This week, I launched a series of mini-books titled Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding Happiness at EvolveHappiness.Com.
Here are details for each mini-book:
Evolve Your Life Happiness Handbook
You’ve heard the advice, “Go to school, get a good job, get promoted, climb the corporate ladder, and you will eventually find happiness.” All too often, people follow this society-prescribed path to success, falsely believing that it will lead them to happiness. This mini-book teaches an alternative blueprint for happiness, based on research from numerous books and scientific studies, along with Derek’s personal experience. This mini-book is free, just enter your e-mail address at the top of this page.
Escape the Rat Race: Change Your Mind or Take the Emergency Exit
How can you escape the rat race? Should you change your job? Or can you keep it, while making smaller changes to your daily habits and ways of thinking? This mini-book explores both options, and teaches you when each is appropriate for escaping the rat race.
New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect on your past year, and changes you would like to make for the coming year. As New Year’s resolutions are highly personal, I won’t be providing specific resolutions. Instead, here are five ideas for you to come up with your own New Year’s resolutions.
Is there a hobby that you love to do and are passionate about, but have been neglecting? This year, make the change. When you’re doing what you love, you are in a more passionate state of mind, and always doing your best because you enjoy what you do. You’ll often find yourself in “the flow”, a state where you lose track of time as your focus is solely on your passion. You’ll be better able to handle obstacles that come into your path because you enjoy the day-to-day activity of doing what you love.
Remember the old advice, “Winners never quit, quitters never win”? It’s wrong. In fact, winners quit often- as entrepreneur and marketing guru Seth Godin explains, “to stick with something in an absence of further progress is a waste.” Reflect on your past year. Is there something that you have put a lot of time and energy into, but still don’t end up anywhere (ex. Dead-end job)? This upcoming year, consider creating a New Year’s resolution to quit something that isn’t working.
Reflect on the most enjoyable moment of your past year. Did this moment involve thinking, or were you completely focused on an activity? Chances are, you were completely focused on an activity. When you become intensely conscious of the present moment, you create a gap in thinking, in which you are highly alert and aware. Make a resolution to spend more time in the present for this upcoming year.
Do you have bad habits and behaviors that have become an automatic part of your daily routine? Over the past year, maybe some of these have even become automatic. For example, you may often wake up in the morning thinking negative thoughts, which puts you in a bad mood each morning. Or maybe you’ve created a habit or smoking on all of your work breaks. For this upcoming year, make a resolution to break a bad habit.
How can you be happier and sustain it next year? Hint: Getting a raise at work or winning the lottery won’t make you happier for the long-term, as you will adapt quickly to your new circumstances. Studies have found that recent lottery winners are temporarily happier, but soon after, they adjust and are no happier than others. If we are constantly adapting to positive change in our lives, then how can we sustain an increased level of happiness over the long-term? This upcoming year, make a New Year’s resolution to become happier and stay that way.
João Gilberto simply is music. He plays. He sings. Without stopping. Day and night. He is very, very strange. But he is the most fascinating being, the most fascinating person, that I have encountered on the surface of the earth. João, he is mystery. He hypnotises.
João Gilberto has been called many things throughout his ongoing career- a genius, a reclusive eccentric, the father of bossa nova, and the most enigmatic Brazilian alive. But one thing is certain- in 1958, this man changed Brazilian music forever. During this year, João invented bossa nova- a style of Brazilian music which evolved from samba, but is more complex harmonically and less percussive.
João’s signature piece, Chega de Saudade, is universally acknowledged as the song that launched his career and the bossa nova movement:
Here are 5 lessons for following your passion from the creative musical genius João Gilberto:
1) Stay focused
From an early age, João was interested in only one thing- music. He was given a guitar at the age of fourteen, which soon became an extension of his body. João played day and night, often the same chord repeated innumerable ways. Even when João’s family thought that he was mentally disturbed, and sent him to a psychiatric sanatorium, he kept up his musical experiments.
2) Never give up
For seven years, João’s career seemed at a standstill- he rarely had work, was dependent on his friends for a place to live, and was chronically depressed. João did not give up, and eventually, he was helped by friend Luiz Telles, who took him to southern Brazil, where he blossomed.
3) Work on your own schedule
Early in his career, living with his friends in Rio de Janeiro, João was a Night Owl, and would sleep during the day and play at night. Even though his hosts had day jobs, when returning from work, they would keep him company until early in the morning, listening to him play. When João moved to Porto Alegre, he single-handedly altered the city’s nightlife. People who normally went to sleep early stayed up late, adapting themselves to João’s sleep schedule, to hear him play.
4) Refuse a “normal” job
Although João’s family wished that he would consider a “normal”, non-musical job, he refused. Even when João had no money and work, João would not take jobs which he considered demeaning, such as singing in clubs where people talked during the performance, or recording commercial jingles.
5) Isolate yourself to develop your own style
João spent eight months with his sister, where he secluded himself from others, playing guitar day and night, developing a personal style for voice and guitar that would later be called bossa nova.
Are you following your passion, on the verge of creating a “bossa nova” in your field?
João is an inspiration for all of us. Imagine if he had taken a non-musical job, instead of focusing on his passion- would João have invented bossa nova, and been as successful as he is today? What if João had listened to his father, who disliked his songs, thinking João was mentally disturbed? The same songs that João’s father disliked were later considered by music critics to be zen-like, and works of pure perfection.
The most important lesson we can learn from João’s career is to pursue our passion relentlessly, whether or not our family or friends support us. Like João, each of us must focus on what we are most passionate about. We must focus on what makes us come alive:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.
The Law of Attraction states that our lives are a result of the things we think about. But how much control do we really have over our lives? If we are all in complete control of our lives, then the Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp was also in complete control of his life, right? So is the Law of Attraction saying that his suffering was his own fault? How does the Law of Attraction explain tragic events such as The Holocaust? Let’s start by asking two of the leading experts on the Law of Attraction-
The Secret’s Answer- It’s All Their Fault
Rhonda Byrne (author of The Secret) explains tragedy and human suffering as “thought frequency being on the same frequency as the event”:
Often [people] recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesn’t necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to Byrne’s view of the Law of Attraction, people facing tragedy, on some level, willed their own suffering.
Steve Pavlina’s Answer- It’s All Your Fault
Steve Pavlina explains that subjective reality answers our question about tragedy/suffering and the Law of Attraction. Subjective reality is the belief that 1) there is only one consciousness, 2) you are that consciousness, and 3) everything and everyone in your reality is a projection of your thoughts.
According to Pavlina’s view of the Law of Attraction, people are facing tragedy, on some level, because you willed their suffering. The more you think about tragedy, the more you’ll see it expand in your subjective reality.
Could the Experts be Wrong?
Neither answer seems correct- both are still basically saying “If a tsunami kills thousands of victims, it’s either your fault or the fault of the victims.” Both answers perpetuate a blame-the-victim or blame-yourself mentality, and make people feel responsible for events outside of their control. Let’s take a closer look at the case for and against the idea that we each have complete control over our lives.
The Case Against Complete Control: Shit Happens
In the words of J.H. Holmes, “The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent.” Natural and man-made disasters happen all the time. Fires. Tornadoes. Floods. Diseases. Murders. Wars. These are tragedies of which we often have little control over. While it is important to do as much as we can to prevent these tragedies from occurring, we shouldn’t expect that our efforts to change external conditions will immediately improve our lives.
Footage from the December 26, 2004 Sumatran Tsunami:
The Case For Complete Control: Our Thoughts Do Impact Our Health, Lifespan, and Success
Research has shown us that positive thinking works. Dr. Martin Seligman, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, and author of Learned Optimism, has studied optimists and pessimists for 25 years. His research has found that positive-thinking optimists:
Get better results than pessimists in most areas of life
Do better at work and in school
Have fewer depressions
Have more friends and better social lives
By contrast, negative-thinking pessimists:
Thinking style leaves vulnerable to depression
Produces inertia rather than activity in the face of setbacks
Feels bad subjectively–blue, down worried, anxious
Self-fulfilling; pessimists don’t persist in the face of challenges and thus fail more frequently (even when success is attainable)
Is associated with poor physical health
Even when pessimists turn out to be right, they still feel worse than the deluded optimists
Compromise: We Don’t Have Complete Control Over Outside Events, but We Do Have Control of Our Inner Experience of Those Events
After looking at the evidence for and against complete control of our lives, a compromise is what provides us with the right answer. You don’t have complete control over outside events, but you do have control of how you experience those events. For example, you cannot choose whether or not you get in a car accident. But if you get in a car accident, and are injured, you can choose how to respond to that injury.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you respond to a situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
So you can’t choose for a negative or positive situation to happen to you- but you can choose how to respond to the situations which you are given in life.
Changing Our Mindset about The Law of Attraction
The current Law of Attraction mindset promotes a blame-the-victim mentality, and makes people mistakenly believe they are responsibility for events that are out of their control. If we are to continue to experiment with and tell others about The Law of Attraction, we first need re-define it:
The Old Law of Attraction versus The New Law of Attraction
The Old Law of Attraction: Our lives are a result of the things we think about.
The New Law of Attraction: Our responses to life are a result of the things we think about.
Sure, the idea of having complete control of our lives gives us a sense of security, as we are led to believe that we are able to exert control over the great forces of the universe. But is that sense of security not a false one?
Help Popularize The New Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction helps us visualize our responses to life. It helps enable positive thinking and personal growth. But the current popular thinking about it is wrong. If you are in agreement that it is time to change our mindset about The Law of Attraction, and would like to tell others, please use the Share This button below. If you have a blog, please share this post with your readers.
You must daily have the courage to risk making mistakes, risk failure, risk being humiliated. A step in the wrong direction is better than staying “on the spot” all your life.
There are some activities and jobs in which people must fail every day in order to succeed. Think of the insurance salesman who is turned down 9 times in a row, just to have one success. Or the skateboarder who must fail at performing a new trick many times before he is able to perform it successfully one time. We can learn a lot from these extreme failing individuals- they seem to view failure as a temporary setback, or a learning experience.
Learning from Extreme Failing: Skateboarders
As a high school student, I loved skateboarding. The nature of skateboarding involves a lot of failing- my skater friends allowed themselves to fail much more often than I did, and in doing so, they became great. I’ve pulled together some footage from my high school skateboarding days to give you a visual of extreme failing:
What if a skateboarder fell one too many times, and thought of his failure as a defeat, wallowing in its permanence and pervasiveness? What if he decided he wouldn’t try the same trick again, for months? I can tell you that he wouldn’t get very far in skateboarding with that mindset. To be successful at skateboarding, you must pick yourself up after a failure and immediately start trying again. You must look at a failure as a challenge, or a temporary setback to achieving your goal.
The Extreme Failing Mindset Can be Applied to Any Type of Setback
The extreme failing mindset isn’t just for insurance salesmen and skateboarders- it can help anyone overcome a setback in their life. One example would be if you recently broke up with someone- If you tell yourself “This is only temporary, I will find someone else”, you will be on your way to a fast recovery. But if tell yourself “This person meant everything to me, I’ll never find someone else like them”, you are setting yourself up for depression and pain.
Similarly, if you recently lost your job, and explain it to yourself as “I lost my job because I am lazy and incompetent- no other employer will want to hire me”, you most likely won’t recover and get a new job for a while- the negative mindset will be self-fulfilling. By contrast, if you tell yourself “The economy is not doing well right now so my employer had to make some cutbacks- I tried my best, and now I will find a new job even better than the last”, you will be on your way to finding a great new job.
Three Dimensions of Explaining Setbacks to Yourself
Based on years of research from psychologist Martin Seligman (explained in his book Learned Optimism), there are three dimensions of explaining setbacks to yourself: Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personalization. On each dimension, you can explain a setback with either the extreme failing (optimist) mindset, or the pessimist mindset:
Permanence: Do you believe the cause of the bad event is permanent or temporary? Extreme failing individuals believe the bad event is temporary.
Breaking up example: Tell yourself “I will find someone else”
Pervasiveness: Do you believe the cause of the bad event is universal, or specific? Extreme failing individuals believe the cause of a bad event is specific.
Breaking up example: Tell yourself “My relationship was only one part of my life”
Personalization: Do you believe the cause of the bad event is your fault (internalize), or other people’s fault (externalized)? Extreme failing individuals believe the bad event is external to themselves.
Breaking up example: Tell yourself “My ex was not the right person for me”
Do You Have the Extreme Failing Mindset? Take the Test
How do you perceive failures in your own life? Take the test to find out how well you handle setbacks, and how much of an extreme failing individual (optimist) you are.
A comment was recently posted by Brandon (see below), with concerns over how the Martin Seligman’s optimism test, and the Personalization dimension of explanatory style. The test seems to encourage us to not take responsibility, and instead blame external events/people. Here is a quote from Dr. Seligman’s book to help answer Brandon’s concern:
I am unwilling to advocate any strategy that further erodes responsibility. I don’t believe people should change their beliefs from internal to external wholesale. Nevertheless, there is one condition under which this usually should be done: depression . . . We want people to change, and we know they will not change if they do not assume responsibility. If we want people to change, internality is not as crucial as the permanence dimension is. If you believe the cause of your mess is permanent, you will not act to change it. If, however, you believe the cause is temporary, you can act to change it. If we want people to be responsible for what they do, then yes, we want them to have an internal style. More important, people must have a temporary style for bad events- they must believe that whatever the cause of the bad event, it can be changed.
According to Seligman, we should use the external explanation only in situations where we are at risk for depression. Additionally, the Permanence dimension (temporary/permanent) is the key to change, not Personalization (internal/external).
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life, and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
Have you answered the ultimate question in your own life? Or are you sleepwalking through each day in autopilot mode? One way to find meaning is by challenging yourself each day, and continuing to grow as an individual.
Move Your Village
An Indian tribe of British Columbia believed that without challenge, life had no meaning. The tribe lived in a very resource-plentiful area, with plenty of salmon and game, and below-ground food- tubers and roots. They had elaborate technologies for using their plentiful environment effectively, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. But at times, the tribe elders said that the world became too predictable and there was no challenge in their life. Canadian ethnographer Richard Kool describes the tribe’s solution:
So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 to 30 years. The entire population would move to a different part of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsamroot would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy. Incidentally, it also allowed exploited resources in one area to recover after years of harvesting.
Like the tribe, you may be ready for a new challenge. What can you change to “move your village” and bring meaning into your life?
Ways to Move Your Village
Most jobs and leisure activities are not meant to challenge us and help us grow- their intent is to make someone else money. If we are to be challenged and grow from these activities, we must take matters into our own hands.
Challenge Yourself In Your Free Time
Do: Fill your free time with activities that require concentration, increase skills, and lead to personal growth.
Examples: Play tennis, join a band, become a wine connoisseur, learn to swing dance
Don’t: Fill your free time with mindless activities that do not challenge you or lead to personal growth.
Examples: Watching a sitcom on television, watching a sporting event or concert, taking recreational drugs
Note: Some people may take offense that I put “watching a sporting event or concert” in the Don’t category. But living vicariously through musicians, actors, and sports athletes does not challenge you- actually performing the activity does challenge you.
Challenge Yourself At Work
Do: As much as possible, make your work into a game- add variety, appropriate challenges, clear goals, and constant feedback. This will make it more enjoyable and challenging.
Examples: Your manager gives you a challenging assignment, with a clear goal, and provides feedback on the results. For less difficult tasks such as organizing paperwork in file cabinets, you can challenge yourself by setting a time goal for finishing the task, and listen to some energetic music to help you along the way.
Don’t: Cope through your day at work, with no enjoyment or challenges from your job.
Examples: You are assigned work, and you complete the bare minimum of what is required, not challenging yourself or improving your own skills/technique.
How to Move Your Village in the Most Bleak/Boring/Monotonous Situations
Even the least enjoyable of situations can be turned into growth opportunities:
Richard Logan, who has studied the accounts of many people in difficult situations, concludes that they survived by finding ways to turn the bleak objective conditions into subjectively controllable experience . . . First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances. Then they set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received. Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.
When we feel jittery, or worried, or anxious in thinking of the great amount of work that lies before us, the jittery feelings are not caused by the work, but by our mental attitude- which is “I ought to be able to do this all at once.” The truth is: We can only do one thing at a time. When we work with this attitude, we are able to concentrate and think our best.
A few weeks ago, I realized that my multitasking habits on the computer were starting to impact my productivity. As I became more active in reading blogs/RSS feeds, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk, I became less effective at actually getting things done that matter to me. So what did I do? I asked Timothy Ferriss (not literally- I re-read a chapter of The 4-Hour Workweek).
Ferriss recommends that each evening, you think about what task needs to be completed, and ask yourself about the next day, “If this is the only thing I accomplish tomorrow, will I be satisfied with my day?”. Then, write down 2 mission-critical tasks that you’d like to get done the next day. Instead of using computerized to-do lists, Ferriss recommends that we revert to paper, to limit the amount of information we put on our list:
I use a standard piece of paper folded three times to about 2″ x 3 1/2″, which fits perfectly in the pocket and limits you to noting only a few items. There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. It just isn’t necessary if they’re actually high-impact.
The next day, you perform these two tasks separately from start to finish without distraction. I have implemented Ferriss’ simple productivity strategy in my own life, limiting my multi-tasking habits, and focusing on 2 mission-critical tasks each day. After trying this for a few weeks, I have found that his solution works great- my productivity skyrocketed, am I am also happier and feel more gratified with my work.
What makes it work?
Parkinson’s Law– Work expands to fill the time available. This is the magic of the imminent deadline, and works well for completing 2 daily mission-critical tasks.
80/20 Rule (The Pareto Principle)– For many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In relation to 2 mission-critical tasks, your 2 tasks should be part of the 20% that results in your desired outcome (e.g. increased income, productivity, happiness). Again, make sure you ask yourself “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
Before you get started using Ferriss’ approach to productivity, please be aware of these 2 challenges with the approach:
Challenges with the 2 Mission-Critical Tasks Approach
1) 80/20 optimizations can sometimes cut out critical tasks
This is what’s wrong with a lot of 80/20 optimizations- the belief that truncating the system at the head will optimize its effectiveness; in many cases it actually cuts off a critical piece of the overall ecosystem.
Solution: When you define your daily mission-critical tasks, be careful not to cut out/stop doing anything that is critical to your long-term success.
2) You may have a bunch of smaller tasks you need to complete in a day
Solution: Bundle your tasks into 2 larger mission-critical tasks. For example, if I want to write three blog posts in a day, I would consider this one of my mission-critical tasks: “Write 3 Blog Posts for Life Evolver”.