On Being a Great Listener


By Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

In an era cluttered with life hacks and self-improvement advice, are people really listening?

Listen up: An introduction

Among my favorite studies in all of psychology is one that examines a difference between men and women. Since time immemorial people have loved the Venus-versus-Mars dynamic. Comedians riff on perceived differences between the sexes, champions of social change lament such differences, and social scientists examine them. The particular study that tickles me so was conducted by a collaborator of mine, Sara Hodges. In it, Sara and her colleagues asked a very simple question: are there differences in the levels of the empathy of men and women? The researchers wanted to know if women or men showed more concern for others or different amounts of “accuracy” (that is, the ability to correctly understand the emotions of others).

As you might guess, they hypothesized that women might show more concern and accuracy than do men. If...

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Why Your Brain Is Hardwired for Coaching


By Jess Hopkins 

Neuroplasticity is perhaps the most ground-breaking and revolutionary finding in modern neuroscience. For many years, the consensus was that once you reached adulthood, the human brain couldn’t generate new cells and you were more or less in a state of neural decline. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the so-called father of neuroscience, made a gloomy prognosis 1928 that would persist throughout the majority of the 20th century: “In adult centres the nerve paths are something fixed, ended, immutable. Everything may die, nothing may be regenerated.”

Thanks to modern science, we now know that this notion is false, and it turns out that an old brain can learn new tricks! Everyone has the capacity to change his or her brain for the better by harnessing the power of self-directed neuroplasticity. 

What does neuroplasticity mean, anyway?

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the adult brain to generate and integrate new brain cells...

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I think, therefore I am…. probably going to be successful


By Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

You spend a lot of time in your head, thinking about stuff. You wonder if you’ll finish painting the deck, you try to remember your colleague’s name, you fantasize about winning an academy award, you consider how best to ask your boss for a raise. You spend so much time rooting around the attic of thought, in fact, that it might be fair to say that you are your thoughts. I don’t mean to get weirdly metaphysical on you so early in the writing, but whatever “you” are, it is largely about your mental processes.

For as familiar as you are with your own thoughts—your own values, choices, temptations, and fantasies—I wonder if you have ever stopped to consider how thinking works. I mean, I know you have a lot of experience thinking. You have a running commentary on everything. “Are these jeans too tight?” “Hey, she has a widow’s peak!” “Do adults have favorite colors, or only...

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The Necessary Surrender: A Call For Rest


By Shannon Thompson 

This piece is about motivation, inspiration, drive, and energy. It’s about their loss and their return. This is also about tiredness, and humanness, and honesty. This is a conviction and an empathy. It’s about the rhythm of nature, and our perpetual inhale and exhale. It’s about the rhythm of you my friend. Yes, you have one.     

I’m tired, truly. So are many who work with me. We’ve shared a dense, long year of striving within crafts we love. But no matter how complete our devotion, or divine our call, or hot our passion, we’re only people, and people get tired. 

May I ask, what is it like to be you today my friend? Do you feel like you should be doing something else more productive, more innovative, more ambitious than reading this slow beginning? Perhaps you’re fresh and fiery, committed and consistent, driven and tireless… is that what you’re telling me? But, you’re...

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Ten Mistakes that Unsuccessful People Make


By Shannon Thompson

Is there someone in your life who appears to be chronically unsuccessful? Who, despite apparent effort, just can’t seem to make progress toward his goals? This article, which highlights commonalities of performers who struggle, takes an unusual turn from the topics I normally address. Although I almost always prefer to emphasize what should be done as opposed to what should not, I feel these pitfalls are worth illuminating so that they can be avoided. This article is the second part of a series, which summarizes my observations following three years as a mental performance consultant. The first component, “What Makes The Best The Best,” explored the commonalities I’ve witnessed among those who consistently perform well. The final installment will cover effective and ineffective coaching strategies. So, grab your most objective internal looking glass and read on!

1. Those who struggle place undue importance on single performances.

Is there...

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Why We Suck at Productivity and How to Fix It


By Jess Hopkins 

Everyone I know wants to be more productive— including myself. Even though I consider myself to be a highly productive person, I still find myself saying things like:

  • There just aren’t enough hours in the day!
  • How is it already the end of the week?! I still have so much to do!
  • I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time _______ (surfing the internet, stalking Instagram accounts of puppies, etc.)

Sound familiar? We tend to blame external factors like limited time and frequent distractions for our poor productivity. But the reality is that this is precisely our reality: we live in a fast-paced, high distractibility world that makes being productive a challenge. When we convert this context into excuses, we relinquish accountability and set ourselves up to fail.

Interestingly, high performers operate within this exact same reality, but still manage to achieve next level productivity. What is it that they do they do differently? They create...

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Liking Those You Don't: Three Ways to Change Your Feelings


By Shannon Thompson 

’Just like me, this person knows what suffering feels like.’” It doesn’t matter who “this person” is. You could grab any person off the street, walk into any office or any home, and whoever you find, it would be true. Just like me, this person has had difficulties in his or her life. Just like me, this person has known pain. Just like me, this person wants to be of use in the world, but also knows what it is like to fail. You don’t need to ask them if you are right. If they are human, you are right. All we need to do is choose to see it.”
Kelly McGonigal

There is this woman I know, and I can’t stand her. Well, there was a time that I couldn’t, and I still struggle to be near her sometimes. She’s a professional who works in a field parallel to mine, and often interacts with the same student athletes that I do. Why do I dislike her? Or, why did I (and honestly still sometimes do)? Well,...

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Levels of Belief: The Benefits of True Belief and How To Build It


By Shannon Thompson 

 

All things were suddenly possible; then what was possible became necessary.”

~ Victor Price

The first time that I noticed the power of true belief was in 1999. I was a working student for Pippa Funnell, a professional equestrian athlete in Great Britain. Up until this point, Pippa had certainly experienced her share of success. Highly competitive at some of the biggest competitions in the world, she was admired and well respected by her peers. Her stable was full of quality horses provided by confident sponsors. She ran a well-oiled and professional organization, and was by all definitions highly accomplished. There was a calm confidence about her stable. I don’t think anyone felt a pressing need for significant improvement or change.

But, change there was. In the fall of 1999, Pippa became the European Champion. This was her first major win on the world stage, and the joy that it brought was palpable. In the weeks to follow the...

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From Grumbles to Greatness: A Successful Alternative to Complaining


By Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

Yesterday, I flew from Miami to Portland. As is my habit, I eavesdropped on the people around me. In the seats behind me, a woman regaled her friend for over an hour about the terrible customer service snafu she had endured. The airline, it seemed, had made a mistake with her reservation. I won’t bore you with the details but trust me when I say there was a hero, a villain, and a battle. Indeed, it seems that for middle class people living in the modern world, complaints related to poor customer service are epic stories of tragedy and triumph. Dissatisfaction with credit card companies and online retailers may not have the makings of summer blockbusters, but most folks seem convinced they are narratives worth telling. Me? I think the woman’s complaint is an argument in favor of noise cancelling headphones.

Complaining is a universal phenomenon, and—I would guess—one as long as human history. It is easy to imagine Ugh, our...

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Increasing Willpower

By Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D.

Willpower is the energy that people use for self-control and making decisions. When energy is low, self-control doesn't work as well, decisions are avoided or made in a less careful, more error-prone fashion, actions become more impulsive, and emotions are more likely to run out of control. Hence much is to be gained by increasing willpower. But how to do that?

Positive psychologists compiled a list of 24 character strengths that improve life. Self-control was one of them. Surveys of over five million people have concluded that self-control is often a problem area. It is the least likely of the 24 to be named as “one of my five best strengths” and most to be listed among one’s biggest weaknesses. Apparently, plenty of people think they would be better off if they had more willpower.

Fortunately, research has begun to show that people can improve their willpower, even just over a period of weeks. This is welcome news, partly because...

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