“Our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.”
~ Amy Cuddy
I’m curious, how are you positioned right now? Are you leaning forward, hand at your chin, the other arm folded in front of your computer? Are you reclining, with a tablet perhaps? Or, are you scrolling down your phone with part of your attention on a clock, or a closed door, or an approaching bus?
If I were watching any of these scenarios I would make differing judgments as to how interested you are in this article. If you’re leaning forward, I would assume you’re fascinated, and perhaps hoping to learn something useful. If you’re reclining, I’d guess you’re reading for leisure. If you’re scrolling on your phone, I’d presume you’re killing time until something more important to you comes along. I would glean all of this information without you saying a word—by reading...
“The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.” ~ Blaise Pascal
I’ve always been guided by my intuition. Every major decision of my life has been directed by a “knowing” that came from a mysterious place within. I used to compete horses professionally. Upon my first glimpse of two of the most important horses of my past, I knew they would be mine one day. I knew this despite the fact that I had no money with which to buy a horse, and was not looking for one at the time.
The same thing happened when I read about the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania (where I attended grad school). I knew instantly that MAPP was the program for me. I knew this despite the fact that I was only one online course into my Bachelors degree, and had no reason to believe I’d ever be accepted into such a competitive program.
When I met a group of Flagstaff runners at a race in Colorado,...
When we picture the attributes of a high performer, we commonly think of words like confidence, influence, energy, and other associated ideas.
But in all our excitement about these high-performance buzz-words, we may overlook foundational attributes that are just as (or possibly more) important. In this blog, I’m suggesting that humility is one of these overlooked attributes.
For starters, let’s empirically establish the idea that we think of humility a whole lot less than those other terms as it relates to high performance. An easy way to do this is to do a google search coupling the phrases “high performance” (in parentheses) with each term. This type of analysis has shown to be a surprisingly useful way of learning how words and ideas relate to one another. Below is a chart that shows how often humility is paired with “high performance” compared to other terms:
Google Search Phrase
“People always say “be true to yourself” but that’s misleading, because there are two selves. There’s your short term self, and there’s your long term self. And if you’re only true to your short term self, your long term self slowly decays.” (Anonymous)
Our goals in life have an inherent future focus. However, it’s action in the present that is the foundation for future-self’s success. This creates an interesting tension between present-self and future-self which can be problematic at times.
The problem arises because we are not the mechanical rational agents that some economic theories portray. In fact, the economist Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago won the Nobel prize in 2017 for demonstrating the cognitive flaws and biases inherent in human thinking that undermine our rational goal pursuit. In a television interview I saw with Thaler about retirement savings, he...
We’ve all heard it. “Practice makes perfect.” But in the real world things work somewhat differently. Indeed, it is often the case that a person will work at the same job or carry out the same leisure activity—playing the piano, for instance, or golfing—for ten or twenty years and not be much better than after one or two.
The reason is simple: When people are first introduced to a job or a leisure activity, it takes them a certain amount of practice to reach an “acceptable” level of performance—one where there are no obvious failures and no glaring areas that need improvement—and then it takes a bit more practice to reach the point where they can execute that performance relatively effortlessly. But once they have reached this level of rather effortless achievement, improvement stops or slows to a crawl. We see this, for example, in school teachers who teaching...
Psychology has found two traits that consistently lead to success in a vast assortment of undertakings. One is intelligence. The other is self-control.
As it happens, there doesn’t seem much you can do to increase your intelligence, but your self-control can be improved. Self-control is therefore atop the list of things to cultivate in order to perform well. Self-control is essentially a matter of changing yourself, or of replacing one response with a different one.
Many people associate self-control with dieting, but that is only one of many applications (and far from the most effective use of self-control). It can involve controlling thoughts, emotions, and impulses, as well as task performance.
My research over the last couple decades has consistently found that self-control works like a muscle. Willpower is thus a kind of strength. Some people have stronger muscles than others — but even very strong people get tired sometimes and...
Living organisms differ from inanimate matter. Life is a teleological process. It must be maintained by a continual process of goal directed action. What is needed for survival for a given species is the result of evolution. If the needed action is not successfully taken, the organism or species dies. This applies to plants, the lower animals and humans. Humans, however, have one capacity beyond that of the lower life forms: we have the volitional power to choose our own goals. We have the power of reason which includes the capacity to form concepts and thereby create language. Through the process of thought we can consider alternatives and anticipate the consequences.
Goal setting theory was developed by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. The theory, based on more than 1000 studies, explains how goals can be used to regulate and improve your performance.
Types of goals. There are four basic types of goals. They can be for behavioral (e.g.,...
No one wants to feel foolish. The emotion is an unpleasant one, usually comprised of some embarrassment, and the perception of having been negatively exposed. Encounters with foolishness are usually brief and uncomfortable at worst. However, our fear of foolishness is often exponentially greater than the actual consequences of having been foolish. I believe that the fear of foolishness is a dangerous mental trap that can undermine the quality of our lives outside of our awareness. Last week I wrote specifically about the damage that a fear of foolishness can cause. This affliction can impair innovation, impede learning, poison performance, kill individuality, undermine hope, and prevent connection. For those of you with raised eyebrows, I’m looking straight back at you with grave seriousness. But there’s good news: you can overcome the fear of foolishness. Read on to learn how.
Unlike many other mental obstacles, I believe the fear of...
There is something awe-inspiring about someone — an athlete, a musician, a chess master, even a doctor or architect — with extraordinary skill. These people seem to inhabit a plane far above what we mere mortals could aspire to, and it seems natural to conclude that they must possess some capacity the rest of us weren’t. Their achievements seems unattainable, and, indeed, it was thought during the 15th and 16th century that they were gifts of God. Today we tend to refer to it as natural talent, but it means the same thing — they got it, we didn’t.
Centuries ago, it would have been heresy to try to understand the details of God’s gift, so the focus was on enjoying the fruits of such gifts and on searching for individuals who possessed these gifts. Over time, however, scientific explanations based on genetic inheritance started to replace the notion of gifts of God, and these explanations...
A few years ago, I met a man named Coss Marte who taught me something important about leading a meaningful life. Coss, who lives in New York, used to be a drug dealer. But then he got arrested—and, a few years into his prison sentence, he landed in solitary confinement for thirty days. As he reflected on his situation in solitary, he realized that dealing drugs was a mistake. It was messing up the lives of people in his community. He wanted to be and do better. And he began to see how.
When he first got to prison, he helped some overweight inmates get in shape by teaching them exercises they could do in their cells. One guy lost 80 pounds and cried as he thanked Marte for his help. In solitary, Marte realized that that is what he wanted to do with his life—help people lead healthier lives. When he got out of prison, he launched ConBody, a successful fitness studio in New York.
For the past few years, I’ve interviewed dozens of people like...
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