Tag Archives: brain

An ancient memorization strategy might cause lasting changes to the brain

By Rachel Becker

Weird as it might sound, there are competitive rememberers out there who can memorize a deck of cards in seconds or dozens of words in minutes. So, naturally, someone decided to study them. It turns out that practicing their techniques doesn’t just improve your memory — it can also change how your brain works.

There’s been a long-standing debate about whether memory athletes are born with superior memories, or whether their abilities are due to their training regimens. These tend to include an ancient memorization strategy called the method of loci, which involves visualizing important pieces of information placed at key stops along a mental journey. This journey can be an imaginary walk through your house or a local park, or your drive to work. The important thing is that you can mentally move back through it to retrieve the pieces of information you stored. (The ancient Greeks are said to have used it to remember important texts.)

Boris Nikolai Konrad, a memory coach and athlete who’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for memorizing 201 names and faces in just 15 minutes, chalks his superior memory abilities up to training with this and other mnemonic techniques. “It’s a sport like any other,” Konrad told The Verge. Only, he adds, “you’re not moving that much.” But practicing is key.

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Some Narcissists Actually Make Great Leaders, New Science Says

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Google “working for a narcissist” and you’ll get a host of horror stories, from employees wooed and then quickly dumped by charming leaders to bosses lashing out about insanely minor offenses. Taken together these tales make working for a narcissist seem like nightmare, but are narcissists always such terrible leaders?

Not according to new science, which paint a more nuanced picture of whether organizations (and individuals) should always steer clear of the grandiose and self-admiring. While most narcissists are totally toxic, this research shows that some narcissistic traits, in the right doses, can actually help teams get ahead.

It’s information that both companies looking to hire leaders, and those baffled by why so many at the top seem to display such an inflated sense of self worth, should read.

Meet the holier-than-thou narcissist

The latest of these studies was conducted by Randall S. Peterson and S. Wiley Wakeman, both of the London Business School. The pair of researchers wrote up their intriguing findings for the HBR blogs recently.

All narcissists are not the same, Peterson, Wakerman explain in their post. While most are obsessed with their own self-worth, a subset of narcissists inflate their egos by being self-sacrificing. These are the holier-than-thou folks who get a big ego boost from feeling morally superior and displaying all the extravagant ways they endure hardship to help others. You’ve probably met (and perhaps been irritated by) someone like this yourself.

Psychologists call these folks “communal narcissists,” and according to studies conducted by Peterson and Wakerman they can actually behave in extravagantly selfless ways. The underlying motive might be to boost their own ego, but because their self-worth is so wrapped up in their idea of themselves as saint-like this actually produces helpful rather than harmful behavior.

When, if ever, is it OK to hire a narcissist?

These findings add to an existing body of research that shows that while narcissists often poison their teams in the medium and long-term, creating a tangle of hurt feelings and burning resentments, the confidence and charm that come with narcissism can be a great leg up in the shorter term.

So what’s an organization to do? Should companies entirely avoid hiring or promoting anyone with narcissistic tendencies or do the benefits sometimes outweigh the harm?

The scientists behind these studies all seem to agree on the answer: rather than view narcissism as an evil to be always avoided, organizations should strive to understand that small doses of the characteristic are often inseparable from high achievement and make rational cost-benefit analyses.

“Instead of avoiding narcissists, organizations may be better served in selecting the right type of narcissist,” Peterson and Wakerman conclude. “Finding communal narcissists could bring the best of both worlds, delivering not only drive, charisma, and vision but also contributions to the greater good.”

Have you ever worked for a communal narcissist? What was the experience like?

Read the original article HERE

9 Ways to Train Your Brain to Be a Better Leader

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Admittedly, it took me years to realize that success is achieved not over long periods of time, but instantaneously in life’s brief, honest moments.

I can remember each instance when a thought or belief occurred to me out of the blue, which forever changed my outlook on my entrepreneurial journey. In fact, I have found time and time again that what separates brilliant leaders from average ones is having the right mindset from the start, and that insight helps explain why hard work alone doesn’t always produce successful outcomes. In fact, this epiphany about adopting a mindset for rapid success is exactly what led me to name this column, “Success in Seconds.”

So, to help you get into the right frame of mind for achieving success, here are my 9 easy mental tricks to become a better leader, which I’ve personally learned by working with leaders from local restaurateurs to Warren Buffett himself:

1. Be Overly Grateful

We all have thoughts of gratitude at times; for instance, when you’re in the car, thinking about how much you love working with one of your employees. Or, when you’re reading on the weekend, thinking about how much your spouse means to you. But, how often do you act on those thoughts?

To prevent those thoughts from slipping away, I now write them down or I pick up my phone and craft a thank-you email right there on the spot. And while I’m at it, I think of someone else I should thank, too, because there’s no such thing as being too grateful for exceptional leaders.

2. Adopt a Servant Attitude

At the start of the year, my agency holds our strategic planning session. When it came to re-clarifying our purpose this year, one of my colleagues said, “help others win.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks: helping others win is exactly the attitude we reflect at the agency, and we had never been able to put it so succinctly before. Honestly, I can’t take credit for our servant attitude; rather, my business partner has always naturally possessed an honorable, servant mentality, and instilled it throughout the entire organization from the beginning. Knowing that our sole purpose is to serve makes a lot of our employee and client interactions a lot clearer from a leadership perspective.

3. Develop an Abundance Mindset

A lot has been written on the power of an abundance mindset, which describes the personal belief that there is always enough to go around (as opposed to a scarcity mindset, in which someone believes resources are in short supply).

Personally, I always thought I had an abundance mentality. I would say things like, “I feel like I have everything I need in friendships, happiness, marriage, travel and more–the only thing left is money!”

That’s when I realized that although I thought I had an abundance mindset, I actually had a scarcity mindset about the one thing I focused on most – money! Since then, I’ve been reminding myself that I have plenty–no matter how much I have–and to be overly grateful, as great leaders always are.

4. Give Your Time

Plenty of successful people give financial resources to good causes. But, money isn’t the most valuable thing in the world–time is.

By physically removing yourself from the daily grind and helping others–either in mentorship or in a program like Junior Achievement–you’ll not only change the lives of others, but you’ll also gain clarity and perspective from the time you’ll spend away from the daily grind.

I’ve found that giving my time to others gives me the mental rest of a vacation with the added benefit of helping others–a win-win! That’s why brilliant leaders always give away their most valuable resource, time.

5. Aim Higher

Achieving a true growth mindset takes a gutsy commitment to going big. However, I’ve found that entrepreneurs who want to grow steadily at a small clip, like 10 percent per year, never take the big business steps that are necessary to evolve with our rapidly-changing world. Therefore, they are surprised to find that they can’t achieve growth at all.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs who have take-over-the-world aspirations learn faster, adapt more quickly and are better able to recognize roadblocks before they even arrive, making their growth almost a guaranteed result.

Simply aiming higher will put you in the right frame of mind for achieving growth and avoiding pitfalls, which is exactly what the best leaders must do as stewards of their organizations.

6. Admit Your Weaknesses

There are two kinds of entrepreneurs: those who need to keep control of every job in the company, and those who can’t wait to shed every job but the one key role that fits the entrepreneur.

I’m in the latter camp, and now I serve only as a creative director and strategist instead of doing the twenty jobs I had when we started. However, what I’ve learned is that to appropriately delegate, you must first be able to admit your weaknesses. Without that first critical step, you’ll never take the leap to hiring around your weaknesses, and there’s simply no way for an entrepreneur to scale up without a complementary team.

7. Accentuate Your Strengths

I consider myself decent at admitting weaknesses, but it turns out I’m not so good at accentuating strengths. For instance, I’ve always been comfortable with my writing, but never considered all the ways in which I could use writing to serve my company.

Now, I’ve settled into not only creative copywriting, but also proposal writing, thought leadership writing and lead magnet writing. All of these roles fit within my core job of overseeing creative and strategy, but they also let me fully flex my best strength in every way it serves the company.

8. Prioritize Yourself

While adopting a servant attitude is a critical piece of having a growth mindset, prioritizing yourself over anyone else is arguably even more important. This is akin to putting on your oxygen mask before the person next to you on the airplane; if you aren’t taking care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually, you can’t effectively give your time and energy to others.

So, don’t be ashamed to meditate, take long walks, enjoy a longer lunch and ignore your phone on Saturday (I admit, I’m still working on that one). A burnt-out entrepreneur is no good to anyone, and it’s your responsibility to keep yourself in great shape.

9. Use the Present Tense

This is a trick I learned in a goal-planning guide I picked up from Sandler Training. It talks about the importance of using “I am” or “I have” instead of “I want.”

What I’ve learned the hard way is that wanting something only leads to more wanting. But, affirming in the present tense allows your subconscious mind to work behind the scenes to make your affirmation a reality. I know this sounds like voodoo, but trust me–I’ve seen it work too many times, firsthand and with other entrepreneurs, to ignore it. So, the next time you’re wishing you could be a multimillionaire, say to yourself, “I am a multimillionaire!”

As I always say, being an entrepreneur has taught me 10 percent more about business, 100 percent more about people and 1,000 percent more about myself. These small tweaks in your mindset can make all the difference between stagnating in obscurity or achieving incredible success.

Individually, each of these tricks is a powerful tool to keep us entrepreneurs moving forward through the ups and downs. But together, these 9 ways provide a powerful toolbox to thrive and become the brilliant leaders we know we can be!

Read the original article HERE

 

Positive Psychology is Not Equivalent to Positive Thinking

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Last year, I officially completed the requirements of Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. Recently, I read Morgan Mitchell’s Newsweek article, The ‘Tyranny’ of Positive Thinking can Threaten Your Health and Happiness. This article makes a fundamental error concerning the definition of positive psychology, and I wish to correct that error.

Before World War II, psychology focused on three areas: curing mental illness, cultivating high talent, and making people’s lives more fulfilling and productive. Post WWII, economic incentives shifted psychology’s focus solely to pathology. Chief among these incentives were the decisions of grant-making bodies to fund research related to pathology and the realization among psychologists that they could earn a living treating mental illness.

Seligman and others (circa 1998) first conceived of positive psychology as a “science of human strengths,” seeking to prevent mental illness by cultivating human strengths. By 2006, positive psychology was also described as “seeking to promote human potential.” Today, positive psychology uses the scientific method to study the factors that contribute to human well-being.

William James

The belief that humans can increase their well-being is not new. It can be traced back through the centuries and across cultures. Aristotle pondered a state of “being happy” (as opposed to “feeling happy”) he called eudaemonia. William James argued that our actions could lead to a state of happiness distinct from feeling happy. Seligman expressed the view that the absence of mental illness does not imply the presence of mental wellness.

The focus on using the scientific method, testing ideas and obtaining evidence before drawing conclusions, is what differentiates positive psychology from many books in the self-help section. As a result, Mitchell’s claim that a simplified form of positive psychology exists is incorrect.

Furthermore, research suggests that positive results are not limited to positive stimuli. For example, fear and anger have been shown to narrow selective attention. This effect is useful when a situation demands that we focus on a task or particular set of instructions. Additionally, the concept of post-traumatic growth is defined as a positive change which stems from a traumatic life event, generally an experience that nobody would choose.

Too much of a bad thing can be bad for you. But too much of a good thing can also be bad for you. Too much confidence can beget arrogance. Too much optimism can cause you to miss signs of danger. An overemphasis on autonomy can prevent you from seeking much needed help. None of these outcomes would be in line with Seligman’s original vision or with positive psychology as it stands today.

Researchers and practitioners of positive psychology do not consider approaches without grounding in scientific evidence to be part of positive psychology. Neither would they consider an approach that involves only positive thinking tp be part of positive psychology. Just as overcoming mental illness takes work on the part of a patient, so too does increasing one’s well-being.

It is unfortunate that Mitchell conflates self-help and positive psychology. However, positive psychology has sometimes been misunderstood as being happiology, the study of a hedonic superficial form of happiness, since at least 2006. Unfortunately, some authors who disregard positive psychology’s focus on the scientific method claim their work to be positive psychology in order to cash in on its popularity. I hope clarifying this distinction helps others differentiate between what might be positive psychology and what is not.

Read the original article HERE

The Five Levels of Learning

By Rick Warren

From the beginning, Pastor Rick’s vision for Saddleback Church was to attract unbelievers, lead them to Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit grow them into mature believers, and send them out on mission, all for God’s global glory. His goal was always to be a disciple-making and sending church. Out of this vision, came the Purpose Driven paradigm as the intentional process to accomplish this goal.

He first asked the question, “What is spiritual maturity?” and then, “How might one measure it?” He knew it was a myth that spiritual maturity is measured only on what you know. Pastor Rick says, “Many churches evaluate spiritual maturity solely on the basis of how well you can identify Bible characters, interpret Bible passages, quote Bible verses, and explain biblical theology. The ability to debate doctrine is considered by some as the ultimate proof of spirituality.” Some people who are not even believers have an incredible knowledge of the Bible without any spiritual growth in their lives. Spiritual maturity is not just cognitive.

So, he set about to discover the characteristics of spiritual maturity and how leadership could measure it. He came to the conclusion that spiritual growth could be measured by five factors. Pastor Rick calls it, the “Five Levels of Learning – the Building Blocks of Spiritual Growth.”

The five levels of learning are developmental in nature, that is, each one builds on the other. Spiritual maturity begins with knowledge, but includes the presence of other building blocks.

Knowledge

Knowledge is knowing the content of God’s Word, and gaining a working understanding of the books, events and people of the Bible. Without this knowledge, you don’t have an essential foundation. It is the first step to spiritual maturity, the building block with which you begin.

The Bible says in Hosea,

“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

That’s how important this is.

But is knowledge all you need? Obviously not. The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 8, says if all I have is knowledge it just puffs me up, makes me prideful. “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” So I need both.

I need more than knowledge. There are some people in church, who come in and fill up notebook after notebook, yet somehow they never transfer the notebook knowledge into their hearts.

They have a whole notebook about compassion but they’re the sourest person you’ve ever met. What’s happening?

They have a whole notebook about what the Bible says about the power of Jesus in their life, yet when you look at their lives, there is no power. What’s happening?

It’s the fact that knowledge is not enough. Some people just fill themselves with more and more knowledge.

They’ve got lots of knowledge. They think they’re spiritual giants. But they’re really bloated believers. They’re fatter and fatter with knowledge. They get so fat with knowledge that when they come to church, you have to roll them down the aisle to get them to their seats. (This is where the term “holy rollers” came from!) They have so much in their heads, but somehow it never gets in their heart.

You have to have knowledge but you also need …

Perspective

Knowledge is knowing the content of God’s word. Perspective is seeing things from God’s point of view, having a Christian world view. It is understanding why God does what he does. The Apostle Paul tells us that perspective is a mark of spiritual maturity,

“Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14 (NAS)

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God… because they are spiritually discerned.” Corinthians 2:14

When I have perspective, I can love God more. What if you could see the sin that you struggle with as God sees it? It wouldn’t last if we could really see it like God sees it. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about perspective. It helps me love Him more.

Another word for perspective, and not a very popular word today, is the word “doctrine.”

Christian doctrine is Christian perspective. Christian doctrine is Christian worldview. One of Saddleback Church’s ways to help our members get God’s perspective is the doctrine class we call Foundations. This class is built on the eleven doctrines that are at the center of our perspective on life.

When you understand the truth about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, you understand the truth about life; you see life as God meant us to see it.

Another aspect of perspective is knowing how God has worked in the past. It gives us a glimpse into how he may work with and through us in the present. You need knowledge and you need perspective.

As you look through the list of doctrines, you may find that there are some truths for which you have a greater sense of conviction about than others. This conviction is the third building block that is vital to our growth as believers.

Convictions

Having convictions means developing godly values, commitments, and motivations.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (NAS)

An opinion is something that I’ll argue with you about, but a conviction is very different. A conviction is something that I’ll die for. A conviction is something that has caught my life and all of me.

When I was a new believer, I did things because other Christians did things. They prayed, I prayed. They went to church; I went to church. I found that the more I grew as a believer, the more I developed my own convictions about those things so that whether or not anyone else was doing it, it was something I would decide to do. That’s the development of conviction in our lives.

“The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.” Romans 14:22 (NAS)

Of everyone who walked this earth, Jesus was a man of deep conviction. Do a study of the times that Jesus said, “I must do this.” You will see that his life was guided by convictions. So every class, every study, every experience, everything we do as leaders should have as its intent to build conviction in people’s thinking and actions.

Conviction is the turning point in a person’s journey to spiritual maturity. Once people are clear in their convictions, they are motivated to develop skills to live them out.

Skills

Skills are learning the “how-to’s” of Christian living and ministry.

“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.” Ecclesiastes 10:10

How to share your faith, how to pray, how to get answers. There are some people who have a great conviction about something, but they don’t have the skill yet.

Have you known anybody who had a great conviction about witnessing, for instance, but didn’t have the skill? So they’d beat people over the head, almost, with the Bible. They had a lot of conviction, but they were chasing people away. Somebody just needed to give them the skills.

Some people have a great conviction about prayer, but they don’t have the skill yet. No one has set them down and taught them how the Bible teaches us to pray.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman… who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

Starting with a foundation of knowledge, gaining perspective by understanding God’s point of view, holding convictions upon which we stake our lives, gives one the motivation to build skills, all of which results in Christ-like character, our ultimate goal.

Character

Character is becoming like Christ in attitudes and actions. There is not a better definition of spiritual maturity than these three words, “Being Like Christ.” Like Jesus in the way we act … the way we think … the way we feel … the way we believe.

“The GOAL of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy. 1:5 (NAS)

“We must become like a mature person, growing until we become like Christ and have his perfection.” Ephesians. 4:13b (NCV)

“You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and ore of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ…” Colossians 3:10 (LB)

This is a goal that we’ll spend the rest of our lives reaching towards! Have you ever met a person who said, “I’m as like Jesus as I want to be, I’ve finished the job and I act exactly as Jesus would act in every situation?” No, of course not!

We must be intentional in every strategy, program, and teaching opportunity to “make disciples.” It doesn’t happen by accident. Understand that the five levels build on each other. At each level we have a goal for our people and must ask ourselves vital questions as we develop our strategies and programs.

Read the original article HERE

Wayne Dyer’s 12-Step Program to Simplicity

By Wayne Dyer

Wayne Dyer’s 12-Step Program to Simplicity is excerpted with permission from Chapter 8 of Wayne Dyer’s book, Living An Inspired Life.

For a moment, let’s imagine what it would be like to be fully alive without a physical shell or any of the stuff we need and desire for maintaining life on Earth.

We’d have a mental energy that allowed us to move forward or backward, up or down, instantly creating whatever we desired. We’d be free to wallow in an exquisite existence without time or space as we know it.

We’d be in a state of pure bliss, in love with everything and everyone. We’d have no duties or bills to tend to, no fear of losing anything, no one judging us, no possessions to insure, no demands on our time, and no goals to achieve.

What we’re envisioning is actually the world of Spirit, which we experienced before we came here and will return to when we shed our body (or as William Butler Yeats poetically called it, our “tattered coat upon a stick”).

Remember that a central premise of this book is that inspiration is a state of being here now in this material world, while at the same time reconnecting to our spiritual origins. In order to be receptive to inspiration, we need to eliminate the ego clutter that accumulates all too easily for most of us—after all, if we’re preoccupied with events and activities that have nothing to do with inspiration, we’re unlikely to notice its summons. So in order to achieve a reunion with our ultimate calling, we need to emulate the clear, uncomplicated world of Spirit.

While the theme of this chapter is that inspiration is simple, this doesn’t mean that we should sit around doing nothing, awaiting Spirit’s arrival; instead, it means having faith that our spiritual connection flourishes in a life dedicated to joy, love, and peace. If our daily activities are so overwhelming that we don’t make [joy, love, and peace] our priority, then we’re disregarding the value of living a simple life.

The 12-Step Program to Simplicity

Rather than giving you some general suggestions for implementing the ideas herein, I’m going to give you 12 very specific tools for simplifying your life. Begin using them today if you’re serious about hearing that ultimate call to inspiration.

You’ll feel a real rush of inspiration when you clear out stuff that’s no longer useful in your life:

  1. If you haven’t worn it in the past year or two, recycle it for others to use.
  2. Get rid of old files that take up space and are seldom, if ever, needed.
  3. Donate unused toys, tools, books, bicycles, and dishes to a charitable organization.

Read the Full Article HERE

 

The Universe or Multi-Verse

By Tasneem Zehra Husain

How do you feel about the multiverse?” The question was not out of place in our impromptu dinner-table lecture, yet it caught me completely off-guard. It’s not that I’ve never been asked about the multiverse before, but explaining a theoretical construct is quite different to saying how you feel about it. I can put forth all the standard arguments and list the intellectual knots a multiverse would untangle; I can sail through the facts and technicalities, but I stumble over the implications.

In physics we’re not supposed to talk about how we feel. We are a hard-nosed, quantitative, and empirical science. But even the best of our dispassionate analysis begins only after we have decided which avenue to pursue. When a field is nascent, there tend to be a range of options to consider, all of which have some merit, and often we are just instinctively drawn to one. This choice is guided by an emotional reasoning that transcends logic. Which position you choose to align yourself with is, as Stanford University physicist Leonard Susskind says, “about more than scientific facts and philosophical principles. It is about what constitutes good taste in science. And like all arguments about taste, it involves people’s aesthetic sensibilities.”

The debate over the multiverse is a fight about identity and consequence.

My own research is in string theory, and one of its features is that there exist many logically consistent versions of the universe other than our own. The same process that created our universe can also bring those other possibilities to life, creating an infinity of other universes where everything that can occur, does. The chain of arguments starts from a place I’m familiar with, and I can follow the flourishes that the equations make as they dance down the page toward this particular conclusion, but, while I understand the multiverse as a mathematical construction, I cannot bring myself to believe it will leap out of the realm of theory and find a manifestation in physical reality. How do I pretend I have no problem accepting the fact that infinite copies of me might be parading around in parallel worlds making choices both identical to, and different from, mine?

I am not alone in my ambivalence. The multiverse has been hotly debated and continues to be a source of polarization among some of the most prominent scientists of the day. The debate over the multiverse is not a conversation about the particulars of a theory. It is a fight about identity and consequence, about what constitutes an explanation, what proof consists of, how we define science, and whether there is a point to it all.

M104/NGC4594
AN INFINITY OF GALAXIESGalaxies like the Sombrero Galaxy fill space for as far as we can see—and presumably farther.
NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Whenever I talk about the multiverse, one of the questions that inevitably comes up is one I actually have an answer to. Whether we live in a universe or multiverse, these classifications relate to scales so large they defy imagination. No matter the outcome, life around us isn’t going to change one way or another. Why does it matter?

It matters because where we are influences who we are. Different places call forth different reactions, give rise to different possibilities; the same object can look dramatically different against different backgrounds. In more ways than we are perhaps conscious of, we are molded by the spaces we inhabit. The universe is the ultimate expanse. It contains every arena, every context in which we can realize existence. It represents the sum total of possibilities, the complete set of all we can be.

A measurement makes sense only within a reference frame. Numbers are clearly abstract until paired with units, but even vague assessments such as “too far,” “too small,” and “too strange” presume a coordinate system. Too far invokes an origin; too small refers to a scale; too strange implies a context. Unlike units, which are always stated, the reference frame of assumptions is seldom specified, and yet the values we assign to things—objects, phenomena, experiences—are calibrated against these invisible axes.

If we find out that all we know, and all we can ever know, is just one pocket in the multiverse, the entire foundation upon which we have laid our coordinate grid shifts. Observations don’t change, but implications do. The presence of those other bubble universes out there might not impact the numbers we measure here on our instruments, but could radically impact the way we interpret them.

The first thing that strikes you about the multiverse is its immensity. It is larger than anything humankind has ever dealt with before—the aggrandizement is implicit in the name. It would be understandable if the passionate responses provoked by the multiverse came from feeling diminished. Yet the size of the multiverse is perhaps its least controversial feature.

At some point in our history, we appear to have made peace with the fact we are infinitesimal.

Gian Giudice, head of CERN’s theory group, speaks for most physicists when he says that one look at the sky sets us straight. We already know our scale. If the multiverse turns out to be real, he says, “the problem of me versus the vastness of the universe won’t change.” In fact, many find comfort in the cosmic perspective. Framed against the universe, all our troubles, all the drama of daily life, diminishes so dramatically that “anything that happens here is irrelevant,” says physicist and author Lawrence Krauss. “I find great solace in that.”

From the stunning photographs the Hubble Space telescope has beamed back to Octavio Paz’s poems of “the enormous night” to Monty Python’s “Galaxy Song” to be sung “whenever life gets you down,” there is Romanticism associated with our Lilliputian magnitude. At some point in our history, we appear to have made  peace with the fact we are infinitesimal.

If it isn’t because we are terrified of the scale, are we resistant to the notion of the multiverse because it involves worlds that are out of sight and seem doomed to remain so? This is indeed a common complaint I hear from my colleagues. South African physicist George Ellis (who is strongly opposed to the multiverse) and British cosmologist Bernard Carr (an equally strong advocate) have discussed such issues in a series of fascinating conversations. Carr suggests their fundamental point of diversion concerns “which features of science are to be regarded as sacrosanct.” Experimentation is the traditional benchmark. Comparative observations are an acceptable substitute: Astronomers cannot manipulate galaxies, but do observe them by the millions, in various forms and stages. Neither approach fits the multiverse. Does it therefore lie outside the domain of science?

If galaxies we know of can exist in some distant region beyond sight, who’s to say other things can’t be there, too?

Susskind, one of the fathers of string theory, sounds a reassuring note. There is a third approach to empirical science: to infer unseen objects and phenomena from those things we do see. We don’t have to go as far as causally disconnected regions of spacetime to find examples. Subatomic particles will do. Quarks are permanently bound together into protons, neutrons, and other composite particles. “They are, so to speak, hidden behind a … veil,” Susskind says, “but by now, although no single quark has ever been seen in isolation, there is no one who seriously questions the correctness of the quark theory. It is part of the bedrock foundation of modern physics.”

Because the universe is now expanding at an accelerating rate, galaxies that currently lie on the horizon of our field of vision will soon be pushed over the edge. We don’t expect them to tumble into oblivion anymore than we expect a ship to disintegrate when it sails over the horizon. If galaxies we know of can exist in some distant region beyond sight, who’s to say other things can’t be there, too? Things we’ve never seen and never will? Once we admit the possibility that there are regions beyond our purview, the implications grow exponentially. The British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, compares this line of reasoning to aversion therapy. When you admit to there being galaxies beyond our present horizon, you “start out with a little spider a long distance away,” but, before you know it, you unleash the possibility of a multiverse—populated with infinite worlds, perhaps quite different to your own—find “a tarantula crawling all over you.”

The lack of ability to directly manipulate objects has never really figured in my personal criteria for a good physical theory, anyway. Whatever bothers me about the multiverse, I’m sure it isn’t this.

The multiverse challenges yet another of our most cherished beliefs—that of uniqueness. Could this be the root of our trouble with it? As Tufts cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin explains, no matter how large our observable region is, as long as it is finite, it can only be in a finite number of quantum states; specifying these states uniquely determines the contents of the region. If there are infinitely many such regions, the same configuration will necessarily be replicated elsewhere. Our exact world here—down to the last detail—will be replicated. Since the process continues into infinity, there will eventually be not one, but infinite copies of us.

Ballerina
EVERYTHING THAT CAN HAPPEN, DOESIn the multiverse, possibility is actuality. Multiple-exposure photograph of ballerina Margot Fonteyn.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I did find the presence of all these copies depressing,” Vilenkin says. “Our civilization may have many drawbacks, but at least we could claim it is unique—like a piece of art. And now we can no longer say that.” I know what he means. That bothers me, too, but I’m not sure it quite gets to the root of my discontent. As Vilenkin says, somewhat wistfully: “I am not presumptuous enough to tell reality what it should be.”

The crux of the debate, at least for me, lies in a strange irony. Although the multiverse enlarges our concept of physical reality to an almost unimaginable extent, it feels claustrophobic in that it demarcates an outer limit to our knowledge and our capacity to acquire knowledge. We theorists dream of a world without arbitrariness, whose equations are entirely self-contained. Our goal is to find a theory so logically complete, so tightly constrained by self-consistency, that it can only take that one unique form. Then, at least, even if we don’t know where the theory came from or why, the structure will not seem arbitrary. All the fundamental constants of nature would emerge “out of math and π and 2’s,” as Berkeley physicist Raphael Bousso puts it.

An infinity of universes is simpler than a single universe would be—there is less to explain.

This is the lure of Einstein’s general theory of relativity—the reason physicists all over the world exclaim at its extraordinary, enduring beauty. Considerations of symmetry dictate the equations so clearly that the theory seems inevitable. That is what we have wanted to replicate in other domains of physics. And so far we have failed.

For decades, scientists have looked for a physical reason why the fundamental constants should take on the values they do, but none has thus far been found. In fact, when we use our current theories to guess at the probable value at some of these parameters, the answers are so far from what is measured that it is laughable. But then how do we explain these parameters? If there is just this one unique universe, the parameters governing its design are invested with a special significance. Either the process governing them is completely random or there must be some logic, perhaps even some design, behind the selection.

Neither option seems particularly appealing. As scientists, we spend our lives looking for laws because we believe there are reasons why things happen, even when we don’t understand them; we look for patterns because we think there is some order to the universe even if we don’t see it. Pure, random chance is not something that fits in with that worldview.

But to invoke design isn’t very popular either, because it entails an agency that supersedes natural law. That agency must exercise choice and judgment, which—in the absence of a rigid, perfectly balanced, and tightly constrained structure, like that of general relativity—is necessarily arbitrary. There is something distinctly unsatisfying about the idea of there being several logically possible universes, of which only one is realized. If that were the case, as cosmologist Dennis Sciama said, you would have to think “there’s [someone] who looks at this list and says ‘well we’re not going to have that that one, and we won’t have that one. We’ll have that one, only that one.’ ”

There may well be nothing special about our entire universe, except for the fact that it is ours.

Personally speaking, that scenario, with all its connotations of what could have been, makes me sad. Floating in my mind is a faint collage of images: forlorn children in an orphanage in some forgotten movie when one from the group is adopted; the faces of people who feverishly chased a dream, but didn’t make it; thoughts of first-trimester miscarriages. All these things that almost came to life, but didn’t, rankle. Unless there’s a theoretical constraint ruling out all possibilities but one, the choice seems harsh and unfair.

In such a carefully calibrated creation, how are we to explain needless suffering? Since such philosophical, ethical, and moral concerns are not the province of physics, most scientists avoid commenting on them, but Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg spelled it out: “Whether our lives show evidence for a benevolent designer … is a question you will all have to answer for yourselves. My life has been remarkably happy … but even so, I have seen a mother painfully die of cancer, a father’s personality destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease and scores of second and third cousins murdered in the Holocaust. Signs of a benevolent designer are pretty well hidden.”

In the face of pain, an element of randomness is far easier to accept than either the callous negligence or the deliberate malevolence of an otherwise meticulously planned universe.

The multiverse promised to extricate us from these awful thoughts, to provide a third option that overcame the dilemma of explanation.

To be sure, physicists didn’t invent it for that purpose. The multiverse emerged out of other lines of thought. The theory of cosmic inflation was intended to explain the broad-scale smoothness and flatness of the universe we see. “We were looking for a simple explanation of why the universe looks like a big balloon,” says Stanford physicist Andrei Linde. “We didn’t know we had bought something else.” This something else was the realization that our big bang was not unique, and that there should in fact be an infinite number of them, each creating a disconnected domain of spacetime.

Then string theory came along. String theory is currently the best contender we have for a unified theory of everything. It not only achieves the impossible—reconciling gravity and quantum mechanics—but insists upon it. But for a scheme which reduces the enormous variety of our universe to a minimalist set of building blocks, string theory suffers from a singularly embarrassing problem: We don’t know how to determine the precise values of the fundamental constants of nature. Current estimates say there are about 10500 potential options—a number so unfathomably large we don’t even have a name for it. String theory lists all the possible forms physical laws can take, and inflation creates a way for them to be realized. With the birth of each new universe, an imaginary deck of cards is shuffled. The hand that is dealt determines the laws that govern that universe.

The multiverse explains how the constants in our equations acquire the values they do, without invoking either randomness or conscious design. If there are vast numbers of universes, embodying all possible laws of physics, we measure the values we do because that’s where our universe lies on the landscape. There’s no deeper explanation. That’s it. That’s the answer.

But as much as the multiverse frees us from the old dichotomy, it leaves a profound unease. The questions we have spent so long pondering might have no deeper answer than just this: that it is the way it is. That might be the best we can do, but it’s not the kind of answer we’re used to. It doesn’t pull back the covers and explain how something works. What’s more, it dashes the theorists’ dream, with the claim that no unique solution will ever be found because no unique solution exists.

There are some who don’t like that answer, others who don’t think it even qualifies to be called an answer, and some who accept it.

To Nobel laureate David Gross, the multiverse “smells of angels.” Accepting the multiverse, he says, is tantamount to throwing up your hands and accepting that you’ll never really understand anything, because whatever you see can be chalked up to a “historical accident.” His fellow Nobelist Gerard ’t Hooft complains he cannot accept a scenario where you are supposed to “try all of these solutions until you find a universe that looks like the world we live in.” He says: “This is not the way physics has worked for us in the past, and it is not too late to hope that we will be able to find better arguments in the future.”

Princeton cosmologist Paul Steinhardt refers to the multiverse as the “Theory of Anything,” because it allows everything but explains nothing. “A scientific theory ought to be selective,” he says. “Its power is determined by the number of possibilities it excludes. If it includes every possibility, then it excludes nothing, then it has zero power.” Steinhardt was one of the early champions of inflation until he realized that it generically gave rise to the multiverse, carving out a space of possibilities rather than making specific predictions. He has since become one of inflation’s most vocal critics. On a recent episode of Star Talk, he introduced himself as a proponent of alternatives to the multiverse. “What did the multiverse ever do to you?” the host joked. “It destroyed one of my favorite ideas,” Steinhardt replied.

Physics was supposed to be the province of truth, of absolutes, of predictions. Things either are, or aren’t. Theories aren’t meant to be elastic or inclusive, but instead restrictive, rigid, dismissive. Given a situation, you want to be able to predict the likely—ideally, the unique and inevitable—outcome. The multiverse gives us none of that.

59369main_abell2029_comp
BEYOND GALAXIESThis unassuming splotch is galaxy cluster Abell 2029, seen in both visible light and x-rays. Such clusters are the largest bound structures in our universe.
NASA/Chandra X-ray Center/IoA

The debate over the multiverse sometimes gets vociferous, with skeptics accusing proponents of betraying science. But it’s important to realize that nobody chose this. We all wanted a universe that flowed organically from some beautiful deep principles. But from what we can tell so far, that’s not the universe we got. It is what it is.

Must the argument for the multiverse be negative? Must it be a distant second-best option? Many of my colleagues are trying to put the multiverse in a more hopeful light. Logically speaking, an infinity of universes is simpler than a single universe would be—there is less to explain. As Sciama said, the multiverse “in a sense satisfies Occam’s razor, because you want to minimize the arbitrary constraints you place on the universe.” Weinberg says that a theory that is free of arbitrary assumptions and hasn’t been “carefully tinkered with to make it match observations” is beautiful in its own way. It might turn out, he says, that the beauty we find here is similar to that of thermodynamics, a statistical kind of beauty, which explains the state of the macroscopic system, but not of its every individual constituent. “You search for beauty, but you can’t be too sure in advance where you’ll find it, or what kind of beauty you’ll have,” Weinberg says.

Several times, while contemplating these weighty intellectual issues, my thoughts circled back to the simple, beautiful wisdom of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince who, having considered his beloved rose unique in all the worlds, finds himself in a rose garden. Bewildered by this betrayal and saddened by the loss of consequence—his rose’s and his own—he breaks down in tears. Eventually he comes to realize that his rose is “more important than all the hundreds of others” because she is his.

There may well be nothing special about our entire universe, except for the fact that it is ours. But isn’t that enough? Even if our entire lives, the sum of all we can ever know, turn out to be cosmically insignificant, they are still ours. There is something distinguished about here, now, mine. Meaning is something we confer.

Several times over these past few months, I found myself replaying my conversation with Gian Giudice. I found it reassuring how unperturbed he was by the vast range of possible universes and the seemingly arbitrary choices made by our own. Perhaps the multiverse is just telling us that we’re focusing on the wrong questions, he says. Maybe, as Kepler did with the orbits of the planets, we’re trying to read a deeper meaning into these numbers than is there.

Since the solar system was all Kepler knew, he thought the shapes of the planetary orbits and the specific values of their various distances from the sun must carry important information, but that turned out to not be the case. These quantities were not fundamental; they were merely environmental parameters. That may have seemed lamentable at the time, but looking back now from the vantage point of general relativity, we no longer feel any sense of loss. We have a beautiful description of gravity; it just happens to be one in which these values of the planetary orbits are not fundamental constants.

Perhaps, says Giudice, the multiverse implies something similar. Perhaps we need to let go of something we’re holding onto too tightly. Maybe we need to think bigger, refocus, regroup, reframe our questions to nature. The multiverse, he says, “could open up “extremely satisfying, gratifying, and mind-opening possibilities.”

Of all the pro-multiverse arguments I heard, this is the one that appeals to me the most. In every scenario, for every physical system, we can pose infinitely many questions. We try to strip a problem back to the essentials and ask the most basic questions, but our intuition is built upon what came before, and it is entirely possible that we are drawing upon paradigms that are no longer relevant for the new realms we are trying to probe.

The multiverse is less like a closed door and more like a key. To me, the word is now tinged with promise and fraught with possibility. It seems no more wasteful than a bower full of roses.

Lead image: A Tate Modern employee views The Passing Winter 2005 by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images.

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You Can Improve Your Default Response to Stress

By Michelle Gielan

One morning while anchoring The Early Show in New York, one of my coanchors got mixed up and tossed the show to me five minutes before I was slated to appear for my next segment, which was covering breaking news on political corruption in Washington. The teleprompter was cued to a different story, which, if I remember correctly, was about cats at a local shelter. I found myself live on national television in front of millions of viewers — with the wrong setup, and with a video of shelter cats instead of fat cats in Washington.

It is moments like these that test a person. And it’s not the problem itself, but our response to it, that matters in our careers and in our lives. In my work now as a positive psychology researcher, I study the mindset of people who overcome high-stress challenges both big and small and who thrive amid adversity. The conclusion of our most recent study: 91% of us could get better at dealing with stress.

In a study we conducted in partnership with Plasticity Labs, my research colleagues, Shawn Achor (my husband) and Brent Furl, and I found that it’s not so much why we worry that’s important; it’s how we respond to stimuli in the environment that matters. When a challenge strikes, our response can typically be categorized along three specific, testable dimensions:

  • Cool under pressure. Are you calm and collected, giving your brain a chance to see a path forward, or is your mind filled with anxious, worried, and stressful thoughts that wear you out?
  • Open communicator. Do you share your struggles with people in your life in a way that creates connections, or do you keep them to yourself and suffer in silence?
  • Active problem solver. Do you face challenges head-on and make a plan, or do you deny the reality of what’s happening in your life and distract yourself?

These three dimensions are central to optimally responding to stress and are highly predictive of our long-term well-being and success at work. In short, it’s what you think, say, and do that have the biggest impact on your well-being. By understanding our personal pitfalls when it comes to responding to problems, we can shift our thinking and behavior to respond better and pay less of an emotional cost after the stressful event is over.

Understanding your current default response to stress is the first step to crafting a more adaptive cognitive pattern. After testing more than 5,000 people using our validated assessment, the Stress Response Scale, we found that the majority of respondents at work have two suboptimal responses to stress: 27% of people are what we lovingly call “Venters” and 26% are “Five Alarmers.”

We all know a Venter at work. Venters are highly expressive and therefore very open about stressful events in their lives, which is actually a very positive trait. Previous research shows that talking to others about challenges (without overdoing it) can connect us more deeply with the people around us and is connected with having more friends and close colleagues as well as greater happiness. However, Venters don’t fare as well along the other two dimensions: being able to maintain a cool head under pressure and active problem solving to devise a plan. In other words, while Venters are able to acknowledge and communicate about their stress, that is where they stop. They vent without providing or creating a positive action to respond to the stress. Our study found that Venters have a correlation with decreased well-being, performance, and long-term career successes at work, as well as with less overall happiness in life.

Five Alarmers also are very good at communicating that they are stressed (everyone hears about it) but while Venters stop there, Five Alarmers take concrete actions to solve the problem. This sounds great, but because Five Alarmers do not differentiate between low stresses and high stresses, instead responding to every stress as if it is a five-alarm fire, they suffer a massive emotional cost when all is said and done. Being a Five Alarmer is exhausting. Experiencing consistent emotional spikes is also predictive of higher burnout and exhaustion, and guilt after you’ve made a decision.

So while more than half of individuals at work fall into one of these two categories, there is a much more adaptive response to stress and challenge. People who are what we call “Calm Responders,” those who rationally and calmly respond to challenges, test high on the three measures and generally enjoy the highest levels of happiness and success. Calm Responders typically have a handful of trusted advisors, and after tapping one or two, quickly move to the action phase. Studies have shown those who are more expressive — without being so expressive that they get stuck in the venting phase — often have more close friends and are happier overall.

The most important part of this research is that all three of these dimensions are malleable, and therefore can change over time if we focus on them. If you’d like to train your brain to be calmer the next time a stressful event arises, make a list right now of five stressful events from your past that you were successful at solving (for example, maybe you got through the breakup of a relationship or made a tight deadline on a big project), and then look at the list the next time you feel your heart starting to race, to remind yourself of those accomplishments. If you tend to bottle up stress or deny negative events, phone a friend the next time a stressor arises. If you’re distracting yourself instead of creating an action plan, get yourself to choose a “now step,” a small, meaningful action you can take right away that might not solve the whole problem but that will get your brain moving forward.

Rewriting our response to stress can take time, but it is possible, and that effort can have a lasting effect on our success and happiness for the rest of our lives. For me, learning the skill of being cool under pressure helped me better navigate unexpected situations both on TV and off, and that has made all the difference in my life and my career.

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How To Use Brain Science To Be Your Best Self In 2017

By LYDIA DISHMAN

Resolutions are often an exercise in wishful thinking. People rarely keep them, mostly because they’re vague about their goals and don’t have a plan for following through. But that isn’t the only thing that may weaken resolve or slow progress toward a goal. Failing to understand some practical brain science can just as quickly do you in.

Neuroscience has shown us this year that we may actually have everything we need to stay focused, be more creative, remember more, and make better decisions—just as long as we can work a bit more with our brains, not against them. Here are a few things we learned that can take you closer toward being your best self in 2017.

HOW TO LEARN MORE

Authors Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane used a gardening metaphor to explain how certain brain cells act like a landscaping crew, pruning, weeding, and nurturing synapses so they function better. They lay waste to unused synaptic connections to make room for more learning. So, the authors remind us, it’s important choose your thoughts wisely: the more you think about something, the more you’ll reinforce certain connections, lessening the likelihood that they’ll be pruned.

“If you’re in a fight with someone at work and devote your time to thinking about how to get even with them, and not about that big project, you’re going to wind up a synaptic superstar at revenge plots but a poor innovator.”

Read More:Your Brain Has A Delete Button—Here’s How To Use It

HOW TO SLEEP BETTER

All of that gardening happens surreptitiously while we snooze. Sleep, therefore, is one of the main keys to learning. The problem is that we’re likely not getting enough of it. A small but noteworthy recent study showed that getting six hours of sleep can be as bad as staying up all night.

Experts recommend making room for healthy habits at bedtime, such as making sure it’s at the same time each night, keeping the room cool, limiting alcohol before bed, and putting away your devices at least 30 minutes before turning in. Oh, and try to drop excess weight. Obesity has been linked to sleep apnea.

Read More: Why Six Hours Of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All

HOW TO TRUST YOUR GUT

Recent studies suggest that trusting your instincts in combination with careful consideration of facts can improve your decision-making. Gut instincts can be really valuable, as long as you keep them in balance.

To better tap into your gut’s decision-making power, Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach, emphasizes the importance of buying yourself some time to reflect.

“Start telling people: ‘I need to sleep on this, I’ll get back to you tomorrow.’ Start building that response into your conversations, especially with the people you work with most,” she advises. They’ll often respect that. “It’s telling people that’s how you work.”

Read More: The Hidden Power In Trusting Your Gut Instincts

HOW TO LEARN FASTER

Sometimes the simplest shift can make the most profound difference. So it is with learning. Mastering something that requires motor skills, for example, is easiest when we change up the way we’re moving through the exercise, rather than just repeating it exactly the same way over and over.

Ditto for shifting perspectives. Try “teaching” the thing you want to learn to another person. The act of explaining it to someone else can actually solidify those concepts for you.

Read More: Six Brain Hacks To Learn Anything Faster

HOW TO FOCUS BETTER

You already know that learning and remembering takes focus. The problem is that your brain likes to wander. One key to better concentration is to quit multitasking. And while you’re at it, take the information you’re being fed and learn to distill and summarize it. It’s one thing to embrace “monotasking” and another to use the mental energy you save to sharpen those analytical skills in the process.

Read More: Surprisingly Simple Ways You Can Trick Your Brain Into Focusing

HOW TO MOVE FROM AUTOPILOT TO ACTION

A new calendar year comes with the fresh promise of moving beyond past pitfalls toward success. But January 1 is hardly the only day that can spur you on to action. Our brain likes so-called “pivot points,” like the first of the month or any old Monday, as evidenced by the regular surge of Google searches for “quit smoking” or “diet” on those days. Researchers speculate that it’s because such days force us out of our routines to think of the bigger picture.

To tap this power any day of the week, Bob Nease, former chief scientist of Express Scripts, says to “pull back from the day-to-day flow altogether, as opposed to just marking its peaks and valleys (sorry, Hump Day), in order to become more aware of the choices we can make, big and small—and then actually make them.”

Read More: Your Brain Is On Autopilot More Than You Think, Here’s How To Wake It Up

HOW TO BE MORE CREATIVE

You’ve no doubt heard that eureka moments often come when we’re lathering up in the shower—72% of people claim that’s happened to them. However, science also shows that creative breakthroughs can happen just by daydreaming or spending time alone (or both). Solitude seems to be useful, but the circumstances that encourage creative thought during those periods may be more flexible than we think.

Read More: 7 Surprising Facts About Creativity According To Science

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Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

By Heidi Grant

Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? If you aren’t sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer — that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others — is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.

1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.
Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.

To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., “If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’ll work out for 30 minutes before work.”) Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist.
When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.
Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.

Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

6. Have grit.
Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The good news is, if you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have. If that describes your own thinking …. well, there’s no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day, stand up straight when you catch yourself slouching, try to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give up, or just not bother — don’t. Start with just one activity, and make a plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur (“If I have a craving for a snack, I will eat one piece of fresh or three pieces of dried fruit.”) It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that’s the whole point. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.

8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). And don’t put yourself in harm’s way — many people are overly-confident in their ability to resist temptation, and as a result they put themselves in situations where temptations abound. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Do you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on your bad temper? Then plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.

If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? For example, if you are trying to gain control of your temper and stop flying off the handle, you might make a plan like “If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down.” By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears completely.

It is my hope that, after reading about the nine things successful people do differently, you have gained some insight into all the things you have been doing right all along. Even more important, I hope are able to identify the mistakes that have derailed you, and use that knowledge to your advantage from now on. Remember, you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.

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