Category: The Emotion Machine

Projection: The Antithesis of Empathy

projection


Projection is a common bias that we all fall victim to at times. It’s the opposite of empathy – it’s when we take what’s going on inside our own minds and mistakenly assume that’s what other people think as well.


Projection is the tendency to falsely attribute our own thoughts and feelings onto another person.

It’s a type of cognitive bias that is often done unconsciously without us even realizing it.

For example, someone who is very self-critical and has a negative perception of themselves is likely to believe that other people are critical of them and have a similar negative perception.

During projection, the “internal” becomes “external” – we assume what is true for our self is also what is automatically true for others.

In many ways, projection is the opposite of empathy.

Instead of genuinely understanding someone, we take what’s going on inside ourselves and we project that into the lives of others; it’s a type of mind-reading where we wrongly assume we know what is going on in a person’s head (without asking or clarifying).

Projection can take many different forms, harmful examples include:

  • Shifting blame to someone else for doing something you’ve done.
  • Assuming your partner is cheating on you when you’re cheating on them.
  • Bullying someone for things we don’t like about ourselves.
  • Assuming other people are being dishonest or lying in a situation where we’d lie.
  • Believing others are negatively judging us for things we are insecure about.
  • Calling someone sensitive when you lash out after being hurt or offended.
  • Thinking “everyone is selfish” because you are selfish.

The common pattern behind all these examples is shifting what is true about yourself onto others.

Projection is often seen as a type of “defense mechanism” to protect our egos. Instead of confronting our problems, flaws, or insecurities, we try to find them in others to distract focus away from ourselves.

As Carl Jung once said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

He believed that aspects of our “shadow” or the dark sides of our personality were particularly likely to give rise to projection, both on a personal level and societal level, because those are the things we most want to deflect or ignore.

It’s easier to blame others than to confront things we don’t like about ourselves.

For example, someone who says something wrong may be shouted down as being “Stupid!” by someone who also fears being called “Stupid!” by others and has had similar experiences in the past being made fun of.

When someone gets under our skin or annoys us, it can be helpful to ask, “What does this say about me?” It’s possible the person is reminding you of something you don’t like about yourself.

Projection isn’t always malicious or harmful. It can also take innocent forms such as assuming people will like a certain movie or restaurant simply because we did.

In general, people assume others are similar to them.

In psychology this is sometimes referred to as “social projection” (or the false consensus effect), where we wrongly assume our thoughts and behaviors are “common” or “normal” to the majority of people.

Of course, our personal experiences are the first reference point into how others may feel. The idea of, “I wouldn’t like that if I were in their shoes” is a basic building block toward empathy.

Naturally, we share a lot of commonalities with each other, especially when it comes to basic needs like wanting to be safe, loved, and respected. Recognizing those commonalities is essential for feeling interconnected and recognizing our basic humanity.

However, genuine empathy requires acknowledging both similarities and differences of others.

Human beings are diverse, so we can’t expect that everyone is going to be exactly alike.

People can lead radically different lifestyles and still be happy. An introverted writer who prefers staying home will likely have a hard time living as a rockstar musician who is always traveling and putting on shows for big audiences.

Both will have trouble empathizing with each other unless they are open to different perspectives and different types of people.

The simple acknowledgement, “I’m the type of person who prefers solitude, but this person thrives around being with others” is recognizing differences while still being empathetic and understanding where a person is coming from.

This is why self-awareness and empathy are so intertwined. Not everyone is like you. Often we have to learn the ways we “stand out” from others to better understand them (and ourselves).

For example…

  • If you’re a naturally shy or introverted person, you may have difficulty empathizing with someone who is more outgoing or extraverted.
  • If you only enjoy classical music, you may have difficulty understanding someone who only listens to metal and hardcore music.
  • If you’re married with kids, it may be difficult to empathize with someone who chose to be single or not start a family.

None of these things are “right” or “wrong,” they are just different ways people choose to live.

These choices often make perfect sense to the other person, even if you can’t relate or you wouldn’t do the same in their shoes.

To empathize, you have to temporarily let go of your personal biases, prejudices, and preferences to understand another person.

It’s not easy, but if you can do that you’ll be better at minimizing projection in your daily life.


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Cocoon Phases of Self-Improvement: When Growth Seems to Stagnate

cocoon phases


Do you feel like your growth is stagnating? It’s possible you are just in a “cocoon phase,” which is a natural part of the self-improvement process. Be patient and keep moving forward.


Are you doing everything right in life but still feel like nothing is changing?

Self-improvement is often a jagged process. Growth isn’t linear – instead, it is often filled with many peaks, valleys, and plateaus.

Often when you start a new habit, you will notice some immediate benefits and then things will seem to slow down.

For example, after exercising for two weeks people often begin to look in the mirror and notice physical changes to their body, including being slimmer or more toned.

It can be really motivating to see those initial results, but then progress seems to slow down. After a month, you may begin to feel like you are just “maintaining” your current position and not moving forward anymore.

This is a natural part of the self-improvement process. Of course we crave instant results, but a big part of self-improvement is cultivating patience and recognizing the larger process unfolding.

When growth seems to slow down – or even feels like it’s at a complete stagnation – it’s crucial to have the right perspective.

Just because you can’t detect any new growth doesn’t mean it isn’t happening below the surface – sometimes you need to give time for internal changes before external changes begin to manifest themselves.

One great metaphor for self improvement is the transformation of the butterfly.

In the butterfly’s early life stages, the larva or caterpillar is feeding and growing in size – but before it can reach its final stage, it must go through a “cocoon phase.”

On the surface, a “cocoon phase” feels like nothing is happening. There are no detectable changes on the surface, everything is stagnate to the outside observer. You just have to sit and wait.

Of course, in reality change is still happening within the cocoon. A real transformation is taking place, but it takes time.

Day by day nothing seems to be happening, then one day the beautiful butterfly emerges and the wait was all worth it.

Self-improvement can often work in the same way. We get into “cocoon phases” where not much change or growth seems to be happening, then there is a rapid spike of transformation.

We all go through phases of perceived “slow growth” or “no growth,” but it’s important to keep the complete picture in mind.

As long as you are doing the little things, taking care of your body and mind, cultivating healthy habits, and taking small steps every day, you have to trust the process and not become too concerned with immediate results.

If you have the right system in place – especially your daily routine – the results will always come in the long run.

Often growth happens either very slowly or very quickly.

During the slow phases of growth, the tiny things will gradually add up over long periods of time, then you reach those tipping points of rapid growth and transformation.

That’s when you break through those plateaus and reach the next level in the game of life, then the cycle repeats itself.

As the famous saying goes, “It takes 10 years to become an over-night success.”

To the outside observer, a person’s success can seem to come out of nowhere – but to the person who has been quietly grinding, they know they have dedicated many years of blood, sweat, and tears.

When a big opportunity finally comes knocking, they are there to seize it and take advantage of it, but their success story certainly didn’t start there.

Growth comes in cycles, so be patient with yourself during those slow times – something remarkable may be just around the corner waiting for you.


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50+ Productivity Tips to Take Your Success to the Next Level

productivity tips


Do you struggle with staying focused, motivated, and productive? Here are 50+ of the most definitive productivity tips to take your success to the next level.



50+ Productivity Tips to Take Your Success to the Next Level

Here’s a comprehensive list of all the main tips, tools, and advice for improving your productivity and motivation.

There’s a lot of information here, so consider bookmarking this page for future reference.

Which tips work best for you? Which tips would you like to try out?

  • Time-Boxing – Schedule a certain amount of time in your day to complete a task. Often getting something done requires that we first identify a convenient time and place to actually do it. When time-boxing any activity, set very specific goals such as, “I will go to the gym tomorrow morning between 7AM-8AM,” or “I will work on my taxes Saturday afternoon between 2PM-3PM.” When appropriate, set an alert or timer, so you remind yourself when to start and work for the fully allotted time. You can also use a daily planner or calendar to create an outline of each day for the week – as well as create a breakdown of your complete daily routine to find opportunities to make changes.
  • Prioritize – Focus on what matters most each day. You only have a limited amount of time, effort, and willpower to invest each day, so it’s important that you invest it wisely. Make a list of the top 3 tasks you want to complete each day – try to avoid being distracted by tasks that aren’t as immediate or important. (“I really need to pay my bills today,” or “I need to start that project that is due by the end of the week.”) If you could only get ONE thing done today, what would it be? That’s a good place to start.
  • Say “No” – Know when to simply say “no” to people’s requests or new projects. If you say “yes” to everything, you will never get anything done. (“Sorry I can’t work with you on that because I need to focus on this,” or “I’m going to stay in this Friday night to catch up on some things.”) As Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Similarly, it’s important to know when to quit goals you’ve already wasted too much time or energy on (or no longer care about), so that you can redirect that energy to more important things that still matter to you. Your time matters – so make sure you are saying “Yes” to the right things.
  • Get Up and Move! – A lot of work requires us sitting for long periods of time, so it’s important to get up and move around when you have the chance, even if it’s just going for a walk, doing a quick round of push-ups, or standing up for a few minutes. As someone who works a lot on my computer, I practice a scattered workout throughout the day to keep my mind and body active.
  • Control Your Devices – Technology can make work easier, but it can also be a huge distraction. One of the best ways to eliminate distractions is to minimize notifications and alerts that don’t serve any immediate purpose. You can also leave your phone in another room (or far away from your desk) so you’re not tempted to keep checking it, or block certain websites during work hours that only waste your time.
  • Take Short Breaks – Most people can only focus on a task for 45-60 minutes at a time before they start getting tired and unfocused. This is why it’s so important to take micro-breaks throughout the day to keep your mind fresh and energized. Just a 5-10 minute break (such as having a conversation with a friend, eating a quick snack, or spending some time outside) is a great way to hit the “reset” button before you sit back down to work.
  • Checklists – It can seem simple and commonsense, but a daily checklist is one of the best ways to hold yourself accountable and stay on track with your goals. We often forget to do the small things because they seem so obvious, but a checklist can help remind you and avoid making stupid mistakes.
  • 2 Minute Rule – If you can complete a task within 2 minutes, it usually makes sense to just do it right away. This could include responding to an email, paying a bill, or putting out the trash. It helps to have a healthy sense of urgency with tasks that are right in front of you rather than leave it off and try to remember to do later.
  • Drink Water and Eat Healthy Snacks – During a busy workday we can sometimes forget to keep our bodies nourished and hydrated. It’s important to make sure you drink plenty of water (keep a bottle by your desk) and eat healthy snacks (nutrition bars, salads, nuts, fruits) when you start getting distracted or fatigued – it could mean you are running low on glucose, which plays an important role in boosting willpower and energy levels throughout the day.
  • Control Social Media – Social media is one of the biggest distractions while working – it’s also a place with a lot of stress, anxiety, and negativity that can suck up your energy. Consider minimizing your social media use to a limited time within the day, turn off unnecessary notifications, and build a positive digital environment that actually motivates you and inspires you.
  • Schedule When to Check Email – Email is another thing we are constantly refreshing and checking throughout the day. Unless you’re waiting for an email that is super important and needs your immediate attention, consider scheduling time to check emails (such as once in the morning, once after lunch, and once in the evening). Try to avoid checking emails during leisure time and off-hours so that you can turn your mind off from work-related stuff.
  • Organize Your Workspace – Your work environment has a big influence over your work habits. If you’re in a messy, disorganized, and noisy environment with a lot of distractions, it’s going to be harder to stay focused than if you have a clean, organized, and quiet workspace that encourages concentration and relaxation. Consider doing a tidying marathon in your workspace to give yourself a fresh restart. Once you’re organized, add some decorations (pictures of family and friends, plants, sentimental objects, motivational quotes or affirmations, or a whiteboard) to give your workspace a boost of positive energy.
  • Go to Bed Earlier, Wake Up Earlier – While not everyone is an early bird, research shows that even night owls can benefit from trying to go to bed earlier and waking up earlier. Try to shift your sleep schedule just one hour back and see if you notice a difference. Sometimes that extra hour in the morning can make a huge difference to your overall daily routine and habits, especially if you use it wisely.
  • Step Back and Breathe – Life can be so busy that we forget to take a step back and breathe sometimes. A short breathing meditation is a great way to temporarily disconnect from work and recharge yourself, even if it’s just 10 deep breaths before starting a new task, going to a meeting, or jumping on a conference call. Sometimes you need to take a step back to give yourself the opportunity to step forward even stronger.
  • Shorter Meetings – If you have a lot of meetings at work, it’s important that they are used efficiently and not turned into a waste of people’s time and energy. Many people see most meetings at their job as pointless. When necessary, meetings should focus on 1-3 specific goals – and they don’t need to be longer than 15-30 minutes (unless they are a training session or brainstorming session). This lecture on the science of meetings by Steven Rogelberg has a lot of great tips and suggestions.
  • Productivity Apps – One huge benefit of living in today’s world is that we have a lot of helpful productivity apps that can improve our motivation and accountability. It’s nice to be able to quantify your progress, such as how many times in a week you exercised, meditated, or succeeded with a new habit. There are many types of self-improvement apps out there, including health apps (monitoring sleep, diet, physical activity, steps you take), stress apps (guided meditations, ASMR, relaxing music), and productivity apps (habit trackers, motivational reminders). However, beware not to become too “app crazy” – these tools should be designed to change your real-world actions, not distract you or give you more things to worry about. They should be making your life easier, not harder. Start with just one new app that fits with your current goals and see if it works.
  • Plan Ahead – While it’s important to focus on what’s in your power in the moment, it’s also essential to have a long-term vision in mind. We can’t predict what exactly our future will be in life, but one nice planning exercise is to create a timeline for your goals, including what you want to accomplish within the next week, month, year, and decade. It may or may not happen, but at least you are working toward something in the far future. As one common saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
  • Listen to Music – Music is one of the most common tools we use to change our mental state. We can use it in a variety of ways to reduce stress, improve focus, uplift our moods, or energize ourselves. What’s the best type of music to listen to while you work? It depends on the type of work. I personally like to listen to a lot of ambient, classical, or instrumental music while I write, since music with vocals/lyrics tends to distract me when doing “mental work” (such as writing, reading, studying, or brainstorming). Ultimately, choose music that fits your individual preferences and works best for that specific task or situation.
  • Break Tasks Down – Having trouble getting started? Try to break down tasks into smaller parts to make them easier to work on. For example, instead of trying to write a 10 page report all at once, focus on completely just one page at a time. Sometimes we need to think smaller to overcome motivational inertia. If we try to bite off more than we can chew all at once, we will easily get frustrated and want to give up. One good question to ask yourself is, “What is the smallest step I can take in the right direction?” Start there and keep going.
  • 80/20 Rule – One of the most popular concepts when it comes to productivity is the Pareto Principle or “80/20 rule.” The basic idea is that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. By keeping this rule in mind, you can identify what your most important tasks are throughout your day. What are the 20% of your actions that lead to 80% of your results? What activities are absolutely essential? Often by focusing more time, attention, and energy on those tasks, you can maximize your results more efficiently. For example, if you’re an online business that gets 80% of your customers through social media, than that’s an avenue you want to explore more and continue to put valuable time and effort in.
  • Consistent Sleep Schedule – Healthy sleep habits are probably the most important factor when it comes to both physical and mental health. Numerous studies show how losing even one hour of sleep at night can increase stress and anxiety, make you more angry and irritable, and cause you to make more mistakes at work. No matter if you’re an “early bird” or “night owl”, it’s important you keep a consistent sleep schedule on a daily basis, usually within the range of 6-10 hours per night.
  • Focus On How Good You Will Feel After You Finish – When it comes to daily chores and responsibilities that we often find boring, tedious, or even painful, it’s important to remind yourself how good you will feel once you finally get it over with. Sure, it sucks to spend that one Saturday morning working on your taxes – but remember how good you will feel when it’s all finished and you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Other people will be rushing to get things done before the deadline hits, and you can give yourself a pat on the back for completing it early and relieving yourself of future stress. While it can often suck to get annoying tasks done in the moment, we underestimate the “high” we get once we actually do them.
  • Delegate Tasks You Really Suck At – If you’re working with a group or team, it’s always important to keep in mind everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. The best productivity in team settings comes when everyone knows where they fit best. If there are certain types of tasks you really suck at (or strongly dislike), it may be a good idea to see if someone else is willing to take those duties off of your back. This is an important principle for managers and leaders, but it can also apply to individuals as well. No matter what you need help with (whether at home or at work), you can probably find someone to hire who is willing to do it for you or at least offer guidance.
  • Minimize News, Current Events, and Celebrity Gossip – It’s very easy to get wrapped up in news, politics, and current events that only suck up your time and energy. Some of us probably spend more time arguing on the internet with people than we do actually working. Mass media can be particularly damaging because so much of it focuses on creating negative emotions like fear, anger, or disgust to grab our attention and manipulate us. This is one reason I’ve made it a habit to consume at least one good news every day to remind myself that not everything happening in the world is terrible and tragic. It’s also helpful to just “tune out” more (turn off the TV, stop spending so much time on social media) so that you can focus on things that actually influence your life on a practical level.
  • Remind Yourself What You Like About Your Work – Our minds have an inherent negativity bias no matter what it is in life, especially when it comes to our job or career. It’s easy to go into work everyday thinking, “I can’t wait for my coworker to say something stupid,” or “I know the boss is going to give it to me today,” but what about the things you like about your job? How often do you think about those aspects – or even feel grateful for them? Try to make a list of the positive things about your job (a coworker you really like, helping people, getting paid) and reflect on it whenever you feel negative or overwhelmed. There are probably other jobs out there that would be an even worse fit for you, right? Of course, if you truly can’t identify a single thing you like about your job, then it may be time to consider making a serious change. Not all jobs are created equal – it’s important to find one that works for you personally.
  • Follow Up With People – In any group or organization, the most important aspect of efficiency is communication and making sure everyone is on the same page. This is why checking in on people and following up with them is essential. Haven’t heard from someone in awhile about that project? Find out how they are doing, ask them their current status, when they expect to finish it, what problems they are running into, or if they need any help or assistance with anything. In modern organizations, a team of teams mindset can help pull together different aspects of an organization to make sure it is acting as a single organism – but this requires that there is constant feedback and information flowing between everyone.
  • Acknowledge Your Past Success – We sometimes forget to look back on our lives and be proud of our past successes and accomplishments. We become so trapped into looking at where we want to go in the future (our “current goal”) that we neglect to acknowledge how far we’ve already traveled in life. What are some past success stories in your life? Consider creating a list and saving it as a positive resource to revisit and be inspired by. In general, positive memories can be a powerful source of happiness, inspiration, and motivation if we know how to reflect on them wisely. If you can identify your success in the past, you can use that to fuel your success in the future.
  • Find Your Flow StateFlow is a popular concept in psychology where you become so immersed in an activity that you lose your sense of time and self. It’s often described as a state of “peak performance,” which is highly rewarding becaause you feel equally skilled and challenged to overcome any obstacle you come across. Different activities put different people into flow, so it’s important to find the type of work that you can get lost in for hours.
  • Sleep on Big Decisions – Most types of work require that we make big decisions every now and then (even the simple question of whether or not we should “stay” or “leave” a particular job is a huge choice that we shouldn’t take lightly). When it comes to any type of big decision in life, it’s often best to give yourself time to “sleep on it.” There’s something about a good night’s rest that can help put things into perspective and allow you to evaluate a decision from a fresh clean slate, rather than impulsively responding to something in the heat-of-the-moment.
  • Put a Fun Twist on Ordinary Activities – The key to healthy work is sometimes just knowing how to make things as fun and enjoyable as possible (the old “whistle while you work” philosophy). There’s a lot of research about the importance of balancing “work” and “play,” and studies suggest that putting a fun twist on ordinary activities can make them more engaging and memorable. There are many different ways to accomplish this, such as turning things into a game or friendly competition, or listening to music/dancing/singing, or trying to beat your “high score” with a specific task. Be creative and find what makes things the most fun and enjoyable for you (without hurting the quality of your work).
  • Give Yourself Credit for the Small Wins – Each day there are “small wins” that you should pay attention to and give yourself credit for, even if it’s just showing up to work, not losing your temper, learning something new, or making it through another day. While these may not seem like the most glorious “wins,” they count for something, and we should learn to give ourselves more credit for everything we do right (or things we don’t do) and continue to build off of that. Sometimes growth and progress are happening slower than we’d like them to, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. What “small win” can you give yourself credit for today? To start, give yourself credit for reading this article!
  • Work From Home – It’s becoming more common in today’s world for people to work from home. Many people enjoy the benefits of not having to commute, not being stuck in a noisy office, or being surrounded by other employees. The comfort of working from home can often give us a productivity boost – it’s nice to be in an environment you have complete freedom and control over – as long as we don’t get too distracted or think of it as a “day off.” Make sure you have a designated space or office at home to focus on work and give yourself a chance to settle into your new routine. If your job doesn’t currently let you work from home, start with small requests such as a one-time, “Can I work from home today?” If you can prove it won’t hurt your performance, you can start asking for a certain number of days per week.
  • Drink Caffeinated Beverages Responsibly – Drinking coffee, tea, or energy drinks is a common habit for most working people. Caffeine can definitely give you a quick boost of energy and focus to help you get out of that morning fog and keep you energized throughout the day. Try to drink responsibly within the morning hours when you most need them (7AM-12PM), then consider a quick lift-me-up at some point in the afternoon (often between 2PM-5PM people experience another dip in energy levels, usually after lunch time). Make sure to still drink plenty of water and eat healthy food throughout the day. Caffeine shouldn’t be used to curb your appetite until dinner time, or drink so much throughout the day that you crash right after work. Be smart, use it in moderation, and find a balance that works best for you.
  • Be On Time – It’s commonsense, but being responsible and showing up on time to work and meetings shows that you really care, you can be trusted, and you take your job seriously. While everyone may show up late every now and then (for unforeseen reasons), you should try your best to be as reliable as possible. If you have a habit of showing up late to things, then try showing up 5 minutes earlier than usual to make up the difference. As the famous Woody Allen quote goes, “80% of success in life is just showing up.” Being where you need to be when you need to be there is essential.
  • Write Things Down and Be a Diligent Note-Taker – Don’t trust your brain to remember everything. Often we can forget key details or instructions unless we write them down somewhere for later. Taking notes during important meetings, conversations, or brainstorming sessions can go a long way. Studies show that writing things down (and even drawing ideas) can improve our thinking, memory, and problem-solving skills. It’s important we act on the information we consume, otherwise it will often go “in one ear, out the other.” Always have a pen and notepad by your desk for random note-taking.
  • Deescalate Workplace Tension and Hostility – All work requires working with other people to some extent, and that can often invite unnecessary drama and conflict that hurts everyone’s performance on the job. Learning important social skills, such as how to defuse heated arguments, is an essential and often underrated aspect of productivity. There will likely be clashes between different ideas, personalities, and interests, so it’s important to invite healthy communication and debate without taking things personally. Listen to other people and show respect even if you happen to disagree with them – it will save you from a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety in the long-term.
  • Be True to Yourself – Everyone can contribute something valuable to society if they know themselves. Often times “hating a job” isn’t necessarily about the specific attributes of that job, but that it’s simply a “bad fit” for that particular individual. Some people do their best work while surrounded by a lot of people, while others do their best work by themselves or with a very small group. Some people do their best work when it comes to physical labor or “hands on” work, while others do their best work when it requires mental labor and brainstorming. Ultimately, the more you accept yourself, the easier it will be to find a job or career that best suits you and your personality.
  • Experiment With Small Changes – Our daily routines are a constant work-in-progress. Always be willing to experiment with small changes to see what works best for you. A bunch of “small tweaks” over time can make a huge difference in the long-term, even if it’s simple things like changing your morning ritual, or changing your approach when dealing with a difficult boss or coworker. I’ve been actively working on my daily routine for over a decade now, but I still experiment with small changes to keep things fresh and keep growing. There are always ways to make small improvements if you know where to look and you’re willing to try new things.
  • Change Your Scenery – One of the easiest ways to change your mindset is to change your environment. If you find yourself trapped in old patterns, unable to brainstorm new ideas, or stuck on a problem at work, consider changing your scenery by stepping outside in the sun, going on a short nature walk, or moving your work to the local library or cafe. A different environment can help jolt new ideas and new ways of thinking, especially if you’ve been spending too much time sitting at your desk being bored and distracted. Studies also show that group brainstorming sessions tend to be more creative and generate more ideas when they are done outside during a nature walk, rather than just sitting in the same old conference room. The next time you have an important group meeting, consider doing it somewhere with a beautiful view to help stimulate everyone’s mind.
  • Save Your Good Ideas – Our minds are always generating new ideas, many of which we can’t always act on right away. How often do you have a good idea for a new project, but nothing ever materializes? Maybe you even have a great idea before bed, but by next morning you’ve lost it? When it comes to any type of creative thinking, it’s important to have some type of “ideas list” or “ideas journal” where you can record your ideas and revisit them in the future. For example, when it comes to writing I have hundreds of new ideas for articles that I haven’t written yet. This can be an amazing resource for when I’m looking for new inspiration. If I don’t know what to write about on a certain day, I always have a list of ideas to draw from if I need them. The best creative minds always have more ideas than they do current projects, and it’s smart for them to record all those ideas somewhere safe.
  • Practice Mental Rehearsal with New Habits – It can be difficult to change our habits or act in new ways if we can’t yet imagine ourselves actually doing it. This is why mental rehearsal – visualizing yourself performing a new habit – can be such a valuable tool for sparking change. By practicing new actions in your mind, you make it more likely that you will follow through on those actions in the real world; but without this mental rehearsal, it’s easy to just fall back into your old patterns. Identify one situation you’d like to act differently in. Decide what the best course of action would be in that situation. Take the time to visualize yourself performing that new action. Then the next time you find yourself in that situation, remember what you practiced and try your best to follow through on it. Rinse and repeat until the habit becomes second-nature.
  • Create a Reward to Look Forward To – Find healthy ways to reward yourself after a difficult day, even if it’s something simple like watching a favorite TV show, eating your favorite dessert, playing a new video game, or taking a relaxing bath. When you have something to look forward to after a hard day’s work, that can give you that extra boost of energy and motivation throughout the day. Research shows that creating healthy anticipation in life can be a powerful force when we use it wisely. You can also create long-term rewards to look forward to, such as planning a vacation over the summer, taking some “mental health days” at the end of the month, or saving up for a nice luxury expense like a new car or TV. Creating your own rewards provides the feeling that you are “working for something” in the future that matters to you, beyond just the paycheck or being able to pay your bills. What are you currently looking forward to? What type of rewards would work best to keep you motivated?
  • Be a Balanced Person – Your job doesn’t define you. In our materialistic world, people tend to believe that something only has “value” in life if it leads to more money or wealth. But work is only ONE aspect of life – and being a more balanced person requires we pay attention to other important areas, including our health, relationships, and well-being. If work is hurting these other areas in life, then it may be time to reevaluate and reprioritize what really matters to you. No one is lying on their death-bed thinking, “I wish I spent more time at work,” but people do often regret “Not spending enough time with family,” or “Not spending enough time taking care of my physical and mental health.”
  • Analyze Your Mistakes and Failures – In theory we all know that mistakes and failures are a part of learning, but in practice it can be painful to dive into those failures and try to extract a meaningful lesson from them. Don’t be afraid to sit down and take the time to actually write about your failures in an open and honest way. Put yourself back into that moment, even if it’s a bit painful or embarrassing. Ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” or “Knowing what I know now, how would I have responded to this situation?” If you’re feeling brave, create a collection of failure stories (everyone has them) as a resource to reflect and learn from.
  • Don’t Compare Your Path to Anyone Else – You can’t compare your success to anyone else’s, because everyone is on different paths. Perhaps your friends and peers are already working steady jobs, getting married, having kids, or buying a home, and you feel “behind” because you haven’t yet reached these goals. It’s natural to compare yourself to others, but you have to remember that constant social comparison can often be a never-ending source of frustration and unhappiness. Ultimately, people have different goals, values, and priorities in life, and the most important thing isn’t how you compare to anyone on any specific metric, but instead that you are trying your best, making the most with what you have, and focusing on what really matters to you in this chapter of your life.
  • Learn a New Skill – Often the combination of skills we bring to a job is more important than any single skill we have. An employee who has experience with design, psychology, and music, is going to stand out over an employee who just focuses on design. An employee who is fluent in 2-3 languages is going to have an edge over an employee who is only fluent in one (especially when it comes to a job in customer service). In general, a unique skillset is going to make you a more unique employee, so sometimes the best way to elevate your resume is to learn a completely new skill or trade. That could mean going back to college, signing up for late night classes, or taking a workshop or online course. In today’s rapidly changing economy, a jack of all trades mindset is often necessary to be able to adapt and evolve with future job demands.
  • Avoid Common “Cognitive Biases” At Work – Our minds are prone to many errors that can hurt how we approach our work. Common biases that are hurting your goals include the “planning fallacy,” where we often underestimate how long it will take to complete a project, the “sunk cost fallacy,” where we often continue to invest time, energy, and money in lost causes, and “illusory superiority,” where we always think we know what is best even when it comes to topics we don’t know much about. Which cognitive biases are you most susceptible to? How are they influencing your work? How can you change your mindset or approach to avoid falling victim to these errors in judgment in the future?
  • Make Friends At Work – Healthy relationships make a huge difference in all areas of life, especially at work. To start, having friends around (or people you like) makes the overall work environment more fun, relaxing, and stress-free. They can also be a huge source of motivation. When you ask most people why they try their best at work, it’s usually because they don’t want to let other people down, including their boss, coworkers, or customers. When you make friends at work in all forms, it becomes more than just “getting the job done,” but instead turns your job into a meaningful social experience.
  • Think in Terms of “Systems” vs. “Goals” – Goals are often short-term thinking, while systems are long-term thinking. Setting a goal or deadline can be useful as a temporary motivator, but a system is concerned with long-term success, progress, and sustainability. Systems focus on cultivating the right process rather than any individual results. For example, you may not meet a specific goal in time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making real progress (or that you should stop doing what you’re doing). Be patient. Systems are about building the right habits and routines, and trusting that the results will come eventually (even if you don’t know exactly when).
  • Build Up Your “Mental Toolbox” – Taking care of your mind is important no matter what type of work you do, even athletes know that 50% of every game is mental. Everyone can benefit from learning helpful tools in psychology and mental health (if you’re reading this, you likely already agree). The more tools you have in your mental toolbox, the easier it will be to overcome daily obstacles and hardships. When you find yourself in a negative mood, do you know how to manage it? There are many options out there…write about it, talk to someone, exercise, do something creative, or go for a walk. Create a plan for how to respond to your negative emotions. Once you recognize that you always have a choice in how you respond to your mental state, you become more powerful in every area of life.
  • Believe You’re Close to a Major Breakthrough – It can be hard to notice any changes on a day-to-day basis. But just because you can’t see changes happening right in front of your eyes, doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress below the surface. We often go through “cocoon phases” where it feels like things are fixed and stagnant, then there is a rapid spike of transformation. Self-improvement isn’t linear – often there are long periods of plateaus, and even times when you feel you are taking steps backwards. Recognize that all of that is part of the process. You may be closer to a major breakthrough than you think, so hang in there and keep doing the right things.


That completes our list of motivation and productivity tips. There’s a lot of information here, but don’t get too overwhelmed.

Start by just choosing one tip and try it out for the week. Give it an honest shot and see if it works for you (or doesn’t), then move onto another piece of advice and keep building from there.

Remember that everything in self-improvement is a constant “work in progress,” so don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t magically change overnight.

Be patient with yourself, take small steps forward, and keep going!


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Diagnose Your Current Relationship Problems With These Key Questions

relationship problems


What is the current state of your relationship? Here are important questions to ask yourself to diagnose your current problems and find out how serious they are.


Every relationship has problems, even the most happy and healthy couple is going to have occasional hiccups, mistakes, and obstacles to work through and move past.

The goal of a healthy relationship isn’t to pretend everything is “perfect,” but to be honest about our problems and learn to confront them in a constructive way.

If we try to avoid all negativity, or just tell ourselves “everything is fine,” then problems will often build up and things will only become worse and worse in the long-term. Perhaps this is a product of magical thinking or having a false impression of how relationships are supposed to work: they usually don’t look like fairy tales in the real world.

This is why it’s important to be able to acknowledge and diagnose your current relationship problems to see how serious they are.

While every relationship has problems, it matters what those exact problems are, how big they are in the grand scheme of things, and whether or not they can be fixed (or managed).

In the heat of the moment, everything can seem more important than it really is. As psychologist Daniel Kahneman says, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

While that may sound like an obvious thought, it touches on an important truth: we can often get caught up in the present moment and forget to look at the bigger picture.

For example, imagine you’re on a Sunday picnic date with your loved one during a nice summer afternoon. Everything is going smoothly… until it starts raining.

Instantly this puts you and your date in a bad mood. You start yelling at each other, “Quick grab the food you idiot and let’s find somewhere dry!” “How did this happen…didn’t I tell you to check the weather before we left?!” “You can’t do anything right! Why did I ever marry you?”

The pleasant afternoon is ruined; you both go home angry and upset, then spend the rest of the day avoiding each other.

A rational response? Definitely not, but situations like this unfold frequently in certain types of relationships. Sometimes they can even be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back depending on how far they escalate.

One question to ask yourself during any relationship problem (big or small) is “How will I feel in one year about this current conflict in my relationship?”

By zooming out and thinking about the problem from a “future self” perspective, you can get a clearer idea of how important it really is.

How will the “rainy picnic” memory look in a year from now? Perhaps it will become something to laugh at and reminisce about, even though in the moment it felt like the end of the world.

That’s not to say all relationship problems are as harmless as a “rainy picnic,” but research shows thinking from a long-term perspective can help put temporary problems into perspective.

One study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that this future-oriented thinking (or “prospective thinking”) can be a powerful tool for improving relationship satisfaction and well-being.

When participants were asked to reflect on a current relationship problem and then ask themselves, “How will I feel about this a year from now?” they were shown to be more adaptive to relationship conflict, including lower partner blame, greater forgiveness and insight, and greater expectations that the relationship will grow and improve.

Another essential question when someone hurts or disappoints you is, “Will I be able to forgive them for this?”

Unforgiven mistakes can linger in a relationship for months, years, or even decades. When left unresolved, they can slowly corrupt a relationship from the inside. A person may say out-loud, “I forgive you,” but if they don’t really mean it then it will continue to eat away at them.

In future conversations, they may even bring up the mistake again and use it as a weapon. One second you’re arguing about what to eat for dinner, then the next thing you know your partner yells, “Well you cheated on me on that vacation 10 years ago, so who is the real bad guy?”

A past mistake can become the ultimate “trump card” that someone pulls out when they are feeling threatened and trying to win an argument. It can become something they constantly hold over your head and judge you for because they haven’t fully forgiven you for it.

You think to yourself, “I thought we resolved and moved past this, but they keep bringing it back up?”

This resembles the psychological game known as “keeping the score,” where you are constantly measuring everything a person did and seeing how it adds up in the end – a game that is impossible to win from both sides.

If a mistake is truly unforgivable in your eyes, then the relationship is probably not going to work out. It will keep rearing its ugly head again and again.

This is also true if the roles are reversed and your partner is unable to forgive you for something. It’ll inevitably become a topic of conversation that you both will continue to revisit. There’s still a chance for healing and growth, but it would take serious effort and commitment.

While some actions are truly unforgivable (or at least unforgettable), a healthy relationship requires the ability to let bygones be bygones.

In every relationship, a person is going to hurt you or disappoint you at some point, the question is if it’s something you can genuinely move past or not. Does the relationship outweigh the mistake, or is it unsalvageable?

The last important question when it comes to diagnosing your current relationship problems is a much more practical and simpler one.

The single most important question in any relationship is, “What are you thinking and feeling right now?”

Every relationship requires us to empathize and understand where a person is coming from. You won’t know how to properly act or respond to someone if you don’t first know what’s going on in their heads.

This is equally true for family, friends, coworkers, bosses, neighbors, or loved ones, and this is why simply checking in on a person’s thoughts and feelings is essential if you want to improve the quality of your relationships.

One of the biggest traps in most relationships is mind-reading, which is wrongly believing we know what is going on in someone’s mind without asking them. Instead of checking in with a person, we assume we know what they want and act according to that false impression.

We often believe empathy is just trusting our gut instincts, but research shows we often overestimate our ability to read people accurately. The best way to increase empathy is to sometimes use your “rational brain,” and actually ask questions to better understand their perspective.

“What are you thinking and feeling?” is just the beginning of becoming a more empathetic and caring person, but there are many other mind-dissecting questions that can help us gain greater insight into what’s going on in a person’s head and where they are really coming from.

At the end of the day, asking questions is always better than assuming you already have all the answers. Are you willing to ask the difficult questions in your relationships?

Key takeaways:

  • Every relationship goes through problems, so it is important that we are honest about them.
  • Important questions to ask yourself during relationship troubles include:
    • “How will I feel in one year about this current conflict in my relationship?”
    • “Will I be able to forgive them for this (or will they be able to forgive me)?”

    • “Do I think I’ll still be together with this person one year, five years, or ten years into the future?

  • We have to be willing to ask the tough questions to accurately diagnose the state of our current relationships.
  • One of the most important questions in any relationship is, “What are you thinking and feeling right now?” to improve empathy and understanding.
  • The answers to these questions can give you greater clarity on where your relationship stands and a clearer idea on how to best move forward.


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A Whiteboard Can Supercharge Your Productivity and Goals

whiteboard


Do you use a whiteboard at home or work? It can be a simple and easy tool for staying focused and being more productive. Here’s how to best setup a whiteboard and the different ways you can use it.


A whiteboard set up at home or work can be an excellent way to organize your thoughts and keep track of your goals.

In general, people are bad at remembering to do things. We have the thought, “Oh yeah, I need to check-in with the doctor about that appointment,” or “I need to remember to pay the electric bill,” or “I need to finish that project at work this week,” but then we immediately forget about it until the next time someone reminds us.

We often overestimate our ability to remember something inside our heads and underestimate the importance of writing things down.

This is why even a simple checklist can be a powerful tool for motivation and productivity – it serves as a constant reminder of what we need to get done. Get a bit distracted? Just look at your checklist and you’re right back on track!

A whiteboard can help take this concept to the next level. It’s a larger visual reminder of what what your current goals and to-do’s are. Every time you walk by it, you’re provided a visual nudge of what you want to focus on for that upcoming day, week, or month.

You can also use the extra space on a whiteboard to write down inspirational quotes or affirmations, jot down mental notes, or brainstorm ideas for an upcoming project.

Here’s how to set one up along with some helpful tips and suggestions to get started.


Getting Started With Your Whiteboard

  • Choose a location – Depending on what you want to use your whiteboard for, choose an appropriate location. If it’s work-related, you may want to put it by your desk or in your office. If it’s home-related, the kitchen or fridge is a common choice. If you want to use it for strictly brainstorming, you could get a water-proof one to go in the shower.
  • Start with a “to-do” list – The most common use for a whiteboard is usually some type of “to-do” list. Depending on your goals, this could include weekly to-do’s, work-related tasks, chores and errands, event reminders, or personal goals (including new habits you want to work on). Every time you complete something, make sure you cross it off your list for an instant dopamine hit.
  • Write down milestones and long-term goals – It’s also nice to write down more long-term goals and milestones to keep you motivated. Choose a goal you want to accomplish by the end of the year and write it down. Break it down into several milestones or checkpoints to meet along the way.
  • Make mental notes – Whiteboards are great for jotting down ideas and mental notes to yourself. These aren’t necessarily individual tasks to get done, but things you may want to look into, do more research on, or make a decision about. You can move these ideas into your “to-do” section once they become a concrete action.
  • Add an inspirational quote or affirmation – Dedicate a space on your whiteboard for writing down positive thoughts. Every week update your whiteboard with a new quote or affirmation that resonates with you and motivates you.
  • Create space for drawing and brainstorming – It’s smart to leave extra space on your whiteboard for drawing, doodling, or coming up with visual representations for your goals (including flow charts, mind maps, or outlining different stages of a current project you’re working on). Research shows that drawing ideas can help ingrain them in your mind even more than just writing them down (this is sometimes known as the drawing effect).
  • Use a color-coded system – Depending on how organized you want to be, you can consider color-coding your whiteboard to fit different categories in your life. For example, you can use “red” for health goals, “green” for work goals, “orange” for chores and errands, or “yellow” for family-related tasks. This adds an extra visual element to your “to-do” lists which can make it easier to conceptualize the different areas you need to focus on in life.

These are all just suggestions. At the end of the day, how you choose to use your whiteboard depends on you and what you are looking to accomplish with it.

Now let me show you an example of how I use mine.


My Whiteboard Example

I’ve had a whiteboard set up on my fridge for a couple years now.

Initially, I just had a small and cheap one I found at the dollar store, but I recently upgraded to a bigger one. It’s 19 x 13 in size and came with a few markers and a big eraser (here’s a link to it on Amazon).

Here’s what my whiteboard currently looks like:

whiteboard

I’ve labeled it to give a breakdown of how I use it.

The “To-Do’s” and “Mental Notes” are the most essential pieces. The “Quote” is also a nice touch, which I try to update every week with a new one to keep things fresh.

The “Milestones” just serve as a reminder about my long-term goals over the course of a year. The “Plans” section is just a reminder of social/leisure events I have scheduled for the month (all work-related scheduling such as coaching sessions is still saved on my Google Calendar).

I’m still playing around with the “Brainstorming” section – for now, it’s mostly for fun. I’d like to get some different color markers soon to add more variety.

***

Overall, a whiteboard has made a significant difference in my life. It’s helped me to chunk many of my goals and projects into weekly, manageable tasks.

The best part is at the end of each week, I get to reflect on the things I accomplished and reevaluate what I need to focus on going into the upcoming week.

Don’t underestimate the power of a whiteboard, it could be exactly the thing you need right now to take your productivity to the next level.


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Shower Meditation: Wash Away Your Stress and Anxiety

shower meditation


Begin every morning with a simple “shower meditation” to wash away your stress, anxiety, and negativity. Learn to start each day on a fresh and clean slate!


A shower meditation is an easy and convenient way to inject a little self-care into your daily routine.

Since showering is already a part of most people’s daily habits, it’s the perfect opportunity to step back and improve your mental health. It’s also a great place for everyday reflection since we are already away from our phones and any other distractions.

You only need 5-10 minutes total. It requires the same amount of time you need to take a regular shower, the only difference is you’re adding an extra mental layer to the routine.

Remind yourself to do it by adding a small sticky note in your bathroom. Showers can be so second-nature to us that it’s easy to forget to do it, but with practice it can become just as automatic as any other part of your morning routine.

Here are step-by-step instructions.


Shower Meditation: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Choose a comfortable temperature. Start your shower as you normally would. Find a comfortable temperature that suits you best.
  • Focus on your breathing. Once you’ve entered, begin the exercise with 10 deep breaths. Pay attention to the motions of your breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Feel your body and mind begin to relax.
  • Be mindful of your senses. Now take a moment to cycle through your 5 senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell/taste (if anything)? Focus on the sounds of the water flowing and the sensations of the water hitting your body and skin (a great grounding technique to get your mind focused on the present).
  • Visualize your stress and anxiety washing away. As you clean yourself, imagine that you are washing away all the stress and anxiety in your body. Picture any stress and negativity as a black slime washing off your body and visualize it swirling down the drain.
  • Add a mantra or affirmation. Consider adding a small mantra to your shower meditation as you wash yourself. Something simple like “I am washing away all stress and anxiety,” or “My body and mind are being cleansed,” can make the exercise more effective. You can check out other affirmations here that may be helpful – experiment and find what works best for you.
  • Imagine a relaxing aura surrounding you. As you finish washing yourself, picture a relaxing energy surrounding you. What is the color of relaxation for you? Picture an aura with that color. Imagine yourself breathing it in as it fills you up and puts you in a comfortable and rejuvenated state. As you dry yourself and get dressed, continue to imagine this relaxing aura following you.

It’s a super easy exercise if you remember to do it – and it takes no extra time or effort.

With practice, the association between “washing yourself” and “washing away stress” will become stronger and stronger.

Water in general can be a powerful symbol for healing and cleansing, which is why it’s often used in religious practices (such as baptism) and other spiritual traditions.

Interestingly, some research suggests that even the simple act of washing yourself (without the visualization above) is enough to ease people’s troubles and anxieties.

According to one of the researchers:

    “Cleansing is about the removal of residues. By washing the hands, taking a shower, or even thinking of doing so, people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues.

In general, daily activities and chores can be a great way to integrate small mental habits. Showering, eating, and cleaning are all opportunities to practice everyday mindfulness.

There are other versions of the shower meditation that I’ve seen people practice as well. For example, someone on social media shared their experience of imagining themselves as a flower or tree being nourished:

    “I like to visualize the water as rain and that I’m a flower or tree. I visualize roots growing from my feet and a trunk growing strong throughout my lower limbs. My arms are like strong branches and then my heart and head is where flowers and foliage bloom. I’ll also imagine the warmth of the shower as sunlight warming me and nourishing me. It can be extremely grounding and is one of my favorite feelings of comfort and joy. Swaying in the wind with the rain bouncing off my branches.”

I’m a big believer in using your imagination to change your mental state, so there’s no right or wrong way to practice this meditation. The key is always to find out what works for you.

Try doing a shower meditation every day this week and see how you feel!


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First Impressions: Making Good Ones And Overcoming Bad Ones

first impressions


How good are you at first impressions? Here are important tips and advice to keep in mind the next time you’re meeting someone new.


When we meet someone for the first time, we often worry “Is this person going to like me or not?”

First impressions are a big deal for most people. We want to make a good impression during job interviews, first dates, or business meetings because we know that they can often paint the rest of our social interactions with that person.

While first impressions can be inaccurate or incomplete, research has shown that first impressions can give us a lot of information about a person and their personality. When participants did a quick “speed dating” event, researchers found that most people walked away having a decent idea of the other participants’ personality and well-being.

A lot of our initial perception is shaped by how people look, how they act and talk, and how they dress and present themselves overall. If a person walks into a job interview with disheveled hair, ripped clothes, and a nonchalant attitude, an employer is going to reasonably suspect that this person may be unqualified, lazy, or unreliable.

We can’t ignore the power of first impressions. While it can seem superficial to judge someone based on how they look or act within a couple minutes, these snapshot judgments are a simple fact of human psychology.

Fortunately, there are positive steps we can take to build the best first impression possible. Here are the key things to keep in mind.


Building a Good First Impression

  • Appearance – One of the first things people often notice about us is our physical appearance. While there are many aspects of our appearance that we can’t change, we can still try to present ourselves in the best way possible by living a healthy and fit life (including exercise, diet, and sleep), as well as dressing in nice and clean clothes (that doesn’t necessarily mean expensive or fancy). If you still worry about what people may think of you based on your appearance (such as things about your body you are insecure about) you can also find role models who share similar physical traits as you but don’t let it hurt their confidence or self-esteem. All it takes is one role model you can relate to for you to get that extra boost in self-image.
  • Hygiene – The next basic aspect of building a good first impression is to have good hygiene and cleanliness. This includes washing your body and face every day, brushing your teeth twice per day, washing your hands when you use the bathroom, and other periodic habits such as getting a haircut, trimming your nails, and shaving when necessary. Smells and pheromones can also be a subtle but powerful signal when it comes to first impressions, so it’s important to smell good and not emit a foul body odor, including using deodorant, cologne, perfume, or breath mints (to avoid bad breath). While these can seem like commonsense habits, they can make a big difference when we neglect them.
  • Manners – Another fundamental element to forming good impressions is to be polite and respectful. This includes common respectful habits such as shaking someone’s hand, saying “please” and “thank you,” holding the door open for people, making eye contact when you speak with them, not staring at your phone during conversation, and addressing them in an overall friendly and respectful tone. Of course these are simple and commonsense habits, but they can go a long way. Also keep in mind that sometimes being polite looks different depending on different cultures and traditions, so it’s something you may need to adjust depending on the situation.
  • Body Language – A big part of how we connect with others is through nonverbal communication, including our tone of voice, posture, and body language. A good first impression is often associated with an open and expansive body posture (such as no crossed arms or legs, and a straight and upright back, etc.), as well as positive eye contact, friendly tone of voice (not bored/monotone, judgmental, or sarcastic), and expressions of positive emotions through smiling, laughing, and facial expressions. While it’s important not to become too self-conscious of our body language during social interactions (which can often make them come off fake or inauthentic), it is something to be mindful of every now and then. You can practice improving your body language when you are alone to make it more natural and automatic during social interactions.
  • Positive Expectations – A lot of social psychology is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you go into a social interaction expecting people to dislike you, you will end up acting in ways that make it more likely to become true (such as being more distant, reserved, or cold toward others). But if you go into a social interaction expecting people to like you and connect with you, you will be more friendly, warm, and likable overall. The good news is that most people are hard-wired to be pro-social: they want to like and be liked. In fact, some research suggests that people often like us more than we realize when we first meet them – psychologists call this the liking gap.
  • Conversation Threading – One of the biggest things people worry about is “How will I keep the conversation going?” or “How do I know what to say next?” We fear awkward silences or conversations that can’t seem to find a flow or rhythm to them. One effective tool to learn is conversation threading, which teaches you how to listen to what people say and identify topics to respond to in an easy, natural, and fluent way. Master conversationalists already use this technique even if they do it unconsciously or without realizing it. You can learn how to as well with a little practice and dedication until it becomes more natural for you.
  • Social Proof – As a social species, we often look toward others to find out what to do or how to feel about someone. So if a person is popular, we are more likely to see them as kind, intelligent, and friendly (sometimes known as the “halo effect” in psychology), and thus more likely to want to get to know them as well. The basic idea is, “If other people like them, I will probably like them too!” One way to build social proof is to go out to places with a couple friends or group of people. This subconsciously signals to others that you are a social and likable person. In fact, research suggests that we even look more physically attractive when people see us in a group, sometimes known as the “cheerleader effect” or “group attractiveness effect.” This isn’t meant to discourage you from going out alone every now and then (which can be a rewarding experience), but it is something to be aware of.
  • Avoid Nitpicking and Complaining – One of the easiest ways to turn people off is to be an excessive complainer or nitpicker. If the only things you have to talk about are negative, people are going to naturally associate you with those negative feelings – and that doesn’t feel good to be around. Try to steer the conversation in a generally positive direction. Set an internal complain meter in your mind and realize when you’ve reached your limit for the day.
  • Don’t Worry About Your Flaws – Everyone has certain aspects about themselves that they are insecure about. Often we let these perceived flaws hurt our social interactions by constantly worrying about them and trying to hide them from others. However, interesting research shows that people aren’t as judgmental about our flaws or mistakes as we often think they are. In fact, when people are vulnerable and willing to show imperfect sides of themselves, people often see them as more likable and human. So if you stutter, or mispronounce a word, or lose your train of thought, just let it go and move on. Most people won’t even notice it, or they will forget about it quickly, and those who do notice will often find it more endearing – because it proves you are human like everyone else (some psychologists refer to this as the beautiful mess effect).
  • Practice Mental Rehearsal – If you really want to take the time to improve your first impressions, consider using mental rehearsal to practice new ways of thinking, speaking, and acting during your social interactions. Take into account all the advice above, and imagine yourself in social situations being more friendly, likable, and outgoing. Often mental rehearsal can get our minds moving in a new direction, even when we don’t have any positive past experiences to build off of or learn from. You have to start somewhere, even if it’s just changing your mind and perspective. In fact, research suggests that imagining positive conversations can better prepare our minds to be more trusting, cooperative, and friendly overall.

At the end of the day, it’s important to be yourself – the advice and suggestions above are just a way to present yourself in the best way possible.

First impressions are sticky but they aren’t set in stone. If someone rubs us the wrong way when we first meet them, that can be a difficult perception to shake off, but it’s not impossible.

One fascinating study published in the journal Human Relations shows that initial perceptions of trustworthiness can have a long-lasting impact on subsequent social interactions, so much so that we overlook future trust violations.

However, even a bad first impression can be overcome if a person proves themselves to be more likable and trustworthy in the future.

In the same study, people that initially got off on the wrong foot but later showed trustworthiness in a later interaction were actually seen to be most trustworthy of all. Everyone loves a good redemption arc.

Making a good first impression is important, but creating a positive lasting impression is what really matters. You have to sometimes give yourself a little extra time and patience to prove yourself.

The same goes for your first impressions of other people.

Keep in mind that you’re only getting a quick snapshot of who someone really is in a short period of time, but it’s often best to give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them to show a more positive side of themselves the next time you see them.

Perhaps you just met them on a bad day – or they were socially anxious about meeting you and accidentally sabotaged themselves.

To overcome a bad first impression, you have to be willing to let bygones be bygones and start every social interaction on a clean slate.

We are all human, never underestimate your ability to connect with someone on a genuine level, even if it happens to take a little extra time or effort.


Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement:


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Bibliotherapy: Self-Help Books Can Really Improve Your Mental Health

bibliotherapy


While people may feel embarrassed getting caught in the “self help” section of a library or book store, the truth is there are a lot of valuable books out there that can make a real difference.


Bibliotherapy is the practice of reading self-help books to change your habits and improve your mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

One of the most popular self-help books to date is the classic Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy published by David D. Burns in 1980, which is known for popularizing many early techniques in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

According to one study published in the British Journal of General Practice (which analyzed 11 different experiments), participants who read CBT-based books such as Feeling Good showed a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as an increase in overall quality of life.

Psychologists suggest that assigned readings can be a useful low-cost supplementary treatment in addition to therapy or medication for those diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders.

The best self-help books often come with worksheets and exercises so people can take what they learn and apply it in a practical way. Following through with these exercises is an important factor when getting the most out of these books.

In the study mentioned above, researchers identified several books that are often recommended by professionals, including:

  • Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns
  • Managing Anxiety and Depression by Nicholas Holdsworth
  • Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger
  • Overcoming Depression and Low Mood: A Five Areas Approach by Chris Williams

Most of these have similar content – cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques designed to treat depression and anxiety – they are just presented in different ways. The only one I’ve read is Feeling Good, which I definitely recommend checking out.

While most effective self-help books seem to focus on CBT, there are definitely other options as well. One pilot study compared a CBT self-help book to the book Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression by Miriam Akhtar and found similar results for both approaches.

Another preliminary study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workbook significant decreased measures of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as a pilot study that found positive results with the book Worry Less, Live More: The Mindful Way through Anxiety by Susan M. Orsillo.

There’s still a lot more research to be done when it comes to bibliotherapy, but it definitely has promise.

Of course you can’t do a study on every single self-help book that comes out, but in general ones that are science-based, action-oriented, and recommended by experts are good places to start.

As someone who has been engaged in self-help for over a decade, I’ve easily read over 100 self-help books total. Admittedly, not all of them are that good, but I certainly believe in the power of bibliotherapy in my own life.

Much of the writings on this site are based on education through books. For example, over the past few years I’ve written articles based on the books Flow, The Body Keeps The Score, Crucial Conversations, I’m OK – You’re OK, Games People Play, Attached, Supernormal Stimuli, and The Power of Meaning. With each of these books, I’ve taken away valuable information that I’ve applied to my daily life.

About 50% of everything I know has been through reading – including books, articles, and studies – and the other half is through experience and practice. I consider educational books and scientific studies to be the very foundation of the information pyramid (it’s certainly better than getting all your knowledge through social media and memes).

It’s important to talk to mental health professionals when you really need them, but I’ve always been someone who was more likely to end up in a library than a therapist’s office.

That’s just a part of my independent personality, but it’s also a weakness. In general, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it – sometimes a meaningful conversation with a therapist or coach is worth more than a hundred books.

Bibliotherapy shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for professional help, it’s just one tool of many to help us change and grow.

While people may feel embarrassed getting caught in the “self help” section of a library or book store, the truth is there are a lot of valuable books out there that can make a real difference. The key is finding the right books for you.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that there are some people that seem to become addicted to reading a lot of self-help books – but never applying them or making any real-world changes.

I’ve definitely been an information junkie in the past, jumping from book to book but not taking the time to absorb what I read and find a way to integrate it into my life. It’s important to remind yourself that there’s always a balance between learning and action.

The person that reads one self-help book and applies it is further than the person who reads a hundred self-help books but never changes anything or tries anything new.

One guideline to follow: For every self-help book you read, make sure you apply at least ONE thing from it into your daily life.

Or at least try one thing, even if it ends up not working out. You have to experiment sometimes before you find what really works for you personally.

Different advice works for different people. A self-help book that completely changed one person’s life may not do anything for you.

Ultimately, no matter what type of self-help book you read, take what works and leave what doesn’t work.


Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement:


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My 20 Best Self-Improvement Articles of 2021

best 2021


Here are the top self-improvement articles published in 2021 at The Emotion Machine. Did you miss any of them?


I always say “this year has been the best year yet,” but I guess that’s just the nature of progress.

The Emotion Machine first started in 2009, so it’s wild to think that I’ve been writing about psychology and self-improvement for over 12 years now.

The truth is I don’t see an end to it.

Self-improvement is a constant work-in-progress – there are always new opportunities to learn, grow, and improve.

That’s a perspective that I’ve ingrained into myself. So as long as I have new things to learn, I’ll keep adding and building to this website.

Let’s now take a look at the best articles published in 2021. Then I will recap some key habit changes I’ve made this year.



Emotions


1. Positive Emodiversity: Embracing the Full-Range of Positive Emotions

Emodiversity describes the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis. Research shows that emodiversity can often be a better predictor of physical and mental health than the raw calculation of “positive” vs. “negative” emotions.


2. Emotional Valence vs. Arousal: Two-Dimensional Model for Emotions

The two-dimensional model of emotions is a simple but helpful way to classify your emotions and better understand them. It categorizes emotions based on their degree of “valence” and “arousal.”


3. The Physical Sensations Behind Emotions: Improving Awareness of the Mind-Body Connection

When you experience an emotion, how does it feel in your body? Learn how to identify the physical sensations behind your emotions to become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent.


4. Negative Emotions: Create A Plan to Respond to Them in a New Way

The current way you respond to your negative emotions doesn’t have to be the only way. Create a plan and choose a new way to respond to your negative emotions before they happen.


5. Let Bygones Be Bygones: Forgiveness and Letting Go of Emotional Residue

When you have a bad argument with someone, how quickly can you let it go? The answer can make all the difference in your happiness and relationships.



Relationships


6. Protest Behaviors: Unhealthy Ways We Try to Win Back Love and Attention

Protest behaviors are actions we take when something is going wrong in a relationship and we’re trying to “fix” it. While they can often come with good intentions, they are ultimately an unhealthy and potentially toxic way of expressing ourselves.


7. Everyone Is a Complex Web of Factors – Don’t Take Anything Too Personally

Once you recognize that everyone – and every action – is the result of a complex web of factors, it’s easier to not taking anything people say or do too personally.


8. The PAC Model: The Parent, Adult, and Child That Exists in All of Us

According to the PAC Model, we all have an inner “Parent,” “Adult,” and “Child.” By identifying which one is manifesting itself in any given moment, we can take more control over our thoughts and behaviors.


9. Parasocial Relationships: Feeling a Connection With People We’ve Never Met

“Parasocial relationships” are one-way relationships we develop with celebrities, media personalities, or fictional characters from TV shows, movies, or books. While they are normal and healthy, we have to be careful that they don’t replace our need for real-world connection.


10. Sorry, Your Complain Meter Is Filled For the Day!

What if you can only complain about 3 things each day and then you lose speaking privileges – how would that change the way you go about life?


11. The Power of Checking In On People: How to Preserve Your Social Connections

Who is someone you haven’t connected with in awhile? Reaching out and checking in on them likely means a lot more to them than you realize.



Habits


12. Why a Daily Self-Care Routine Is More Important Than a Vacation

Every day is a “mental health day” if you make self-care a part of your daily routine.


13. Creating Flow: Finding Activities that Balance Challenge and Skill

Flow is a state of consciousness where action and awareness become one. It’s when a person is so fully immersed in an activity that they lose their sense of time and self. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it an “optimal state of experience.”


14. Micro-Breaks: Keep Your Mind Fresh and Energized Throughout the Day

Micro-breaks play an important role in keeping our minds fresh and energized throughout the day. Are you taking advantage of the power of micro-breaks?


15. How Reading Fiction Improves You and Your Brain

Reading fiction has shown to have a variety of cognitive benefits including boosting empathy, verbal abilities, moral attitudes, motivation, and social skills.


16. Scattered Workout: Why You Should Spread Out Your Exercise Throughout the Day

Do you have trouble getting enough exercise? A “scattered workout” – where you spread out different exercises throughout your day – may be an easy and convenient approach to becoming a healthier and fitter person.



Thinking


17. Give Yourself Credit: The Essential Habit Behind Self-Esteem

Give yourself credit. Are you appreciating your small wins? Here’s why it’s important to find those daily “+1’s” to build confidence and self-esteem.


18. Imagination: Your Ultimate Entertainment System

Your imagination is one of the most important skills you can learn to develop, do you know how to use it?


19. Sherlock Holmes: Lessons on Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

While a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example of critical thinking and problem-solving that we can all learn from. Here’s a breakdown of his philosophy and approach to thinking.


20. Synchronicity: Finding and Embracing the Little Meanings in Life

Synchronicity is when two events occur in life that seem special and meaningful, even when there is no apparent causal connection between them. Have you ever experienced it?


21. Archaeology: Are You Stuck Digging Up Your Past?

Are you trapped in a game of “archaeology,” where you’re constantly digging into your past searching for answers but unable to move forward?



3 Key Changes I Made This Year

My lifestyle and daily routine have gone through many big changes over the past decade, but they are still always evolving and changing in small ways. Here are the most noteworthy changes I’ve made this year.


1. Reading fiction

One of the most surprising changes for me this year is how much I’ve enjoyed reading fiction.

I’ve always been a consistent reader, but usually they were books focused on science, philosophy, self help, and non-fiction.

In 2020, I mentioned how I shifted to “reading biographies” which was a nice change for me (learning more about history and certain role models of mine), but I probably haven’t read a fiction book since my school years.

I began this year with a lot of sci-fi classics since those appealed to me the most, but I also branched out to some other literary classics.

Here’s a complete list of fiction books I read this year (in chronological order):

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1871)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885)
  • Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905)
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
  • Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
  • Tales of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft (collection, 1920s-30s)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1957)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
  • The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk (1985)
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

I bounced around a lot between different decades and authors to try to get as much variety as possible.

If I had to choose 3 favorites from the list above, I’d go with Dune (the movie this year was great too), Brave New World (still very relevant to today’s culture), and Siddhartha (great inspirational story of a Buddha-like figure).

I also mixed in some non-fiction as well:

  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (2016)
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)
  • Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukuyami (1995)
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990)
  • Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (2010)
  • I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris (1967)
  • 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss (2007)
  • The Mission of Art by Alex Grey (1998)
  • On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietszche (1887)
  • Silence: Writings and Lectures by John Cage (1961)

Reading is a natural part of my daily routine and I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.


2. Playing Chess

Chess is a completely new hobby for me this year.

I’m still not very good at it, but I bought a chessboard to play with friends when we meet up, and I’ve been an active user on Chess.com, which has been an awesome resource to improve your chess skills (including weekly lessons, tournaments, and keeping track of stats).

One interesting thing about the chess hobby is that it has completely supplanted my video game habit. That’s not necessarily good or bad, just a shift in my interests.

Similar to video games, I’ve been using Chess as a form of microbreak throughout the day. I often play short 5-10 minute games to temporarily take my mind off of work.

In general, I always encourage people to try new hobbies. It doesn’t matter what it is – stamp collecting, photography, or knitting – learning new things always makes you a more balanced and well-rounded person.

When’s the last time you really tried something new?


3. Minimizing Social Media and Dating Apps

Our relationship with technology plays a big role in our overall mental health and well-being. It’s an aspect of life I try to be really mindful of.

A couple years ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone except for calls and texts (which are always from family and friends). I realized there just wasn’t any need to be notified constantly of emails and social media throughout my day (and these notifications were often more of a distraction than anything else). It was a big step forward.

I started off this year by deactivating my personal Facebook, which was another life-changer. That was the one place I’d always get sucked into political arguments and heated debates that wouldn’t go anywhere productive.

Depending on how you use the internet, it can bring out your “best self” or “worst self.”

I still use Twitter and social media to talk about psychology and share positive content, but that’s all I use it for anymore. I also have a new rule where I will reply to people once (if I have something to add), but I try to never get caught up in a constant back-and-forth argument. They are always a waste of time and energy.

Secondly, I stopped using dating apps like OKCupid, Tinder, and Bumble, which was another big energy-saver and confidence-booster.

There are a lot of problems with dating apps. I’m not against them completely, but many users on there are just looking for easy attention or compliments. It’s difficult to find people who are serious about a long-term relationship on there.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had an awesome conversation with someone and then they just randomly disappeared or “ghosted” me. It’s hard to commit to anything when you always feel you’re one swipe away from something “better.” The paradox of choice.

There are also a lot of spam accounts on dating apps these days (people looking for followers on their “modeling” account or whatever). Dating apps can often give a false sense of “dating” or “searching for love,” when in truth you could probably do a lot better in person.

The internet is just a tool and it’s important that we use it wisely.


Make 2022 The Year of Self-Improvement

The best time to change yourself was 10 years ago, the second best time is right now.

Join The Emotion Machine and let’s make 2022 the best year possible.

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Positive Emodiversity: Embracing the Full-Range of Positive Emotions

emodiversity

Emodiversity describes the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis. Research shows that emodiversity can often be a better predictor of physical and mental health than the raw calculation of “positive” vs. “negative” emotions.


A big part of emotional intelligence is embracing the full-range of the human experience.

Many times people get stuck within a limited emotional range. We tend to feel the same 3-5 emotions on a daily basis and forget that life has a lot more to offer.

Psychology research is beginning to find that emodiversity – the variety of emotions we experience on a daily basis – can be a powerful predictor of both physical and mental health.

For example, let’s look at two hypothetical people: Joe and Matt. Joe experiences 3 moments of joy and 1 moment of anxiety in a given day, while Matt experiences 2 moments of joy, 1 moment of anxiety, and 1 moment of gratitude.

If happiness could be calculated with basic arithmetic, we would conclude that Joe and Matt are equally happy because they both experience 3 positive emotions (joy, gratitude) for every 1 negative emotion (anxiety).

However, Matt experiences higher “emodiversity” – a greater abundance and variety of emotions throughout the day – which indicates an overall richer life.

Of course this is a simplified example, but it shows that there is more to happiness and well-being than just a raw calculation of emotion.

In one fascinating study (PDF) published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers analyzed 37,000 participants and found that “emodiversity” was an independent predictor of physical and mental health, including decreased depression and fewer doctor visits.

One theory researchers suggest is that emodiversity can build greater mental resilience by not allowing any single emotion to dominate a person’s emotional ecosystem:

    “[Just as] biodiversity increases resilience to negative events because a single predator cannot wipe out an entire ecosystem, emodiversity may prevent specific emotions – in particular detrimental ones such as acute stress, anger or sadness – from dominating the emotional ecosystem. For instance, the experience of prolonged sadness might lead to depression but the joint experience of sadness and anger – although unpleasant – might prevent individuals from completely withdrawing from their environment. The same biodiversity analogy could be applied to positive emotion. Humans are notoriously quick to adapt to repeated exposure to a given positive emotional experience; positive experiences that are diverse may be more resistant to such extinction.”

Emodiversity prevents any single positive or negative emotion from becoming too dominant – which can be a healthy thing since it provides more variety, resilience, and flexibility – leading to a richer and more fulfilling life overall.

If a person only experiences a limited range of positive emotions, those positive experiences can grow stale and lose their appeal. By seeking out entirely new positive experiences and embracing new positive emotions, we reset our hedonic treadmill and keep life interesting and fresh.

“Variety is the spice of life” seems to hold true for our emotions – and we have a lot of positive emotions to choose from on a daily basis.

In another study published in the scientific journal Emotion, researchers measured emodiversity by analyzing diary entries from 175 adults (aged between 40-65) for over 30 days.

The researchers found that emodiversity within positive emotions (but not negative ones) was a significant predictor of better health outcomes, including lower inflammation. This finding held true even after controlling for mean levels of positive and negative emotions, body mass index, anti-inflammatory medications, medical conditions, personality, and demographics.

Positive emodiversity has also been associated with better student engagement and academic achievement, as was found in one study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology which studied 400 high school students.

While there is still more research to be done on emodiversity, it seems to have a wide-range of benefits on our physical and mental health.

How does one achieve more emodiversity in their daily life? A big part of it is actively seeking new activities, hobbies, and experiences.

According to one study published in The Journals of Gerontology, there was a strong association found between “emodiversity” and “activity diversity” in older adults.

The researchers looked at how long participants spent on 7 different types of activities: paid work, spending time with children, chores, leisure, physical activities, formal volunteering, and helping someone outside of their household (such as a neighbor).

Individuals who reported a more balanced daily routine – based on the seven activities measured in the study – also reported greater emodiversity overall.

Let’s now look at the many different positive emotions that we can learn to embrace more of.


Positive Emodiversity: The Full-Range of Positive Emotions

Here’s a comprehensive list of the many different types of positive emotions we have to choose from. Which ones could you focus on more in your daily life?

  • Joy – Joy is the most commonly recognized positive emotion. It is defined as any feeling of gladness, delight, or pleasure. We can derive joy anytime something good happens to us, whether it’s getting a job promotion, receiving a surprise gift from someone, or eating a delicious slice of cake. Joy is one of the core emotions that we associate with “feeling good” (which is also why it’s the main protagonist in the Pixar movie Inside Out). What brings you joy? How can you savor it and maximize the happiness you get out of those positive experiences?
  • Peace/Calm – Peace is one of the most sought out emotions in our current world of busyness, stress, and overstimulation. What activities put you into a state of ease and relaxation? Exercises such as the 100 breaths meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are two effective tools for teaching your body and mind how to be more relaxed.
  • Gratitude – Taking a step back to find things we are thankful for is one of the easiest ways to shift your mindset. One of my everyday mental habits is to identify at least one thing I am grateful for. It could be something small (like a nice meal) or something big (like my health and family). I also created a “15 Day Gratitude Workbook” awhile back that can be found on our downloads page.
  • Nostalgia – Nostalgia is a powerful feeling that arises when we are reminded of a past experience or memory. Often it can be an under-appreciated positive emotion. You can easily evoke nostalgia by watching movies from your childhood, visiting places you haven’t been to in a long time, or doing activities you used to enjoy as a kid. Recently I was re-watching old Disney movies and was surprised by how strong the feelings of nostalgia kicked in during certain scenes and songs.
  • Awe – Awe is an overwhelming feeling of amazement for something that is grand, unique, or special. It can often be triggered by both natural phenomenon (stars at night, sunsets, bird watching) and man-made phenomenon (a beautiful piece of art or music). Many researchers are studying the psychology of awe and how it can contribute to a more meaningful life.
  • Curiosity/Wonder – Curiosity is a very underrated emotion, because there is so much in the world to be inquisitive and interested in. Curiosity is also a fantastic way to reverse any negative emotion, because even when you feel negative you can always question your feelings and look at them with the same sense of wonder as a scientist or philosopher. This is why I often describe curiosity as a “negativity disinfectant.” No matter how you feel about something, you can always turn an inquisitive eye toward it.
  • Playfulness – Much of life is play. We often forget that as we get older, but being able to see the light side of things, joke around with others, and not taking life too seriously is an important aspect of happiness and mental health. Playfulness often means participating in life without always needing to achieve something, but just enjoying life for the sake of enjoying it. Spend time playing with kids, pets, or just having fun with family or friends. Be willing to be silly and stupid sometimes.
  • Belonging – A sense of belonging is a fundamental need in all human beings. Feeling connected with people and supported by loved ones is important for finding meaning in life. The most introverted person still has a need to be social and connect. Where do you get your sense of belonging? Do you have family and friends that make you feel that you are a part of a larger group?
  • Confidence – Confidence is the feeling of self-assurance in one’s skills and abilities. While people’s confidence levels will vary depending on the situation, it’s healthy for everyone to at least identify one area in their lives that brings confidence and self-esteem. What activities are you good at? What are your natural strengths or super powers? What do people like about you? Recognize the many ways you bring value to this world.
  • Pride – Similar to confidence, it’s important we learn to take pride in our past success and accomplishments. Make sure to give yourself credit when you do something positive, even if it’s just a small act of kindness toward a stranger, or not indulging in a bad habit, or getting through another difficult day. Give yourself a mental pat on the back. We often focus more on our failures than our successes (because we want to learn from them or fix them), which is why it’s that much more important to shift our focus toward the positive when we can. Consider creating a jar of awesome – a collection of your “small wins” – that you can draw from when you need an extra boost in motivation.
  • Optimism – We can’t predict the future, but it’s important that we feel optimistic that things will work out for the best. Optimism can often become a type of self-fulfilling prophecy – when we have faith and hope that things will move in a positive direction, we start acting in ways that make it more likely to become true. How do you feel about the future? Are you leaving the door open for good things to happen?
  • Inspiration – What inspires you in life? What type of role models do you look up to and admire? It’s important we surround ourselves with people, places, and things that provide inspiration and motivation to us. The more that inspires you and uplifts you, the more you have to draw from to fuel your own goals and ambitions in life. Often a lack of zest for life begins from not being around enough things that energize and invigorate you.
  • Anticipation – We all need something to look forward to in life. In fact, a healthy sense of anticipation can energize us and help us get through tough times. For example, it’s easier to get through a bad day at work if you know there is a new episode of your favorite TV show to check out when you get home. Or it’s easier to get through a difficult month at work when you know you have a summer cruise to look forward to. Make plans (big or small) to do fun and exciting things in the future, so you always have something positive in your life that you’re moving toward.
  • Beauty – Learning to enjoy aesthetics and beauty is one easy source of happiness and pleasure. The power of a nice view teaches you to appreciate what is right in front of you, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, or a magnificent work of art, or a well-designed building. In today’s world, we often don’t appreciate beauty as much as we should – instead, we seem to highlight the ugly and wretched – but beauty still exists if you know where to look, and we should celebrate that whenever possible.
  • Excitement – We all have a need for a degree of adventure, novelty, and excitement in our lives. While sometimes these needs can manifest themselves into bad habits (alcohol/drug use, gambling, or promiscuity), there are also plenty of ways we can engage in positive thrill-seeking. Depending on your personality, you can get your “fix” for excitement through action movies, video games, friendly competition, extreme sports, rollercoasters, or adventurous activities like sky-diving and mountain climbing.
  • Empathy – Empathy is technically a neutral emotion because to empathize is just to feel what someone else is feeling (which could be positive or negative). However, cultivating empathy can also open you to feelings of interconnectedness or one-ness, which is one of the most powerful feelings to experience. One fun and interesting way to develop more empathy is to read fiction, which allows you to connect with characters on a deep level by showing you the world from an entirely new perspective.
  • Love – Love is one of the most cherished positive emotions. It’s a deep feeling of enduring affection toward someone, including the desire to see them happy. This includes not only romantic forms of love, but also platonic and universal feelings of love. One of the most powerful exercises you can do is a loving-kindness meditation, which teaches you how to send love and good intentions toward everyone in life, including people you don’t necessarily get along with.

These are many of the core positive emotions, but of course there are countless others.

Can you name any positive emotions I missed?

It’s also important to keep in mind that many times we experience multiple emotions at once, so any combination of the positive emotions above can elicit a new type of positive feeling. Learn to accept and embrace emotional complexity to add another layer to emodiversity.

A single positive emotion can also become a trigger for other positive emotions.

According to the broaden and build theory, positive emotions can often open our mind to resources that we otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

In this way, every positive emotion can become a pathway to other positive emotions – all it takes is one positive emotion to start an avalanche of positivity.

What’s one positive emotion you can embrace more of? How can you create more positive emodiversity in your life?


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