Resolutions and Running

I confess to being contrary at times and while I enjoy doing things such as meditating as part of a group I do not like doing things just because other people do them. New Year’s resolutions for instance irritate me as they seem like fads; everyone jumps on for a while and then drops off the planet a short time later. The thing was that this year the desire to make some major changes in my life coincided with the turning of the year – what to do? Well I thought I might as well try something different.  Some years ago I read some research by Sonja Lyubomirsky (the paper) suggesting that success is born from success, i.e. if we do something well we create the confidence to also do something completely different well. Success can then be attributed to a way of thinking based on experiences of personal victories. This also ties in nicely with Carol Dweck‘s “mindset” theory.

So January was spent doing something daily that I knew I was able to do and maintain and every day this year I have meditated. After a month was up I decided to add another layer to my discipline challenge and now I run before breakfast. I know that if I had started running at the beginning of the year I would have been one of those people that quickly loose sight of their resolutions. Another thing Dr Lyubomirsky suggests in her book  The How of Happiness is that we have a happiness set point that is derived from genetics which makes up 50% of our happiness potential, 10% is defined by life circumstances and 40% we can control through our daily disciplines.

Now it is over a month ago “Happy New Year“, what are you going to do to make your’s amazing?


Counting Blessings – 1… 2… 3…

Do you want to know a technique that has been proven to make you happier and more productive? Then read on as this post is about a tool that is free, only takes a few minutes a day and studies suggest has a significant impact in creating a “can do” feeling. This “learned optimism” allows you to try harder even in the face of major adversity.

First, a little introduction. When elected president of The American Psychology Association in 1996 Martin Seligman brought with him an audacious theme. He chose to turn psychology on its head and to move on from the traditional pathology approach devoted to suffering, mental illness and trauma and instead focus on flourishing, optimism and happiness. In so doing he took a phrase that had been coined some years earlier by Abraham Maslow and created a field of study – Positive Psychology. One of the fastest growing academic fields Seligman made sure that positive psychology had two guiding principles; it must be practical and it must be based on substantial research.

The tool works by increasing gratitude which is one of the character strengths most strongly correlated with well being. Gratitude is the feeling we have when we perceive that we have received an intentional gift from someone else and it leads to a motivation to reciprocate. Happy people feel more grateful when they receive kindness and are therefore more likely to be kind, recognize kindness in others and engage in kind acts. The flip side of this is that if we cultivate gratitude we can increase happiness and its many spin offs.

In the words of Martin Seligman, “There are exercises that reliably show people how they can have more positive emotion, more engagement and more meaning. And there’s good evidence within the corporate literature that people who have more engagement and more meaning on the job do better.”

So what is the exercise?

At the end of each day write down three things from the day that you are happiest about and why they happened. The act of writing is important for a couple of reasons, one it makes you truly consider what you are grateful for and replace your usual thoughts with ones of gratitude. Most people are more likely to contemplate things that have gone wrong than ones that have gone right and while there may be a perfectly good reason for this it does not breed optimism. Secondly, you have a record that you can look at over time. This brings me to another important point, it requires several weeks for this practice to become a habit and it needs to be maintained to retain the benefits.

The following link takes you to a video of Martin Seligman explaining the “three blessings”.

The three blessings also helps if you have a tendency to feeling blue. Again, in the words of Martin Seligman, “ We looked at the effect on severe depression of doing the three blessings. In this uncontrolled study, 94% of severely depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier, with an average symptom relief of a whopping 50% over only 15 days. This compares very favorably with anti-depressant medication and with psychotherapy.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some of her positive psychology research in “the How of Happiness”. What is most interesting is that while 50% of your happiness is set by genetics and 10% from your life circumstances, 40% of your happiness is generated by the little things that you can do each day.

I hope you give counting your blessings a try and that the benefits are as significant as the research indicates.

Here’s to making your own luck – Wil

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