable, and often not getting what you set out to attain. Aggressiveness is highly corrosive to relationships—both personally and professionally—where learning to be assertive supports connecting with others and achieving mutually satisfying outcomes for all concerned.

But what does assertiveness look like?

Assertiveness encompasses the ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and unambiguously, while at the same time being able to be responsive to and considerate of the desires of others in any given encounter.

If you’re looking to spike your assertiveness, here are some time-tested strategies to get you where you want to be:

1. Picture What Being Assertive Looks Like

In your mind’s eye, picture the line between the words “passive” and ”aggressive.” The midpoint between the two is where assertiveness thrives. Assertiveness is characterized by:

  • Letting others know what you think, feel, believe, and want in an unambiguous way.
  • A clear statement of one’s beliefs and / or feelings in conjunction with consideration given to the thoughts and feelings of others.

2. Cultivate the Assertiveness State of Mind

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how influential you are, or how much power you have in any social interaction. The ability to assert yourself is dependent upon your cultivating an assertive state of mind. To do this you need to:

Assess and figure out the self-talk that is interfering with your ability to be more assertive.

  • Over the course of the next two weeks, notice and write down times where you behaved assertively, passively, and aggressively.
  • Keep track of the things you were saying or thinking in those moments. Note the tone of your voice and how your body was responding.
  • Debate, dispute, and identify the defeating self-talk, and brainstorm new and more positive ways in which you could respond in the future.

3. Push Yourself to Behave More Assertively

Use what you’ve learned from cultivating an assertive state of mind to and begin turning ideas into actions. Push yourself to behave more assertively by experimenting with the following strategies:

Start Small

Cherry-pick low risk situations at first, and practice being clear about what it is you want in ways that demonstrate thought for others. Involve those you know well and trust to support you and serve as practice partners. Note the difference in how the other person responds. Evaluate yourself afterwards, tweak what needs adjusting, and use successes to motivate you the next time.

Identify Times When Opinion is Masquerading As Fact

Vital to your being more assertive is being able to identify and articulate the difference between what we believe to be fact, and opinions that are masquerading as facts. Look for clear, undeniable evidence to confirm and / or deny the position you’re advocating for. Develop a keen sense for spotting when a preference, point of view, or opinion tries to masquerade as a fact. Shift your language and begin using “I” statements to let others know you’re sharing your thoughts, beliefs, or opinions.

Run Through What You Want to Say

Use the lessons learned from cultivating your assertive state of mind to practice responding more assertively to the common scenarios that seem to trigger either your behaving passively or aggressively. Write down what you want to say the next time, and then say it out loud. Do a little perspective taking, and ask a friend for direct feedback about your response.

Increase Your Exposure Over Time

Increase your exposure over time to situations and people who present increasing degrees of challenge for you. This serves to gradually build up your skill level so that it becomes second nature to you. Remember that learning to be more assertive happens over time and under pressure.

These time-tested strategies will help you hold your ground when others offer resistance and increase the probability of you attaining what you set out to achieve.

READY, SET, SPIKE!

 

Maintaining Stress Resilience

Jul 19
2016

Maintaining Stress ResilienceAt a recent barbeque, I couldn’t help but notice that despite the beautiful summer day and time spent with friends, everyone seemed to be talking about how overwhelmed they were trying to make all the pieces of their lives work together with some measure of sense and sanity.

Whether it was friends preparing to send children off to college, others starting a new business, or simply trying to manage taking a vacation and not falling behind at work, they all seemed to be struggling to keep balance in their hectic yet successful lives. The more successful we become, the more people need our time. However, the time we have remains static. What does it take to make it all work and continue to be successful without feeling burned out and overextended?

Finding the balance to make it all work without feeling overwhelmed and overextended doesn’t have to involve time-consuming strategies. Here are 4 simple tips that can help you manage your life and become resilient in the face of daily stress.

1. Reacquaint Yourself With The Power Of No

When others ask us for things we often respond out of habit and impulse rather than intention and purpose. We often feel compelled to say “yes” to others’ demands on our time and meet others needs on their schedules, leaving us feeling overextended and disconnected with our short and long-term priorities. We somehow feel that responding with a simple “no” or simply suggesting that we respond later will unsettle the universe. Simply saying “no” or asking to respond at a later time to a request is often met with the reply, “That’s OK, thanks.” Being comfortable responding intentionally and thoughtfully is what creates the fine line between being intentionally and purposefully busy and being overextended.

2. Carve Out Open Space In Your Day

Without even thinking, our calendars and schedules can easily become filled up with back-to-back meetings tasks, and we find ourselves scheduled at least 100% of the day—perhaps even more. We leave ourselves little time for breaks, connecting with others, moments to gather our thoughts, do heavy thinking, or even to react to unexpected situations that arise. This intense pressure leads to frustration, energy drain, and burn out. By simply planning our schedules to include open space, we can better manage the pace and speed of our day and build in the time to sustain our energy. Try not to schedule more than 60% of your day with meetings, appointments, and structured tasks. Use the other 40% of the time throughout the day to create open blocks of time where you can connect with others, take a well-needed mental break, pursue a creative endeavor, or even deal with an emerging and unanticipated situation. Open space leaves you in control of your day and not the other way around.

3. Have A Do-Not-Discuss List

We often waste hours, days, and months discussing, rehashing, and re-visiting situations and past events, while either ignoring or not choosing to focus on implementing the strategies for taking action. Once you’ve gathered the right resources, fully vetted and discussed the root cause of the challenge, and identified and formulated a plan for moving forward, don’t talk about the situation in terms of the past again. Commit to creating a do-not-discuss list for those situations, and only talk about new developments or forward movement. Focusing and rehashing the past, or ruminating over what actions one could take, doesn’t benefit anyone in your life—especially you.

4. Definitely Delegate When Needed

Even if you’re not a perfectionist, mastering the art of delegating requires some intentional effort to get it right. Be selective about what you delegate—choose things that are better accomplished by someone else spending the time and energy on doing it, even if it is something you know you could do. Choose to delegate things that you know you can’t do, are not worth the time to learn, or you’re not interested in learning how to do. Beyond what types of things to delegate mastering the art of delegation requires choosing well whom to delegate to: a trusted resource, while giving them clear direction, setting expectations and outcomes, and the full authority to take action to implement and achieve the outcome. Masterful delegation pays dividends in many surprising ways—you often learn that some tasks are done better than if you’d done them yourself.

Building your resilience doesn’t have to be complicated or time-intensive. Simply implementing any one of the tips starting today can improve your resilience in a measurable way. If you have others, please share them with me.

 

Leadership As An Art

May 17
2016

Leadership As An ArtLeading is an art, and when you get it right your influence ripples out just like the waves created when you skip a stone on a lake just perfectly. Artful leaders, just like expert stone skippers, have the right combination of spin, speed, and angle.

Here are some ways you know that you’ve got the right spin, speed, and angle that gives others the confidence to be amazing.

You Know What to Say to Draw Out the Brilliance In Others

You’re able to inspire, motivate, and tease out the drive in others. You quickly identify their strengths and weave them together to create a cohesive team. You’re able to move swiftly and know how to shape varied opinions into a single strategy that inspires and motivates those around you to take action.

You Understand the Velocity at Which Things Need to Happen

You’re able to quickly assess the magnitude of the situation at hand. Your decision-making skills enable you to quickly make adjustments and demonstrate the agility needed to excel in any undertaking. You build and foster trust among your team members so that they can respond to emerging needs and high stress situations with confidence and trust in each other’s ability to execute flawlessly.

You Leverage All Viewpoints to Accomplish the Objective

You’re able to adeptly explore things from all angles and are open to differing perspectives. You’re able to pinpoint the best position with which to approach an objective and create a plan of attack. You often bring together divergent perspectives and unify your colleagues around a common vision and mission. Accomplishing the objective means applying just the right set of skills at the right time, all the while adjusting for changes in circumstances.

Your ability to continue to develop and enhance these skills ensures that the ripples create impact beyond just those in your inner circle.

 

Moving Beyond Just Passion

May 10
2016

moving-beyond-just-passionRomeo and Juliet were passionate about each other. However, their passion ultimately led to their demise. Being passionate doesn’t guarantee you’ll accomplish what you set out to do or be successful in life—it just means that you care deeply about that cause or idea.

As with Romeo and Juliet, passion alone can cloud your perspective, cause you to make hasty judgments, and take rash actions that lead you in the opposite direction of where you want to go. Making a meaningful contribution, and accomplishing what you set out to do, means moving beyond simply what you’re passionate about and giving consideration to the other elements that need to be present to be successful.

What are some of the other elements needed beyond passion that top the list and inspire us to work toward goals that support our vision for our lives?

Clarity of Purpose

A lack of ambiguity and clear understanding about what you believe in, the direction you want to head, what you ultimately want the outcome to be, and what you are willing to risk to achieve it.

Self-Awareness

The ability for introspection, and the capacity to recognize your feelings, distinguish between them, and understand their impact on those around you.

Self-Regard

Knowing your own strengths and limitations, respecting and accepting yourself as you are, and having a strong sense of your own identity and character that allows you to acknowledge when you don’t know something.

Perseverance

The ability withstand adverse events, calmly face challenges, be resourceful, and choose a course action that over time is focused and directed toward achieving a long-term pursuit. Over time, resist temptation and short-term gain in the pursuit of long-term outcomes.

Ambition

The desire to achieve a goal, and the effort, persistence, and motivation applied toward achieving a goal that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.

Optimism

The ability to be confident in one’s own ability—even when others don’t believe in you—and hang tough in the pursuit of the desired outcome.

Moving beyond just being passionate helps you do more than just what you love—it helps you pull equally hard in the direction that you ultimately want to go. Passion, in concert with all these other elements, supports your vision, makes you more agile, and ultimately enables you to make a meaningful contribution.

 

Emotions And Conflict

Apr 26
2016

Emotions and ConflictConflict and heightened emotion go hand in hand. When we sense a threat we begin to assess the environment and draw conclusions. Then we quickly transition to making assumptions about the other person’s intentions, and our anger and frustration mounts. Almost without thinking, we take a defensive posture and mount our offensive. Sadly, when we go on the warpath, we lose our ability to grasp problems, formulate effective solutions, deal realistically with situations, and manage impulses that, if unchecked, disrupt our ability to resolve disagreements effectively.

Seeing things objectively—the way they really are—is extremely difficult in an emotionally charged environment, even when we know what we should be doing intellectually. Recognizing what drives you to feel the way you do, and the impact of that on those around you, can help you more quickly disrupt the process and diffuse the situation.

The information below can help you cope with heightened emotions, slow up, and resist the urge to go on the warpath.

Learn What Sets You Off

Being able to resist the temptation to act in highly emotional ways involves learning more about what upsets you in the first place. Understanding what types of situations and behaviors unnerve you enough so that you overreact can help you manage expectations and avoid certain situations whenever possible. Pay close attention to how you physically respond when disagreements escalate, and notice if you feel flushed, tense, sick to your stomach, or your head pounds. This is your early warning system and can help you realize that you are becoming overwhelmed and your capacity for rational thought is fading.

Have A Plan and Practice It

Experiment with different methods of calming yourself, from taking a breath, to asking for a break in the action, to rethinking how you are handling the situation. The key is to have a specific plan of action in mind before the emotions start to rise. You can also do a bit of a dress rehearsal if you know that you are potentially walking into a situation that typically triggers you. Even if you practice, don’t blame yourself if you slip—just try and right the ship as quickly as you can.

Don’t Quash Your Emotions

Once the emotions are there and growing stronger, your first instinct might be to quash them as a way to seem like you’re in control and un-phased. As you probably know already, this creates a ticking time bomb that ultimately explodes when you least want it to. Quashing what you’re feeling leads to outbursts, sarcasm, and passive-aggressive behavior. Not acknowledging how you’re feeling isn’t hiding the emotion from the other person and is the worst thing you can do. Not expressing how you feel in a constructive way gives the other person the ability to substitute his or her own thinking about how you are feeling and doesn’t resolve the tension.

Vent What You Are Feeling Appropriately

Often reaching out to talk with someone else can help re-evaluate the situation, your stance, and the other person’s viewpoint—but not always. Venting with the right person can often help take the pressure off, as long as the person you are sharing this with listens, acknowledges how you’re feeling, and helps you shift focus to the resolution of the matter at hand. Venting becomes unproductive when it becomes all about gratuitous bashing of the other person involved in the disagreement.

Develop A Positive Mindset

Thinking negatively can serve as its own trigger for negative emotions and lead to damaging behavior. Developing positive emotions can broaden the options facing you and help you remain curious in the face of a challenge. Seeing things with a positive mindset can help you narrow the opportunity for an angry response and help you set new patterns of responding to what stresses you. Maintaining a positive attitude, and understanding how your emotions impact others, can help decrease the overall tension.

Emotions rule where conflict is involved, and when they get the best of us, a strategic retreat is always called for.

 

Happiness Boosters

Apr 19
2016

Happiness BoostersLucille Ball is quoted as saying, “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” Figuring out what makes us happy isn’t a priority for most of us. The modern world demands our time, attention, and focus on a constant basis, resulting in a happiness gap. Connecting to what is truly important and infusing our lives with more passion, hope, and commitment all starts with being able to recognize what makes us happy, and then closing that gap. Boosting your happiness level is not only fun, but can also be life changing. There is no perfect time to begin and no one-size-fits-all method. But there is one common starting point: recognizing what makes us happy starts where happiness always resides and always will—inside of us.

Here are some suggestions that can go a long way in helping you recognize what puts a smile on your face and how to put happiness back at the center of your life.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

The next time you’re waiting in a long line at Starbucks, sitting in another endless traffic jam, or in any of the myriad situations that cause all of us stress, try to divert your attention away from the negative to something positive. It could be cranking up a favorite song on the radio, guessing what the people ahead of you in line are ordering—rewarding yourself with a brownie bar even if you don’t guess any order right—or just starting a conversation with someone in line. You can also spend the time recalling some happy memories, as this will help you re-experience the feelings of joy in the present moment. The goal is to find a way to shift your focus and make lemonade out of the lemons.

See If You Can Make Other People Smile

Happiness is contagious; so see if you can bring a smile to someone else’s face. Make a concerted effort to do something nice for someone else—either in word or deed. Connecting in a real way with others helps you feel better about yourself, puts positive energy into the world, and encourages others to pay it forward. Decide to let go of old hurts or grudges and forgive someone. Showing compassion for others helps enhance social connections, builds a sense of inner peace, and frees up time to think about what is next.

Journal And / Or Meditate

There are many ways people keep journals, meditate, or even combine the two activities. Find what works best for you and practice it routinely. Journaling and meditation help you become more aware of repeated patterns and mindful about what takes place in your mind, body, and thinking. Both techniques help calm our minds and focus our attention inward and to the present moment. Quieting our mind helps us see the connection between seemingly disconnected events, clarify and reframe our perspective, and shape better outcomes.

There are many other ways to begin recognizing what makes you the happiest, and you’ll know you’re on the right path as you begin to feel more optimistic, energized, and confident. I’m always on the lookout for new boosters, so feel free to share one that you use and isn’t on the list above.

 

Information Overload

Apr 13
2016

Information OverloadWe are bombarded daily with texts, emails, and endless choices about what to order from the multitude of choices on the average menu board. It never ceases to amaze me how vast amounts of information can transform seemingly easy choices—like ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks—into amazingly befuddling moments for people. There is a simple explanation for this phenomenon: we are trying process more information than our brain is designed to handle at any given time. When our brain is over-stimulated and our nervous system engages, we get what is more commonly known as “analysis paralysis.”

At most, our conscious mind can focus and retain three or four things simultaneously. Beyond that point, exposure to more information than the brain can process at one time rapidly diminishes our ability to focus, increases our stress levels, and reduces our ability to make choices. Ultimately, when we cannot endure any longer, they overwhelm us and we choose things that are less than ideal.

What approach works best when we are experiencing this type of overwhelming situation? Is it to exploit what we already know to make the choice, or step out of our routine and explore new possibilities? Let’s take a look a both strategies.

Exploiting What We Already Know

Taking advantage of what we already know can optimize our performance with respect to the current task at hand. The sections of the brain used in optimizing current performance and reward seeking are triggered, narrowing the field of choices to what we know best as a means of being efficient in the pursuit of a reward (the choice). Taking advantage of what we know can also be valuable as a means of making more routine and less complicated choices, as it pushes us toward maintaining balance as the best means of making a choice while seeing the world through a familiar lens. The downside is that we miss seeing what could be over the horizon—trying something new, and what might be hidden, leading to rash judgments made with familiar biases when the choice is more complicated.

Exploration Beyond What We Already Know

Opening up our minds and engaging in a process of exploration gives us the chance to “psychologically distance” ourselves from the quagmire of details surrounding the choice and consider it in a more abstract way. The process of exploration and abstraction triggers the parts of the brain that are responsible for our attention control features, and the executive functioning areas of our brain that are tasked with managing new situations. Distancing ourselves and beginning the process of exploring beyond what we already know sharpens our focus, and allows us to disengage from routine thinking and take a needed pause to discover something that we didn’t know we wanted, or come up with an innovative way of solving a problem. We become more flexible, adaptable, and less risk averse.

Both strategies can combat information overload—in varying degrees and under certain circumstances—and are highly dependent on the outcome being sought. Figuring out which way you need to go will depend on what the choice is. Regardless of which one you decide to try, realize that any choice to reduce the bombardment will help you reduce stress, anxiety, and make better choices.