Being Thankful at Thanksgiving

Of all the holidays celebrated in the United States, Thanksgiving may be the most universal. After all, not everyone enjoys the gift giving bonanza at Christmas. If you are not in love Valentine’s Day is painful and many people sleep through New Year’s Eve. Thanksgiving offers everyone a chance to share a meal with friends and loved ones for one quiet day.

As you gather around the table this week, I suggest you take time to share something that you are thankful for from this past year. Think of it as a preventive measure. After all, it is too easily to fall into the negative, whether around politics or personal preferences, and no one enjoys arguments over mashed potatoes and stuffing. Keeping the discussion focused to the items we are thankful for may offer a great boost of joy at the table and beyond. This is because gratitude has many positive benefits.

According to an article on Healthline, written by Bethany Fulton, gratitude offers many scientifically proven benefits. One of them is improved relationships.

Gratitude not only improves your physical and mental well-being; it may also improve your relationships.

Gratitude plays a key role in forming relationships, as well as in strengthening existing ones.

When it comes to romantic relationships, gratitude can help partners feel more satisfied with each other. One 2010 study showed that partners who demonstrated gratitude toward one another reported increased relationship satisfaction and improved happiness the following day.

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Additionally, being grateful also increases your optimism.

Being an optimistic person can have plenty of health benefits, including healthy aging, according to a 2019 studyTrusted Source. If you’re not naturally optimistic, gratitude practice can help you cultivate an optimistic outlook, as suggested by a 2018 study.

In an older 2003 study, it took just 10 weeks of regular gratitude practice for participants to feel more optimistic and positive about their present lives and the future.

Learn more benefits by reading the whole article. And to everyone celebrating this week, have a very happy Thanksgiving.

The Key to Mastery Is Not What You Expect

Many coaches instruct their clients that the best way to be good at something is to practice it over and over again. It is thought that narrow repetition of a specific move, skill, or technique will lead to mastery. However, it seems there is a better approach that will generate lasting benefit.

In an article on Scott H, Young’s web site, he points to recent research that supports the idea that variability is even more important than straight repetition. This is due to the idea of contextual interference. Young explains:

Contextual interference occurs when you practice the same skill, but vary the situations in which it is called for.

For instance, you could practice your tennis backhand by being served backhand shots repeatedly. Alternatively, your coach could mix things up: serve you backhand shots interspersed with balls that require a forehand shot.

Or imagine preparing for a calculus exam: you could study all the questions that require the chain rule, then all the questions that use the quotient rule. Instead, you might shuffle these questions together so you can’t be sure which technique is needed.

Young goes on to point out why contextual interference improves mastery. One of the reasons is:

Identifying problems correctly and ensuring the correct technique is associated with the problem. A major difficulty in learning isn’t getting knowledge into your head—but getting it out at the right time. Practice that repeats the same technique in narrow situations may result in skills that aren’t accessible when you need them.

Learn more about the advantages of variability in your training by reading the rest of the article.

The Fear That Should Scare You the Most

It is the day before Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve Eve?) and most people’s thoughts turn to frights! This is the season when we enjoy being scared. Of course, fears stay with us the entire year, but in the spirit of the spooky season, now is an ideal time to consider the fear that scares you the most.

Shola Richards has looked fear in the eye and blogged about it. In a post titled, Never Too Late, he shared the one thing that he fears the most. It is not snakes, vampires, the dark, or taxes, but something much simpler and profound.

I have always found it so strange when people say that they’re fearless. Let me tell you upfront that I’m not one of those people.

Just like most rationally thinking human beings, I have fears (quite a few, to be honest). And without question, this is the fear that scares me the most:

Looking back on my life and realizing that I haven’t lived fully.

How is that his greatest fear? Shola proceeds to tell us exactly why over the next few sentences.

If you are going to be afraid of something, don’t be afraid of what may happen if you decide to fully live your life and chase your dreams.

Instead, be afraid of what will happen if you decide not to fully live your life and allow the ghosts of “what might have been” to haunt you relentlessly for the rest of your days until you finally die with a pitiful whimper.

That’s freaking terrifying to me. It should be for you too.

Through this post, Shola is issuing a challenge. What plan or dream for your life is being left to gather dust on the shelf due to fear of failure or ridicule? Just as on Halloween we face illusionary frights then laugh about it afterwards, why not do the same with the fears around your goals?

Face the fear and see what happens next.

It may not be as scary as you fear.

Should You Trust Your Gut?

Have you ever faced a tough decision and been given the advice to trust your gut? We tend to assume there is an unconscious but highly aware part of ourselves that intuitively knows the right answer. All we have to do is trust it. However, is that true?

According to a new book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, called Don’t Trust Your Gut, the answer is no, especially if we want to be happy. In a recent interview article on Vox, journalist Sean Illing shares that “it’s wrong because our intuitions are often influenced by false impressions or dubious conventional wisdom.”

In a conversation with Stephens-Davidowitz, Illing asked him about which conditions are conducive to trusting your gut:

There have been these studies that show if you do something in a controlled environment, many times, then your intuition is able to sense things that it would be impossible to otherwise sense, such as a firefighter who can sense that there’s a fire even before it reaches conscious awareness or is visible.

So I think there are times where our gut can be useful. But I think our gut is massively overrated.

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Later on in the interview, the discussion turns to the connection between our gut reactions and happiness. Stephens-Davidowitz says about recent studies on the topic:

And they found all these things like, socializing, being with friends: really, really important. Being with your romantic partner: really, really important. Many of us think that we’re gonna have a good time if we just lie on our couch and browse the internet, or go on social media or play an iPhone game. And the data, when you actually ask people doing that, they tend to say they’re not particularly happy doing that.

Read the rest of the article on Vox.

The High Cost of Delaying Decisions

Have you ever had a tough time making a decision? If so, were you tempted to delay making that choice? If so, did it make the situation better or worse?

Most of the time we think that delaying making a decision will give us more useful time to deliberate which should ultimately lead to a better decision. However, is that true?

In an article by Hollie Richardson called, Decision-Making: Research Shows What Happens When We Wait for “Something Better”, it becomes clear that there is a cost to delaying decisions. As she points out:

Christiane Baumann, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology, explained the way people think as being like: “The price that I am prepared to pay increases every day by the same amount. That is, the further along I am in the process, the higher the price I will accept.”

This principle can be applied not only to purchases, but also situations such as choice of an employer or a romantic partner: “At the beginning perhaps my standards are high. But over time they may lower so that in the end I may settle for someone I would have rejected in the beginning.”

Basically, the longer we leave it to make a decision, the more we’re prepared to gamble, and our standards can drop.

With this in mind, what decision are you putting off making? What if you made that decision right now?

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

Get It Out of Your Head

Even though I have taught productivity practices for over ten years, I still find myself being human and slipping back into old ways. Recently I forgot where I placed something important. It happened weeks ago and I have no clear memory in my head about where it could be. It is very frustrating!

Has that ever happened to you?

This incident reminded me of a central tenet of GTD that should be written on my brain. It is the simple practice of getting stuff out your head and into a trusted system.

David Allen, creator of GTD, has often said that our mind is a crappy office space. It is designed for having ideas, not holding them. Despite our remarkable ability to remember lots of things, the mundane details of life can easily escape our memory at any point. This doesn’t take long to happen. For example, have you ever misplaced the keys that were in your hand five minutes ago? How about the promise you made to your boss about meeting a deadline that sailed out of your head the moment you left her office? And how do we ever forget those big events that one should always remember, like a family birthday or anniversary?

Thankfully, the solution to all this is very simple. Keep lists of important items in a trusted place. For me I use the reminder app and calendar on the iPhone for personal items and my Outlook calendar and its reminder functions for work items. The trick is to overcome the inherent human laziness to put off work to another day. The best practice is to put these reminders into your system immediately to ensure they are captured.

When a system like this is set up, it becomes automatic to complete anything. One example from my life is an end of day list that pops up at 8 pm. This includes items such as ensuring the cars are locked up for the night, that the dog gets her pill, and that my daughter has her school laptop on the charger. It is all simple stuff, but easy to forget when tired brain takes over at the end of a busy day.

Therefore, I invite you to recommit to the practice of getting stuff out of your head and into a trusted system. It is the best way to go to bed with a clear head.

When is it Best to be First or Last in a List?

Every day we make choices. Usually, we believe that our decisions are made rationally and fully under our control. However, studies have clearly shown that our minds are influenced by factors beyond our recognition. In fact, it is possible to design systems that guide people to make specific decisions without them even knowing it.

One way this happens is through choice architecture. This is the science of building the system through which the choices are presented. Whether this is a survey, restaurant menu, or car building web site, the order and types of choices can bias the decision maker. It need not be nefarious; it is simply an aspect of the limitations built into all choice architecture designs.

In his book, The Elements of Choice, Eric J. Johnson discusses the field of choice architecture in great detail. One specific example he explores is how placement on a list affects choice.

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Lists are a common choice architecture design. No matter if it is a list of three items or three hundred, the placement of items on the list impacts decisions. However, the format in which the list is presented also has an impact. It changes the location on the list where someone would want their preferred choice to be located.

For example, if the list is text only and the reader is in control of where to place their eyes, then the first spot is almost always the most selected. Examples of this type of list presentation are restaurant menus or short option lists, such as election ballots. However, when the decision maker is listening to a list or has no ability to move backward or forward by choice, then the final slot is the most selected. Examples of this are judging competitions that involve artistic merit, or simply having a friend recite a list of potential movies to watch on a weekend night.

This is a key difference. In the first case, people are judging their choices based on the first item presented. It anchors the decision. In the second case, the decision maker is working off memory, which tends to be strained as the list grows longer. This causes the most attention to fall on the later items.

Read more about how choice architecture affects our decisions in The Elements of Choice.

An Underappreciated Leadership Skill

By nature of the position, leaders are required to make decisions. While experience and training are very helpful to make good calls in challenging situations, it may not be enough. In this fast changing world, there is an important skill that will help leaders of all types succeed. It is the power of critical thinking,

In a recent article in Inc. magazine titled, Want to Improve Your Leadership Skills? Focus on Critical Thinking, executive coach Bruce Eckfelt lays out the primary reason that critical thinking is a vital skill for today’s leaders.

As a business grows in size, so does the complexity and scope of its problems and challenges. Without good critical-thinking skills, leaders will make poor decisions and fail to take advantage of strategic opportunities. Very often, what holds the business back from reaching its true potential is a lack in the leadership of foresight and effective problem-solving skills.

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To enhance this skill, Eckfelt provides five ways to improve critical thinking skills. The first is something librarians loves to do: gather more and better data.

The first thing I emphasize is that most teams try to make decisions with limited and poor-quality data. Good critical thinkers start by collecting as much high-quality data as possible. They don’t take things at face value. They question summaries and dig to make sure that they really understand what’s happening on the ground and maximize the raw information they have to work with.

Learn the other four ways to improve your critical thinking skills by reading the article.

Do You Want to Be Happy? Are You Sure?

Are you happy right now? Were you happy today? How about yesterday?

Most people when asked would say that experiencing happiness is an important part of life. When polled, people said they had the most happiness when socializing with friends and family. Yet why is it that we often prioritize spending long hours at work which prevents us from having fun?

An article on Quartz by Ephrat Livni, explores this seeming paradox and uncovers a potential explanation why were behave this way. The article discusses research findings made by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman that point to the balancing act between happiness and satisfaction.

Kahneman contends that happiness and satisfaction are distinct. Happiness is a momentary experience that arises spontaneously and is fleeting. Meanwhile, satisfaction is a long-term feeling, built over time and based on achieving goals and building the kind of life you admire. On the Dec. 19 podcast “Conversations with Tyler,” hosted by economist Tyler Cowen, Kahneman explains that working toward one goal may undermine our ability to experience the other.

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A key factor in how people navigate the line between happiness and satisfaction is linked to memory.

The key here is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective. Happiness occurs in real time. In Kahneman’s work, he found that people tell themselves a story about their lives, which may or may not add up to a pleasing tale. Yet, our day-to-day experiences yield positive feelings that may not advance that longer story, necessarily. Memory is enduring. Feelings pass. Many of our happiest moments aren’t preserved—they’re not all caught on camera but just happen. And then they’re gone.

Read the rest of the article on Quartz.