Tag Archives: success

A Little Happier: Don’t Check Every Box.

One of my most important Secrets of Adulthood is: The opposite of a profound truth is also true.

Examples: I keep an empty shelf; I also keep a junk drawer. I try to accept myself, and also expect more from myself. If I want to keep going, I must allow myself to stop.

Last week, in “A Little Happier,” I talked about some valuable advice I got from my law-school roommate’s ex-boyfriend, to “Check every box.” That idea has helped me a lot during my career.

Many listeners wrote to remind me of another important idea: Don‘t check every box!

Don’t imagine that I have to check every box before I apply for a job or try something new.  It’s important to stretch, to challenge ourselves, not to limit our sense of possibility because we think that we just don’t have enough credentials.

We don’t have to check every box.

Excellent advice. Thank you, listeners.

This mini-episode is brought to you by The Happiness Project — my #1 New York Times bestselling book that stayed on the list for two years. Intrigued? Read a sample chapter here, on “Boost Energy.”

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A Little Happier: More Advice about How to Be Successful–Check Every Box.

Last week, I talked about some excellent advice I got very indirectly — from my law-school roommate’s ex-boyfriend. You never know where good advice will come from.

Here’s something else he told me: Try to check every box. If you want a job or a position, make yourself the easy, non-controversial, inevitable choice by meeting every criteria possible.

This advice sounds rather obvious, but I’ve been surprised by how often it has come in handy.

This mini-episode is brought to you by The Happiness Project — my #1 New York Times bestselling book that stayed on the list for two years. Intrigued? Read a sample chapter here, on “Boost Energy.”

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

 Happier listening!

A Little Happier: My Former Roommate’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Lesson in How to Be Successful.

As I think back on the great advice I’ve received over the years, I’m surprised to realize that some of the best advice came from very random sources — books I skimmed, people I hardly knew.

Like my former law-school roommate’s ex-boyfriend’s advice. It has guided me for years — and I never even met the guy! And yet I’ve thought about his advice so many times: “Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do.”

What do you think of that advice — do you agree?

And have you ever picked up important advice from an unlikely source?

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9 Tips if You’re Making Work-Related New Year’s Resolutions.

The new year is here, and for many of us, that means new year’s resolutions. And many of us make resolutions related to our work lives.

Now Questioners, I know you object to the arbitrariness of the January 1 date; Obligers, I know you may have given up making resolutions because you’ve struggled in the past; and Rebels, I know you may not want to bind yourself in advance. But some people do want to make resolutions. (Don’t know where you fit in the “Four Tendencies” framework, i.e.,  if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Look here.)

For instance, some common work-related resolutions include “I want to broaden my horizons,” “I want to do a better job with record-keeping,” “I want to network,” “I want to find a mentor,” and “I want to expand my skills.”

One key to consistent progress is to make a behavior into a habit. Habits are freeing and energizing, because they save us from the difficult, draining business of making decisions and exercising our self-control.

Habits matter, because research shows that about 40% of everyday life is shaped by habits. If we have habits that work for us, we’re far more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

In my book Better Than Before, I discuss the twenty-one different strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. I know, twenty-one sounds like a lot to manage — but it’s helpful that there are so many, because some of these strategies work for some people, and not others. But we all have a big menu from which to pick.

So how might you make a habit of actions that will help you succeed at work? Consider these strategies:

1. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and be specific about what you’re asking of yourself.

Resolutions like “network more” or “research new opportunities” are too vague. Put your resolution into the form of a concrete, measurable, manageable action, such as “Every month, go to at least two events with networking opportunities” or “Spend one hour every Friday afternoon updating my time sheets and expenses.” Being specific helps you figure out what to do, and it also makes it possible to…

2. Use the Strategy of Monitoring, and monitor your habit.

Monitoring is almost uncanny in its power. Research shows that simply by monitoring a behavior, we tend to do a much better job of it, whether that’s how fast we’re driving, how much we’re eating, how many cold calls we’re making, or how many instructional videos we’re watching. Keep track, and you’ll push yourself in the right direction.

3. Use the Strategy of Scheduling, and schedule time for your habit.

Something like “Research that company this week” is a goal that can keep getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Even if it’s important, it’s just not urgent. So schedule a specific time for research, for learning, for following up, and give it a slot on your calendar. But it’s crucial to remember that…

4. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

When you schedule time to do certain work, you should do that work, and nothing else. No filing, no cleaning, no research, no checking emails. Do that work, or stare at the ceiling. Otherwise, you may work and work and work, and never get around to doing the very thing you set out to do.

5. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think big.

In the rigors of everyday life, it can be hard to step back and see what matters most.  Where do you want to be in two years? How could you develop your skills to make your work more interesting and yourself more valuable? Some people prefer to do this kind of thinking alone, with just a pad of paper; others prefer to talk it out, with a few trusted co-workers or an old friend; others might hire a coach. Or…

6. Use the Strategy of Distinctions, and take time to think small.

Sometimes people get overwhelmed when they try to make grand plans or ask huge questions; it’s also useful to focus on small, manageable steps that you can incorporate into your life immediately.

7. Use the Strategy of Clarity, and ask yourself: Whom do you envy?

Envy is an uncomfortable emotion, but it’s instructive. If you envy someone, that person has something you wish you had. Do you envy your friend who gets to travel all the time—or the friend who never has to travel? Do you envy your co-worker who’s taking night class toward getting an MBA, or who gets to make lots of presentations? Envy can help show us how we want to grow and change.

8. Use the Strategy of Other People, and spend time with people who have the habits  that you want to emulate.

Studies show that we tend to pick up habits from the people around us, so choose your company wisely. If you know that some of your co-workers cultivate habits that help them succeed at work, go out of your way to spend time with them, and you’ll more easily pick up those habits, yourself.

9. Use the Strategy of the Four Tendencies and the Strategy of Accountability, if it works for you.

If you’re an Obliger — that is, if you readily meet other people’s expectations, but struggle to meet your expectations for yourself — the answer, the solution, the key element is external accountability. Rebels, on the other hand, often do worse when they’re being held accountable. Figure out your Tendency and plug in accountability as necessary.

The most important thing to remember about habit change? We must shape our habits to suit ourselves—our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. When we understand ourselves, we can apply the twenty-one strategies with the greatest success, and we can also help other people to change their habits.

It’s not hard to change your habits, when you know what to do. And it matters. When we change our habits, we change our lives.

Before and After: Do a Little Work, Every Single Day.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Caroline McGrawyou can also check out her blog, A Wish Come Clear.

I changed my habit of working on “scary” writing projects sporadically. Now, when I’m working on a big creative writing project — a book, a proposal, a guest post, etc — I work on it every day. With the exception of 1 weekly day of rest, I make sure to do at least a little bit each morning.

 

I love (and often repeat) the Anthony Trollope line you quote in your books, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.” Committing to a daily task helps me maintain momentum, and it also helps render the task less terrifying. (If I work on it every day, it simply CAN’T be that scary — it’s just part of my routine, after all!)

 

I’ve also noticed that, if I skip a day, it’s that much harder to get back to the habit. And if I skip yet another day, it’s as though Mt. Everest springs up between me and getting back on track. If I write every day, though, the barrier between me and good habits is more like a pastoral English countryside hill. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a rise that Elizabeth Bennett could scale without breaking a sweat.

 

Working on big writing projects is challenging because so much uncertainty is involved; often, I have no assurances of acceptance or publication. No assurances but one, that is: that the very process of doing the work is its own reward. And that’s why I write every day: to enjoy the process itself, and to give myself something to count on in an uncertain world.

A couple insights jumped out at me from this terrific Before and After story.

First, I too have noticed that weirdly, it’s often easier to do something practically every day than to do it once in a while or four times a week. The more you do something, the more it becomes a part of your ordinary day. It doesn’t make you nervous, it doesn’t feel intimidating, it doesn’t feel like a special burden or extra credit.

Also, one of my habit strategies is the Strategy of Starting, and I’ve noticed that while starting is hard, starting over is often much harder. Once we’ve started down a positive path, it’s very, very valuable not to let ourselves stop. Because starting over is hard.

Another strategy used here is the Strategy of Scheduling. Whether daily, weekly, or whatever, just putting a task into your schedule–finding an exact place for it in your calendar–makes it easier to get it done. There’s an odd power to the schedule.

Have you found that making a daily habit of a certain task makes it easier?

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