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Personal Development

Let your strengths guide your life

By | Personal Development

I believe that there’s greatness to be found in each of us. I also believe most of us are living well below our potential and that the future of the world relies on us choosing to wake up each morning and doing what we do best – for the good of ourselves and others.

But just how can you pull this off?

Let’s face it: Often our job descriptions aren’t designed around our strengths; our bosses only seem interested in pointing out our weaknesses and we’re already too busy just trying to keep up.

I get it. Back in 2007 this was my life, and finding the confidence — never mind the energy — to do what I do best each day felt like a dream I simply couldn’t afford.

Until I discovered that it took just 11 minutes of doing what I do best each day — of using my strengths — to finally create the career and life I longed for.

How could this possibly work?

The strength of curiosity

Positive psychology researchers have discovered that developing your strengths — those things you’re good at and enjoy doing —helps you feel more confident, energized and happy in your job. So after figuring out what my strengths were by taking the free, 10-minute VIA Survey, it was clear that I was completely underplaying my strength of curiosity at work.

Cue, routine, reward

With neither the time nor energy to fit in one more thing, I decided to try and create a tiny daily strengths habit by using the neurological loop scientists have discovered of cue, routine and reward.

In an effort to make my habit excuse-proof, I decided to try applying this loop in just 11 minutes a day, so I could fit it in on even the busiest days.

Here’s how it worked:

• I spent the first 30 seconds cuing up my habit by anchoring it to the daily act of turning on my computer.

• Then for the next 10 minutes I developed my strength of curiosity by reading one new positive psychology discovery about how to enable human flourishing and seeing if I could apply this to my team.

• To reward myself I’d use the last 30 seconds to note down what I learned and each Friday I used to package these discoveries up and send them off in an email to my boss.

Here’s what happened next

This tiny 11 minutes strength habit felt so good that I did it the following week and each week after that.

Nine months — and 36 emails — later, my boss called me into his office and said: “Clearly we’re not tapping into your potential. Would you like to teach these positive psychology techniques across our business?”

And just like that my dream job was created.

Here’s what I want you to remember: When you choose to do what you do best each day, even for just 11 minutes, others have the chance to see the potential in you.

But don’t just take my word for it. If you’re ready to feel more confident, energized and happy at work, then why not put this idea to the test by joining the free One Week Strengths Challenge and receive all the support you need to discover your strengths, design a small daily strengths habit and start doing what you do best each day at work. Just click here to find out more.

6 communications skills you need to succeed

By | Leadership Development, Personal Development

The ability to communicate effectively and thoughtfully empowers each of us with skills for greater happiness and success. While communication can be learned and refined over time, it is important to remember that we have been picking up communication experience from the beginning of our lives, when we moved around and kicked in the womb—as if to announce, “I’m here!”

Born to communicate

Ask any woman who has ever been pregnant, and she will immediately recall her delight at the sensation of receiving that first message from her unborn child. When we are born, we cry. Our first verbal communication with the world says, “It’s cold, and the lights are too bright!”

From our first breath, we are trying to communicate: I am here. I exist. These are the same fundamental desires we all carry with us throughout our entire lifetimes. As we grow, our caregivers help us refine the way we ask for things, and hopefully, teach us how to communicate clearly, speak and listen effectively, and learn to balance the needs and wants of ourselves with the needs and wants of others.

Going from so-so to dynamic

While trying to learn effective skills to communicate, we succeed and stumble along the way. As kids, we demand and react. As teenagers, we push boundaries and act out, and higher thinking and advanced communication skills come into play as we learn to negotiate with our parents and teachers.

Over time, our communication style becomes influenced by our friends, bosses, intimate relationships and co-workers. As an adult, you have probably settled on a communication style you are comfortable with. Now, I want to encourage even more growth and suggest that you go from good to great—from being a reasonably effective communicator to a dynamic communicator! (Take this quiz to find out what kind of communicator you are.)

Dynamic communication is an ever-evolving art and is the ability to consciously interact and react thoughtfully. Once you get past the baseline of basic talking, everything else can be learned, practiced and improved throughout your life. If you practice these skills enough, they will become part of who you are. Dynamic communicators are more thoughtful; they have very little conflict in their lives, and they get more of what they want out of every situation and relationship because they’ve mastered how to get it! Now, doesn’t that sound appealing?

The skills you need:

  • • Recognize that how you communicate sets the tone for how the world sees you and treats you.
  • • Learn to respond consciously. Think before you react.
  • • Listen to your grown-up voice, logic and rationale and refuse to allow your past history to influence your present behavior.
  • • Keep yourself—and others—in check. Apologize, walk away and take the higher road for good.
  • • Don’t bring up 20 things that happened in the past—with anyone. Focus on the here and now, and move forward.
  • • Care more about the long-term outcome than you do about the immediate gratification of being right.

Gifts of the dynamic communicator

Life, unfortunately, is full of intense, high-drama situations where even the best communicators are put to the test—not to mention the small day-to-day annoyances such as rude waiters, indifferent salespeople and sarcastic co-workers. As dynamic communicators, we must be alert to the red flags in ourselves and others that might lead us down the road to a bad experience.

What I’ve noticed in years of counseling clients is that a common hindrance to dynamic interaction is the need to be right. You have to care more about the long-term outcome than you do about the immediate gratification of being heard, being louder, winning, getting the last word or being right.

A dynamic communicator lets go of the need to win. The real winning comes from a successful relationship, not scoring points. You want to win the war, not fight endless battles. Ultimately, dynamic interaction leaves both people walking away feeling satisfied or happy. One or both may have compromised during the process, but neither is walking away upset, hurt or feeling that he got short shrift.

A dynamic communicator knows when the time has come for that long overdue talk or when to walk away and cut communications altogether or which tool to employ along the way so it doesn’t come to either of those extremes. If you don’t know which tool to use, you can certainly say, “I need to think about this.” Then talk to friends, reflect, get advice and then get back to the person you want to speak with.

Better communication means closer relationships

In the end, when you have worked on becoming a dynamic communicator, learning to interact thoughtfully and effectively with others, you will find that the road to happiness is smoother and easier to find. And, as an added bonus,you’ll have relationships and dialogues that are deeper, more meaningful and significantly more satisfying.

From the April 2014 issue of Live Happy magazine.

Invest in yourself with exercise and nutritious food

By | Personal Development

Living a healthy life isn’t just about looking a certain way; it’s an investment you make in yourself so you can share your best with the world.

Health and happiness are intertwined in a way that science can’t fully explain. It’s sometimes difficult to determine which comes first. Are people happier because they’re healthy, or do happy people experience better physical and mental health? The answer to both questions seems to be yes.

What science can definitively tell us is that people who practice healthy habits, such as exercising and eating well, enjoy a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Better sleep. One study found that people who exercised at least 20 minutes a day reported 65 percent better sleep quality.
  • Better concentration. Exercise stimulates blood flow, which can help you feel more alert and focused.
  • Fewer colds. Regular aerobic exercise (moderate activity five times a week) has been shown to increase immunity against bacteria and viruses.
  • A longer life. Research shows that even 15 minutes of daily exercise could increase a person’s lifespan by three years.
  • Other studies have credited healthy living to a better sex life, a happier disposition and reduced risk for depression, migraines and cardiovascular disease.

Happy Act: Make One Positive Choice

What small step toward a big goal to be healthier can you take today?

Get Moving!

The long list of benefits that come with regular exercise is hard to ignore. So why is it so difficult to get up and get moving? Busyness is one of the most common, reasonable-sounding excuses for not exercising. But it turns out that physically active people tend to have more energy and be more productive than those who sit at their desks all day. Then there’s the excuse that you don’t have time to take care of yourself, because you have to care for everybody else. Another fib. Self-care, including exercise, refuels the body and mind and equips us to be better caregivers.

John Ratey, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard and author of the book Spark, explains why exercise and happiness go hand in hand.

“People talk a lot about endorphins that are released through exercise, but that is just part of it. When we begin exercising, we almost immediately begin releasing dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Those are all neurotransmitters that deal with feelings of reward, alertness, contentment and well-being.”

Even more important, the brain begins to secrete something known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is associated with the growth and development of neurons within the brain. Ratey calls BDNF “brain fertilizer,” noting that it has been proven effective in combating both depression and anxiety and has even been successful in fighting substance abuse issues. “In general, it allows us to combat stress hormones directly within the body but also to combat outside stresses overall. And all of those things contribute to our feelings of happiness.”

Maybe you, like me, enjoy running. Great. Lace up and get out there. But if you loathe running, don’t force it. Go for a walk, ride your bike or take up ballroom or salsa dancing—alone or with a buddy. Just get moving.

Change Your Diet, Change Your Mind

Eating the right foods can also change your mood, enhance your memory and even affect conditions like attention-deficit disorder. And getting rid of the wrong foods can have just as amazing an effect. Eliminating foods with added sugar, for example, can not only help you shave off a few pounds and decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, but doing so has also been linked to less depression and greater mental alertness.

Simple shifts to more wholesome, less processed foods can also change your energy and your mind. Beans, nuts, eggs and kale are among the natural choices that will rejuvenate your body while feeding your brain.

The great news is, the better you feel, both mentally and physically, the more you’ll enjoy your life.

Happy Act: Shut It Down

When you’re done with your day’s work, silence your phone and turn off your computer. Give yourself the gift of a little downtime every day.

Four Ways to Get Started

Do what you enjoy. You don’t have to “hit the gym” to get healthy. Go for a bike ride. Take a dancing class. Walk to the park with your children or grandchildren—and don’t just sit on the bench. Swing, play catch, and, even if everyone’s looking, try out the slide.

Catch some zzz’s. Sleep allows the body to reboot. Go to bed a little earlier today and see how you feel after an extra hour of sleep.

Choose brain foods. Beans, nuts, eggs and kale are all great options.

Find a buddy. Having someone join you in an effort to live healthier gives you some accountability and can add to the fun.

Excerpted from Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah K. Heisz and the editors of Live Happy magazine.

Study shows the importance of the ties that bind us

By | Personal Development

There’s good news about families. Regardless of life’s inevitable challenges, families remain strong, resilient and lasting when attainable characteristics, practices and priorities are in place. These common strengths of thriving families can be found in a wide variety of family make-ups and circumstances. They’re not tied to family structure, nor are they guaranteed by wealth. They are a result of getting the basics right.

The basic strengths of strong families, according to research, include characteristics like the ability to adapt to change, having clear roles for family members and maintaining overall physical, mental and economic health. Practices like spending family time together, communicating with and being committed to each other, and establishing accountability and mutual respect are considered key strengths. Also on the list are priorities like having community ties, spirituality, cultural traditions and an extended sense of family.

The most recent and broadest research is the American Family Assets Study by Minneapolis’ Search Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to discovering what kids need to succeed.

The Search Institute has spent the last 50 years looking into the strengths in young people’s lives, and the last 25 focused on developing assets they need to grow up successfully. Their study, published in 2012, was based on the results of a 2011 Harris Interactive survey, which polled a diverse cross-section of more than 1,500 families. “A big part of our research is understanding the power of focusing on strengths … of counterbalancing the negative messages about kids and families that are out there,” says Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Ph.D., the institute’s vice president of research and development. “We know that family is important, and yet it’s sometimes hard to be tangible about what that means.”

Eugene and his team had a sense that what was happening in families and what those families shared as common strengths were part of what they needed to tap into to help build stronger families. In the end they identified 21 tangible things families can do to be stronger units. These family strengths, or “assets,” as the institute refers to them, center around five common qualities or actions:

1. Nurturing Relationships

Are family members respectfully listening to each other? Showing each other affection? Encouraging each other? Asking about each other’s highs and lows of the day is a great way to keep in emotional touch. “Relationships shape us so much, as do the quality of the relations with each other,” Eugene says. “The way we get along shapes family life. It matters. It’s what gets us through challenging times.”

There are high societal expectations of closeness. There is no other group of people we spend more time with. There is no relationship like the parent-child relationship. And there are no other relationships where those involved have such a great stake in each other’s lives. We are responsible for each other. Sometimes grandparents are part of that immediate family. Sometimes friends are.

2. Establishing Routines

Are you eating dinner together? Hanging out together by planning regular game or movie nights? Creating meaningful traditions, like half-birthday celebrations or doing fondue as the first meal of the new school year? Can you depend on each other? Do you have a family calendar everyone has access to?

Kathleen Fischer, a Dallas-based family and parenting coach and author, uses the 21 Family Assets often when working with families and refers to family dinnertime as a secret weapon.

“When parents say, ‘How am I going to connect with my kids?’ I ask how many times they eat dinner as a family. This is your best tool, your most consistent, easiest way to broach tough subjects, to check in, to get a barometer on how they’re doing in the day.”

3. Maintaining Expectations

Are the rules fair? The boundaries well-defined? Can you discuss the tough topics? Is everyone contributing?

“As your kid is moving toward being in charge of his own life, the amount he’s contributing back to the family is important,” Kathleen says. “I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about, ‘Would you pick up a gallon of milk?’ ‘Would you take Jonathan to soccer practice?’ If my kid is on the East Coast in college and Grandpa is getting over pneumonia, can he take the train down to Philly and check on him? Not only is it a relief to Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, but it also says to the kid, ‘You have a real role to play as you begin to contribute back to the family in adult ways.’ ”

4. Adapting to Challenges

Is everyone doing what needs to be done at home, work and school? Do family duties need to adjust while Mom is out of town or your 16-year-old studies for finals or a state debate competition?

Does the family adapt well when faced with changes? Do you work together to solve problems? Is everyone’s voice heard? Even Eugene, who has been a parent for decades and has one senior in high school and a recent college graduate, learned something along the way. He was surprised at how important adaptability was to those interviewed for the study.

“It’s easy to forget how important it is to adjust when things come up,” he says. “When we talked with families in the study, we weren’t originally thinking about this. We were thinking communications and routines, but people kept bringing this up, that they’d been through some tough stuff. To me, that was one of the pieces that stood out. It’s actually something we can celebrate, that we can use to get through the tough times.”

5. Connecting to Communities

Do family members have relationships with others in the community, with coaches, teachers and other adults? Are neighbors looking out for each other? Do you feel a part of your community and are family members active in it and giving back to it? Are there nearby places each member of your family feels at home, like a neighborhood coffee shop, church or a friend’s house?

“The best families are not cocoons against the world, but families that are connected and engaged in the world,” Eugene says. “Different people bring fresh perspectives, new ideas. When there’s a disaster, it’s the neighbors who help you through it. When a family becomes too isolated from activities and broader connections, it’s not good for them.”

The study found that the more assets a family has, the stronger parents and children will be. Broadly, kids from such families are more engaged in school, take better care of themselves and stand up when they see someone treated unfairly. Parents of these families also are more likely to watch their health and be active in their communities.

Strengths Trump Structure and Demographics

People sometimes equate a “good family” with a particular type of family—and that family usually looks like the person imagining the perfect family. The image of a strong family then becomes based on who is in the family, who isn’t in the family, as well as our own individual values.

“That doesn’t capture enough about what a family is,” Eugene says. “You can have a traditional two-parent, two-kids-and-a-dog fabulous family. But you can also have a family that’s abusive and dysfunctional that looks just like that.” Regardless of the structure, “What are the processes and relationships going on with the family?” is what is more important to ask, he says.“What happens when we pay attention to those?”

The American Family Assets Study shows those processes and relationships matter far more when you’re looking at outcomes than demographics do. Statistically controlling for family size, composition and neighborhood, demographics may account for 5 to 10 percent of the outcome difference among families (how happy and successful their children end up). The 21 Family Assets account for a 30 to 35 percent difference.“Family isn’t isolated, but has a unique role,” Eugene says. “You’ve been with them from early childhood, all the way through. And you have this deep bond and attachment. That’s just different than any other relationship.”

The assets study is one of only a few studies since at least the ’70s, Eugene says, that has tried to quantitatively look at family strengths. It seems in more recent years, we’ve gotten too caught up in the techniques of parenting. But a positive spin on the family and children in the past decade has started to cast a different lens on the family: “We started asking ourselves, ‘What is it that families were doing that made them function well and helped parents raise happier, healthier kids?’”

The Search Institute research uniquely includes the important role children play in the strength of a family, a change Doug has seen in the research community in the last 15 or so years: “Some of the positives of the Family Assets have to do with what the youth contributes to the family. They have an important role and contribution. Recognizing that within a family is very important.”

From the April 2014 issue of Live Happy magazine.

Look for the good in life

By | Leadership Development, Personal Development

“Gratitude is many things to many people,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky in “The How of Happiness.” “It is wondering; it is appreciation; it is looking at the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is ‘counting blessings.’ It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented.”

Some people call it an attitude, some call it an action, and some call it an emotion. Regardless of the terms used to describe it, gratitude is a person’s choice to look for the good in life. It is also one of the easiest happiness practices to add to your life, because there is always something for which to be grateful. It’s an easy habit to adopt, because it offers an immediate physical and emotional reward. Think about it. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel discouraged and grateful at the same time. When you notice the good in the world, you immediately feel better.

For those for whom gratitude is a way of life, the benefits are even greater. Studies have revealed that grateful people experience improved immunity, better sleep and lower blood pressure. They are also better equipped to overcome mild to moderate depression and improve their relationships.

Although saying thank you is a good start, becoming a grateful person — one whom Robert Emmons describes as a person who receives and accepts all of life as a gift — doesn’t happen overnight. It does, indeed, require practice. Emmons, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology and a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis, explains that the practice of gratitude comprises two key components: affirming the goodness in the world around you and recognizing that the source of this goodness is something outside yourself.

 

Happy Act: Count Your Blessings

Make a list—right now—of at least five things or people for whom you are grateful.

 

Tap Into the Power of Gratitude

Whether you are dealing with a major life-shattering event, experiencing a small bump in the road, or interested in improving your relationships, gratitude can help.

“When we become more grateful, and acknowledge what we have through a lens of appreciation, it helps us focus on what is important to us,” explains Louis Alloro, a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. “We are conditioned to focus on what’s not working rather than to look at what is working. Gratitude changes what we look at and how we see it. It’s an essential ingredient for a life well-lived.”

Many people emphasize the importance of “being” grateful, but Louis teaches it’s important to take it a step further and “feel” gratitude. “It is key to feel it in your heart instead of keeping it in your mind,” he says. “When you say you’re grateful for something, it’s very often something that happened in the past — even if it was earlier that day. So I encourage people to not just say why they’re grateful, but to take a moment to remember how they felt when that was happening.”

Taking time to feel that appreciation again releases dopamine and allows you to re-enact the experience emotionally, generating healing positive feelings. “The payoff is huge,” Louis says. “It takes a little more time and more effort, but you’ll see such a difference in the way it affects you.”

 

Happy Act: Take a Gratitude Walk

Go for a walk with your spouse, child, parent or friend. Take turns noting things you’re grateful for.

 

Five Ways to Get Started

Keep a gratitude journal. Once a week or once a day, make notes about the people, things or circumstances for which you are grateful. Your notes don’t have to be long — a sentence or two is enough to remind you of the gifts you’ve recently experienced.

Use words that acknowledge the external source of goodness. Grateful people use words like “gifts,” “givers,” “blessings,” “blessed,” “good fortune,” “fortunate” and “abundance.” “In gratitude, you should not focus on how inherently good you are, but rather on the inherently good things that others have done on your behalf.”

Encourage gratitude. Ask your child, grandchild or a friend, “What was the best part of your day today?”

Write a gratitude letter. Send or hand-deliver a note of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life.

Relive the feeling of gratitude. Go beyond identifying a positive experience and mentally relive it. Focus on how the experience made you feel. Savor that feeling.

Excerpted from Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah K. Heisz and the editors of Live Happy magazine.

Embracing change is essential for growth

By | Leadership Development, Personal Development

Let’s get one thing straight: Change is inevitable.

I remember eight-track tape players. I remember when they all got stolen out of my 1964 Plymouth Valient, too. I remember when we changed to cassettes, then CDs and mP3 players. Now you stream everything.

Everything changes. And it’s not just products that change. It’s your life that changes. Things that happen in your life change.

You have to be adaptable. Because, while change is inevitable, growth is optional.

Change can be something you initiate or it can be forced upon you. No matter how much you might like those eight-track tapes, it’s nearly impossible to find a car that will play them these days.

Growth, however, is something you choose. Growth is a decision you make.

Growth and change are both uncomfortable. You’re waving goodbye to a comfort zone – saying goodbye to this place in life that you’ve settled into. Everyone – no matter their position in life – builds up comfort zones. People build a comfort zone making $1 million a year. People build a comfort zone making $15,000 a year. People build a comfort zone having three kids. People build a comfort zone having zero kids.

You always have a comfort zone. However, when you’re starting your own, independent business, you’re making the decision to step out of your comfort zone.

And it’s not just your comfort zone you’re messing with. You’re disrupting the mindsets of the people around you. You’re disrupting the image of you they had in their mind, and you’re disrupting how they have their life laid out in front of them.

One of the challenges for people is that they look at past experiences to predict future results. That’s a mistake in this. The only way you are going to get the same result is if you do the same thing. But if you look at your past experiences and decide to do things differently, you’ll have different results.

One of the greatest things about change is that you get to embrace new experiences. Life is all about experiences. Life is about moments. People get in this business to make their dreams come true. But it’s a process. And in the process of making your dreams come true, you become a better person, a better parent, a better friend and a better employee. And if you’re in business with Nerium, you begin to place value on the culture we have of being happy, of showing goodwill, being joyful and showing gratitude.

People want to be their best selves. People want to give their best self to their family and their friends. But they’re battling their history and everything that tells them that they can’t do this – that they can’t be successful running a business for themselves. It’s scary to step out of their comfort zone. People want to know that, if they change, there is a bright, successful future waiting for them.

You have an opportunity to go out into the world and to inspire your children to be better than you, to have more than you. Don’t live life in a La-Z-Boy. Don’t live life in front of a TV set or a computer screen. Don’t spend your life watching the Travel Channel.

Travel. See the world. Live your dreams.

My promise is this: Your willingness to change will be your message to yourself that you’re willing to grow. And your message to yourself that you’re willing to grow will give you belief and hope. And that hope will put you right in contact with what’s on your dreamboard.

Jimmy Dean said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination.”

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

Simple questions that could change your life

By | Personal Development

Our work-life experts ask: Is your life in balance?

When you’re focused mainly on one area of your life, it can be exhausting. We’ve been there. When we were writing “Profit from the Positive”, though our work was thriving, we noticed that both of us took hits in other areas of our lives. For Senia, it was her health. For Margaret, it was her social life.

We know that to live a truly happy and fulfilling life, we need to pay attention to the domains that make it up, including work (career and money), a social life (family, friends and fun) and health (physical and emotional).

The right balance can change your life

And we’re not alone. Professors Laura Nash, Ph.D., and Howard Stevenson, Ph.D., interviewed everyone from high-ranking executives to stay-at-home parents and found that the most successful people are those who do well at work, in their communities and at home. In the Harvard Business Review, Laura and Howard wrote that people with enduring success “have high achievement, multiple goals, the ability to experience pleasure, the ability to create positive relationships and a value on accomplishments that endure.” For these people—and us—success isn’t found by focusing on one area, whether it’s work, a social life or health. Rather, it happens when you have the right balance.

With that in mind, and to restore balance in our lives, we examined our health, work and social lives asking ourselves three questions, so we could identify which areas could use some improvement and then make conscious, intentional choices. This is something we do with our clients in our coaching sessions, and now, in 10 minutes, you can do it, too. Ask yourself:

1. On a scale of 0 to 10, how satisfied am I with my health, my social life and my work?

You don’t need a 10 in each category; the goal is for you to simply become aware of how the three areas interrelate. What do you notice? Think of this step like starting a new fitness routine. You don’t walk into the gym and jump on the first piece of exercise equipment you see. No, you assess your current fitness level and strengths first, and then you determine what areas you need to work on. It’s the same here. If you want to improve your life, you need a big-picture view first.

2. What would each area of my life look like if it were a perfect 10?

Explore the ideas that you may not have seriously considered before. Many of us live in a cycle of work, home and perhaps a little play. We don’t step back and dream of what we would love to do because we’re too caught up in the day-to-day. Laura King, Ph.D., a University of Missouri psychology professor, found that writing about what you hope to accomplish boosts positive feelings about the future, increases your belief in yourself and leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.

In our coaching, we ask our clients to either speak about or write down what they really hope to accomplish. Similarly, sports psychologists train athletes to visualize a successful match, game or play. So why not apply one or both of these methods to your own life?

3. What can I do to improve my scores and make my dreams a reality?

Connect your social life with your health by taking a class with friends or joining a hiking club. Have working lunches with colleagues or turn your next one-on-one meeting into a walk-and-talk. Start a well-being challenge in your office — how many miles can you walk as a team?

Once you have your plan in place, every three months or so share your scores, dreams and actions with a friend over a nice dinner. Make it fun, celebrate your small wins and keep each other honest. Remember, these questions give you a snapshot over time, so your scores will likely change. They did for us. After we went through this process, we both took actions toward creating better balance in our lives.

Making small steps to improve your balance

For Senia, this meant taking up eight-minute high-intensity workouts and exercising almost every morning. Margaret declared 2014 her year of socializing. She has already hosted two dinner parties and planned trips and events for the rest of the year.

This is really about stepping back and examining our lives so that we can start to see them clearly. We’ve realized our time is a finite resource; whereas our energy can expand and contract. So, when you keep your work, health and social life ignited at a balance that’s right for you, you can create swells of energy and live a happier, more fulfilling life.

Written by Senia Maymin and Margaret Greenberg from the June 2014 issue of Live Happy magazine.

3 keys to boosting your confidence

By | Personal Development

Is fear of failure holding you back?

Do you charge ahead, willing to give anything a try and persisting in the face of setbacks, criticism and failure? Or do you hesitate, waiting until you feel you can put the pieces together so everything will be “just right,” ensuring that everything goes as planned and everyone is happy?

My grandfather’s motto for life is: “Just get in there and have a go.”

As I look back on decades of risky career moves and wonderful adventures around the globe, I thank him every day for giving me the confidence to show up for the things that have mattered most in my life.

In fact, I didn’t realize just how good his advice was until I recently recorded this podcast with Katty Kay, co-author of the best-selling book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know.

Thoughts into actions

“Confidence is what turns our thoughts into actions,” explained Katty. “With it you can take on the world; without it you remain stuck on the starting block of your own potential.”

It turns out confidence isn’t simply feeling good about yourself, saying you’re great — perfect just as you are — and believing you can do whatever you want. Nor does it require you to be a jerk who always has to speak first, ignores other people’s ideas, or demands to be given what you deserve. Rather, confidence is what allows you to stop mumbling, apologizing and hesitating, and instead start acting, risking and failing.

“Confidence matters more to our success than competence does,” said Katty. “If you choose not to act, you simply have less chance of success.”

Unfortunately, Katty’s research found that confidence appears to be a particular challenge for women across professions, income levels, and generations. And while our genetics, our schooling, our upbringing, our society and even the way we look are all factors that affect our confidence, it’s also a result of our own choices.

Choose to become more confident

As a result, Katty believes we can improve our levels of confidence through three simple steps:

1. Take action — Nothing builds confidence like taking action, especially when the action involves risk and failure. So step outside your comfort zone, and if the very idea feels overwhelming, focus on how your actions can benefit others to kick-start your confidence. Start with small challenges that allow you to grow, improve and gain confidence. If you fail, think about how you can do it differently next time, and try again. If you succeed, set yourself the next challenge and keep stretching yourself forward again and again.

2. Think Less — Note the stories you’re playing over and over, and ask: Is this the only explanation for what’s unfolding? Try to note as many plausible alternatives as possible, and invest your attention on the explanations that build rather than destroy your confidence. And if all else fails, try a little self-compassion and talk back to yourself, as you would to a friend who was full of self-doubt.

3. Be Authentic — Be confident in a way that feels genuine to you. You don’t always have to speak first; you can listen and incorporate what others say. You can speak calmly but carry a smart message — one that will be heard. Play to your distinctive strengths and values. Express your vulnerability. We’re at our most powerful when confidence emanates from our core.

To find out how confident you really are, take this free survey.

And remember my grandfather’s motto: “Just get in there and have a go.”

What would you be doing right now if you had a little more confidence?

Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace well-being teacher and change activator. To learn more about Michelle visit www.michellemcquaid.com.

Practicing gratitude is good for you

By | Personal Development

From the time we learn how to talk, it seems that we are being told to remember to say “thank you.” Our parents weren’t just teaching us manners; they were providing us with a tool for lasting happiness.

“We now know that having good social relationships is as good for you as things like smoking and obesity are bad for you,” says Sara Algoe, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It turns out that there’s an emotion that happens to be really amazing at helping us solve this essential human problem of survival. And that emotion is gratitude.”

One of the most significant keys to longevity and well-being is being able to acquire and maintain high-quality relationships. Gratitude, Sara says, is the glue that can bring people together as well as creating happiness from the inside out.

Putting the ‘You’ in ‘Thank You’

Research, including Sara’s, shows that experiencing gratitude has immediate benefits. Learning to harness this power and becoming more intentional about it can improve our relationships and bolster our own health and happiness. “When we feel gratitude toward someone, we spring into action and reach out,” she explains. “It’s that act of reaching out that can draw another person into a relationship.” And, Sara adds, it can improve existing relationships.

When she conducted a study among couples in which one partner expressed gratitude to the other for a specific act, the rewards were exponential.

“Let’s say [the wife] did something nice for [her husband], just because she wanted to,” Sara says. The wife feels good for having done something nice and the husband is a happy beneficiary. But when he expresses his gratitude for her act of kindness, he now has reinforced her positive feelings. “So two people win for one person’s gratitude.”

And, when you make gratitude a practice, Sara says, it changes the way others perceive you—and can have a ripple effect in your social network.

“People who express positivity in general are seen as friendlier, more competent and more likable,” Sara says. “Gratitude amplifies that. People see you as being more willing to help, but they also want to help you. They’re nice to you, they want to hang out with you — all of those are things that are good for your health.”

Gratitude: It’s Good for You!

Sara confirms what many studies have revealed: Practicing gratitude really could make you live longer — and better. While her work takes a closer look at the effect of gratitude on relationships, other studies have shown a direct link between good health and giving thanks.

Researchers at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland recently looked at the effects of practicing gratitude on four groups: depressed men, depressed women, breast cancer patients and prostate cancer patients. After a 14-day training period in which they learned to reflect on what they were thankful for, all groups showed an increased sense of well-being and greater perception of social support.

A similar study from the same university focused solely on gratitude interventions in treating depression and found that practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude, counting blessings and gratitude visits all had a powerful effect, with journals being the most effective. Subjects who participated in the interventions increased their subjective happiness, improved their relationships, slept better and had more perceived social support.

“Gratitude is a psychological amplifier of the good in one’s life,” says Philip Watkins, Ph.D., of Eastern Washington University.

Gratitude’s Secret Sauce

Philip’s recent research looks at what activates gratitude and what ingredients are necessary to make it effective. The most critical component, he says, is appreciation.

“Appreciation can best be understood as when something increases in perceived personal value,” he says. “Perceived value, and more importantly, increasing perceived value, is extremely important to gratitude.”

Ironically, trauma may be one of the most effective means of triggering appreciation. In our daily lives, we may become accustomed to “the way things are,” and that can cause us to overlook the small things we appreciate. “When you experience a traumatic event…you begin to notice simple blessings that you had previously taken for granted,” Philip says.

Exercises such as counting your blessings have also been shown to be effective in teaching appreciation. He says the more we learn about gratitude, the more we will learn how to cultivate it and use it as a tool for better health, happiness and longevity. “Gratitude has a variety of effects on us,” Sara says. “In the end, expressing gratitude builds a bridge to other people and invites them to cross it.”

Four Ways to Boost Gratitude

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a practice of writing down three to five things you are grateful for—every day—and explain why each one makes you grateful.

2. Count your blessings. Before going to sleep each night, call to mind one or two things you are grateful for.

3. Write a gratitude letter. Write a letter to someone in your present or past to whom you’re grateful.

4. Pay a gratitude visit. If you’ve written a gratitude letter or note, pay a visit to the person it’s directed to and read it aloud.

Read more: 4 Gratitude Rituals to Increase Kindness and Joy

Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy. From the December 2017 issue of Live Happy magazine.

Find joy in life by being mindful of every moment

By | Personal Development

Mindfulness, experts say, is a practice that helps us self-regulate our attention — in other words, mindfulness helps us pay attention to our thoughts. Staying mindful, or in the moment, allows us to appreciate life as it happens. When our minds are busy focusing on the present, it’s impossible to also be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

Beyond the reduction of negative thought patterns, a host of benefits can be reaped simply by staying in the moment, research shows.

“When I start talking about all the things mindfulness can do, I sound like a snake-oil salesman,” jokes Richard Sears, of the Center for Clinical Mindfulness and Meditation at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. “It increases happiness, improves relationships, helps alleviate
conditions like depression and chronic pain….But really, what’s going on is awareness. It’s about paying attention, bringing us back to what is going on right now.”

Based on a 2,600-year-old Buddhist practice, mindfulness has sparked global interest in recent years. Today, mindfulness is frequently practiced independently of any religious context. But if sitting in the lotus position doesn’t sound very comfortable to you, don’t worry.

Although mindfulness is a form of meditation, it doesn’t necessarily require chanting or sitting cross-legged on the floor. (But if a certain position or phrase helps you focus, have at it!)

“It doesn’t have to be done in the same formal way as what we would normally think of as meditation,” Sears explains. “Mindfulness can be taking a breath, taking a moment to notice the trees while taking a walk; it’s more about setting aside time to be with yourself — in whatever form that may take.”

Happy Act: Break the Rules

What do you do on a regular basis simply because “everyone” likes it? If you don’t like it, stop doing it! Carve your own path to happiness.

The Wisdom of Mindfulness

The mind-body connection has been well-proven over time, and mindfulness proponents and practitioners say it holds many keys to creating a healthier, happier life by positively influencing the body. “It’s not a cure-all, but it will assist in whatever a person is struggling with, whetherthat’s physical, mental or emotional,” says Ryan M. Niemiec, education director at the VIA Institute on Character and author of “Mindfulness and Character Strengths.” “It offers support and assistance in whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Take, for example, someone with chronic pain; to learn how to face that directly is a huge challenge. But to bring an honest
awareness to your own suffering can completely change your relationship with it.”

“Before” and “after” brain scans show that certain areas of the brain develop new neural connections after practicing mindfulness for about eight weeks. Richard Sears equates these physical changes in the brain to building muscle by lifting weights—over time, you get stronger, but it has to be maintained in order for the results to continue.

Some clinical studies have focused on how mindfulness can influence specific ailments, including substance abuse, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, autism, cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, AIDS, high blood pressure and headaches. On the broadest level, mindfulness is seen as a tool to improve health, because it boosts our immune system. Scientists explain that, when practiced regularly, mindfulness can lead to lower secretions of cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that suppress the immune system.

Happy Act: Smile

Smile at strangers today. Pay attention to how you feel when you share a genuine smile with someone.

Four Ways to Get Started

  • Take a breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Feel the air come into your body and fill your lungs and diaphragm. Hold your breath for a beat, and then exhale slowly, noticing how it feels when the air leaves your body.
  • Take a bite. Pay attention to the food in your mouth—the texture and flavor. Chew slowly. Enjoy the taste.
  • Take a moment to be aware of your body. From head to toe, notice how you feel—from the inside out. Notice any tension and consciously relax those muscles.
  • Focus on the moment. Practice doing one thing at a time. Give your full attention to the task at hand.
Excerpted from Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah K. Heisz and the editors of Live Happy magazine.