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Joel Wade

The Importance of Self-Reflection

By Habits and Strategies, MasteringHappiness

In Greek and Roman Mythology, Narcissus stared at his own reflection, so absorbed in his own image he was oblivious to anybody else. The idealized image that he saw withdrew him from the world. He was in an emotional vacuum, devoid of anything but what he wanted to see.

But aside from Narcissus, and those suffering from the psychological condition of narcissism, our own self-reflection can provide us the kind of useful assessment that allows us to live up to our own standards.

Researchers Robert Wicklund and Shelley Duval discovered back in the 1970s that when people were in front of a mirror and told they were being filmed, those people changed their behavior in very positive ways. They worked harder, gave more accurate answers to questions, were more consistent in their actions, and acted more consistently with their values.

About a decade later, Charles Carver and Michael Scheier looked at this in more depth, and within their larger explorations of self-awareness and self-regulation, found something fascinating.

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Understanding Our Social Nature

By Habits and Strategies, MasteringHappiness

Our social nature has huge benefits, and underlies much of our resilience and success as a species. But it can also steer us in bad, sometimes disastrous directions, and can be used to manipulate us.

We are social creatures. We influence one another, we care about each other, we follow each other and are able to cooperate and act together as a team.

We’re also cultural creatures. We learn from each other – and learn most effectively by watching what other people do. It matters to us what other people say and think and do. The accumulated knowledge and habits and standards of the ages become part of our own self-concept.

For much of what we do, this works extremely well. For small bands of hunter gatherers, which is how mankind has spent most of our existence, it’s been essential for our survival and flourishing.

And yet these very qualities can be used against us to manipulate us into accepting, doing, and buying things that work against our deepest values, that we can come to regret, and that sometimes can lead us into horrible tragedy. They make cults possible; they make the most murderous regimes and criminal gangs possible. They allow us to be passive when emergency action is necessary. Read More

Building a Foundation of Safety and Trust

By Habits and Strategies, MasteringHappiness

There’s a vow that, if taken by romantic couples, would go a long way toward establishing safety and trust, and limiting much of the pain that couples commonly experience – much of the pain that couples commonly inflict upon one another.

There will be pain in any relationship, we hurt each other without even trying. There’s plenty of conflict in the very best of relationships. John Gottman has found in his research that in successful marriages about 69% of conflicts never get resolved. So a happy marriage isn’t about the absence of conflict, or an absence of hurt.

It all comes down to how we treat each other given that there is conflict, and times when we unintentionally hurt each other.

In other words, it’s what we do or do not do intentionally that makes the difference.

The vow that I suggest to make between the two of you is this:

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Rituals for Excellence

By Habits and Strategies

William James 1842-1910

My client Frank was having a very hard time with his money. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s bankrupt character Mike in “The Sun Also Rises,” money problems tend to happen gradually, then suddenly.

Frank was, fortunately, still in the “gradually” stage, feeling anxious and a bit untethered. The frustrating thing was that he knew exactly what he needed to do… he just didn’t do it.

Well, to be more precise, he usually didn’t do it.

When he saw that his credit card balances were creeping up, and he’d lost track of what was happening with his investments, and he started worrying about bills that he hadn’t prepared for, then he would pay attention to his spending and check diligently on his investments… for maybe a week, maybe a month.

But when the anxiety subsided a bit as he adjusted his behavior, he would begin to feel less urgency, and eventually the old habits would reassert themselves, slowly re-creating the same problems that had been troubling him.

And the cycle would repeat itself.

We can know the right things to do. We can know how to do them. But until and unless these behaviors become automatic habits, we will never actually do them reliably over time. It just takes too much energy, focus, and willpower to consciously think of everything all the time.

As the great American psychologist William James said about a hundred years ago: Read More

Curiosity Provides the Energy for Excellence

By Habits and Strategies

An essential ingredient for success at anything – beyond the most mundane of rote tasks – is curiosity.

Curiosity is about exploration and discovery; it creates energy, possibilities, and movement. It also allows us to create relationships, and to grow more deeply and delightfully connected with one another. It allows us to play – and excellence in work can be like play for adults.

In my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, Life Coach, and Business Consultant, I would be utterly useless without curiosity as a central deliberate practice. I need to get to know, before I do anything else, who this other person is – or who these people are if it’s a couple or a work team. I need to be keenly interested in knowing and understanding them, their circumstances, and what their goals and challenges and strengths are. That’s all about curiosity.

You might think, “Well, that sounds like you start with empathy…” But empathy, in my experience, follows from curiosity. If we’re curious about the other person, that’s the portal through which our empathy and care for other people enters.

Think of your own work, your own family, your own friendships. With those with whom you enjoy a good relationship, I would bet that you also are curious about who they are as people. On the other hand, if there are people from whom you feel more distant or critical, you might find that bringing more curiosity about their internal worlds can bring fresh energy and interest – and perhaps greater compassion as well.

In our work, our success and prospects grow with curiosity. The antithesis of curiosity is a sense of or desire for certainty. Read More

Taking Your Time at the Start

By Habits and Strategies

When we see someone who truly excels at what they do, one quality often jumps out: they make it look easy.

But what is it that gives us the impression of ease?

They seem to take their time. Even when you’re seeing an elite athlete making lightning quick moves, it seems to be moving more slowly than the actual elapsed time. They’re not panicked, they’re not forcing things; the moves look fluid.

When someone has reached a state of mastery, with all the deliberate practice that requires, they’ve accumulated a vast store of knowledge and experience in their working memory. So when they get to work, they don’t need to take time to look things up; or when it’s a physical skill like athletics or music, they don’t have to think about the movements themselves.

Because of this, they also don’t feel rushed to act. They have time to orient to the problem or the task, and before they take action, they will have scanned their working memory for the information they need – the facts, the experience, the causes and effects they know – and then when they do act, they do so magnificently. Read More

Excellence Takes More than Time

By Habits and Strategies

We can learn a lot about gaining our own expertise from seeing how the great masters gained theirs.

Back in the 19th century, Sir Francis Galton in his book “Hereditary Genius,” argued that performance of skills for mature adults improves rapidly at first, but then at some point “Maximal performance becomes a rigidly determinate quantity.” What limits any significant improvement beyond that, in Galton’s view, was whatever nature endowed us with.

Other researchers – as far back as 1899 – added to this that it may take over 10 years to become an expert. The idea that this is a relatively orderly process, moving from novice to intermediate to expert, led to the belief that we can judge expertise through someone’s social reputation, education, accumulated knowledge, and length of experience.

There’s truth to this, of course, but it’s missing something important.

Because it turns out that people’s level of training and experience don’t always predict high performance. From psychologists to software designers, to wine experts, to decision makers and forecasters on investing, research has shown that the amount of time spent in the field is not a reliable measure of performance.

Something else is essential, which K. Anders Erickson and his co-editors map out in their tome, “Expertise and Expert Performance.”

What makes the difference between a Mozart or a Beethoven and somebody who can play quite well? What makes the difference between a Michael Jordan and a good overall basketball player? Read More

Your Long-Term Goals Have to Matter to You

By Habits and Strategies

Where do we find the energy to achieve big, long-term goals?

How can we persevere over time and through adversity to create something that requires a commitment of several years?

Simple. It has to matter to you.

Not just a little bit. It has to matter enough that you’ll see it through.

When someone calls me for coaching, once we’ve established the goals that they want to accomplish, one of the first questions I ask is “Why is it important for you to reach these goals?”

If the reason is something like “My parents want me to…” or “My boss wants me to…” or “I’m supposed to…” I know we have some work to do before we get to the nuts and bolts.

Somebody else wanting us to do something is rarely a strong enough motivation to make changes in our lives.

And reaching big goals usually requires making big changes.

Changing behavior, learning new skills, overcoming personal limitations – all take consciousness, time and willpower.

Habits are powerful forces; we can change them but not lightly.

Frankly, we have to have a darned good reason to change.

And we have to have an even better reason to maintain these new habits through adversity. Read More