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Archive for the ‘Happiness’ tag

States of Mind, Resiliency, and Cognitive Performance (Sunday Reads #16)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  As it’s been several weeks since I’ve posted, some of these links may be a few weeks “old” – but given that we’re looking at mostly timeless information, that shouldn’t matter much.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

On High Performance Work

How much does your state of mind matter during the work day?  Quite a bit.  94% of leaders reported that Calm, Happy and Energized (CHE) are the states of mind that drive the greatest levels of effectiveness and performance.

Humans are meant to move a lot during the day, and most office workers are unlikely to do so. WellnessFX has 5 mobility hacks to improve your morning routine.  Get moving.

A positive mood allows your brain to think more creatively.

Being happy at work matters.  People want a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose, and great relationships.

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Written by Mike Torres

June 21st, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Your Microbiome, Bone Broth, and Fancy New Fitness Gadgets (Sunday Reads #2)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads #2 on Refocuser, a collection of my favorite weekly links from around the web spanning topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Speaking of which, join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.

On Moving, Eating, and Sleeping

The healthy human microbiome is the new frontier.  All the more reason why I’m surprised I didn’t know about uBiome (10% off with that link!) – it’s similar in spirit to WellnessFX and 23andMe.  They send you a sample kit for only $89 (!) so you can learn more about your body’s own bacteria in an effort to improve your overall health.  Don’t need to twist my arm to do this – I’m in!  We’re super early in this citizen science movement but I love it.  You can also learn more on Fast Company.

Mark Sisson challenges some of our common misconceptions when it comes to calories (part 1part 2).

How does exercise really affect our brains and how does it really make us happier?  Fast Company set out to understand the science.  Turns out addiction to exercise isn’t a crazy concept since BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) and those ever-popular endorphins have the same characteristics as nicotine, heroin, or morphine.  Big takeaway: Daily exercise of just 20 minutes is all it takes.

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Written by Mike Torres

January 10th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

The Only Constant is Change

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One of the strangest things about human beings is that we seem to be wired to believe that where we are in life, that the people and things all around us, are somehow their final versions… that everything is how it will always be.  That our homes, our families, our likes and dislikes, our daily routines… they’re all carved in stone and won’t really change much if at all.

Intellectually we know things will change, of course.  No one really thinks they’re still going to be doing the same things with the same people at 78 as they were at 18.  But most aren’t emotionally aware enough to let themselves think about just how things will change over time.  To welcome the vulnerability.

We even think our tastes in music won’t change and yet looking back, we know they already have.  Psychologists have taken to calling this the “end of history illusion” – our inability to foresee change in our lives despite knowing how much change we’ve already experienced.  We believe to the core that we are who we are, who we’ve always been, and who we will always be… and we’re so incredibly sure of it.  That even though we talk about ourselves as ‘growing’ and ‘changing’, that we’re really the same person despite this, and that everyone and everything around us is as well.

The older you get the more you realize that the passage of time isn’t a linear path either; that time speeds up each year, and this perceived reality contributes to this generally vague awareness that things are more constant than they actually are.  The first time you realize that an experience you can remember so well that it’s so a part of your being was, in fact, 20 years ago, you realize that time has sped up beyond your ability to catch up to it.  Most everything in your life has changed since then. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Torres

June 25th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Happiness

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12 Goals: Define and Track Your Habits & Tasks (Step 3)

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Before starting with Step 3, you might first want to read the introduction, Step 1 & Step 2.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Breaking Down Each Goal

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I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change. – Jim Rohn

Twelve Goals is an annual plan you create for yourself.  A plan of inspiration, a plan of action, and a plan you can be accountable to.

By this point, you should have all twelve of your goals locked and loaded for the year.  It’ll probably be frustrating then to hear that even though they’re 99.9% committed, they can still change throughout the year.  How so?  By identifying what it will take to actually achieve them given your circumstances. 

In Step 2 you probably did a “squint test” or “t-shirt sized cost (i.e. Small, Medium, Large, X-Large) ” of feasibility.  Meaning: if you squinted hard enough you could probably see how a particular goal could be achieved in the month you assigned it to.  But guessing really isn’t good enough.  Sometimes you don’t know just how much work needs to happen in order to get something accomplished, and it’s easy to get sidetracked or delayed by unforeseen events.

This step is all about figuring out what it’s going to take.  It’s about getting real.  But it’s also about being agile and adapting your plan throughout the year as conditions change.

In project management, the approach of breaking down a project into smaller work items is called a work breakdown structure (or a work backlog).  As defined by Wikipedia, a work breakdown structure consists of "the end objective, successively subdividing it into manageable components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility which include all steps necessary to achieve the objective.”

In Twelve Goals parlance, this is identifying every task that needs to be checked off in order to accomplish your goal.

Sounds like a lot of work… and it can be.  But spending the time now to squabble with yourself about what it takes to make something happen is better than fighting yourself when you’ve hit a wall halfway through your second month.  There’s nothing more frustrating than assuming you know how to do something, just to find out you weren’t ready to begin with.  In other words, this step above everything else is about being honest with yourself about where you are, what you need to do, and what needs to happen around your goal to make it achievable.

Preparation is key.

Defining a work breakdown structure for a complex project can be harder than coming up with a task list for a single goal, but the intent is the same.  Your primary objective throughout this process is to learn.  Learn everything you can about the thing you’re going to accomplish so you have all the ammunition you’ll need when you need it.

Remember: your future self is lazier than you are right now.  Right now you have energy, you have positive intent, and you have that elusive feeling that you can conquer anything.  Use this vigor for the next few hours to lay out your plan for the year.  Because if you do it now, you’ll have something to refer to for the next twelve months.  No excuses.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 26th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

12 Goals: Set Your Monthly Goals (Step 2)

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Before starting with Step 2, you might first want to read the introduction and Step 1.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Getting Ready

Click for photo You have your vision.  Now it’s time to formulate (and document) your monthly goals for the coming year. While this may sound easy or even uninspiring, it’s actually quite the opposite.  It’s hard and it will take more time than you think.  But that time is well spent, both in terms of the outcome (a set of clear goals to work against) as well as the inspiration it can immediately provide.

Remember, goals help form the building blocks for positive emotions and subjective happiness with life.  So while there’s obvious benefit in having goals soley as virtual signposts for achievement, there’s also a residual sort of “under the covers” benefit of enhanced well-being – a deep well-being that can be long-lasting.  If you’re setting, working towards, and achieving goals you’re more likely to find flow regularly.

Now, it can be pretty difficult to sit and write up your twelve goals in twelve minutes and be finished.  You should be prepared to take your time, ensuring that the goals you’re creating are the “right” goals for this time in your life given all your circumstances.  I generally take a phased approach and assume my goals are going to be in flux for a couple months before I lock on my annual plan. 

Here’s one way you can do this:

  • A few months in advance of your new year, start keeping a running list of potential goals in a notebook.  Have some targeted brainstorm sessions where you generate your “300% list” – or all the things you could accomplish in the next year if you have to the time.  If you haven’t been doing this already for the next year, you can certainly catch-up with a little extra legwork provided you’re focused on it.
  • A few weeks in advance of your new year (for 2010, this is now), you’re going to want to “get real” with this list, validating your current goal list with your vision and their feasibility.  This means getting your total goal count down to twelve, one for each month of the year.
  • If there’s a particular goal or two that you’re anxious about, it can be useful to “try before you buy” for a few weeks.  In other words, give the goal a shot prior to committing to it for next year.  This is particularly useful for goals that involve a fundamental change in your schedule (i.e. a 5pm biking class a few miles from your office) since they can be the first ones to go.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 21st, 2009 at 3:20 pm

12 Goals: Create Your Vision (Step 1)

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Before starting with Step 1, you might first want to read the introduction.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Beginning at the End

“Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs” – Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Click for photo One of the underlying principles of 12 Goals is to “begin with the end in mind”, similar to what Stephen Covey proposes in his books.  This is a key tenet of any planning process, and is absolutely essential to do as a first step on the path to achieving your goals.  When you think about anything you’ve ever accomplished in your life – from remodeling your kitchen to getting a new job – you probably had some level of vision about what you wanted the outcome of your process to be.  It may have taken a little while to get a handle on what that vision really was, but somewhere deep down you knew it was there.  You probably didn’t just wake up one day, make a phone call, and land a job that afternoon.  You likely spent time and energy defining your end result.  Beginning at the end is about figuring out what the ideal end result is, writing it down, and then working backwards from there.

Think about creating your vision (or personal mission statement as some call it) as being explicit about what you want your life to be about, and through the process, learning more about what you want your year to be about. Your next year should be a very deliberate step in the right direction – and it’s awfully hard to do that unless you know where you’re going.

An example of vision creation “beginning at the end” that I like to give relates to software development at a large company.  In certain divisions of Microsoft, a thoughtful planning process takes place prior to the start of any major release.  It’s during this time that the team works to formulate the game plan by looking at market research, doing deep competitive analyses, brainstorming about potential breakthrough ideas, and so on. 

One of the outputs of this process is a mock press release or blog entry, post-dated around the time the team expects the software to be released to the world, describing in detail (in present tense, of course) what the “story” for the release is going to be.  Frequently the team will also go into depth about what they expect the press, bloggers, and enthusiastic users to say about the release as well as a means to better describe the vision.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 6th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

12 Goals: One Goal, Each Month, All Year (Introduction)

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Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

The Idea

“What surprised me most were the ordinary methods successful people use to achieve all they achieve” – Malcolm Gladwell

Click for photo Setting goals is hard.  Achieving them is even harder.  Over the last decade, I’ve come to realize just how few people have any idea about what they want their life to be.  The majority of people take things day-by-day without a clear roadmap or direction.  Unfortunately this type of approach only works when you have an extreme amount of luck or an otherworldly amount of talent on your side.  Most people need a little more structure to their approach.

The big question: where do you start?  Some people jump right in after reading a personal development book and start thinking about their goals.  They work on this list for a few days, but without a blueprint for success, they eventually give up and fall back into their previous habits.  Habits that haven’t been able to generate the level of success they’re looking for.  The "ah-ha" moment for me came when thinking about what it is about the goals people set that has them giving up so quickly?

This led me to a simple conclusion.  Goals that are too big, too grand, simply don’t work.  Yet in order to qualify as a life goal, the goal by its very nature has to be big – otherwise it’s just a to-do item on a sticky note. So where does that leave us?  Well, right in the middle!  Goals that are scoped to approximately 30 days have an innate sense of urgency, yet there’s enough “runway” to achieve something pretty big.  When you break things down into 30 day milestones, you also have the benefit of being able to build on successes from month to month – you know that by April you will have achieved your January, February, and March goals, so you can make your April goal something that moves you that much further in the same direction.  Compounding success like this is quite powerful.

With this 30-day goal idea, I started searching through my research to see how I could group various concepts together to make Twelve Goals a more structured program.  The notion of 30-day goals is a start, but it certainly in and of itself isn’t enough to get people up off the couch.  That requires a little more.  After a few weeks of dissecting the data I’ve been collecting, I settled on a high-level structure that can serve as a basic template for people.  But more on that in a minute…

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Written by Mike Torres

November 15th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

My Happiness Interview: Bookstores, Hugs, and Making Movies

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Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project, is one of my all-time favorites. Every so often Gretchen interviews someone she knows and asks them the same short list of questions, each one related to happiness.  I thought it would be fun to do a mock interview with that set of questions for Refocuser.  Note that I don’t know Gretchen personally, so technically it isn’t really her asking the questions.  I’m just talking to myself here.  Check out all the Happiness Interviews over on The Happiness Project for the real deal.

What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

PicCapturing photos and videos and reliving those memories with family.  I love to catch my 2-year old daughter doing something fun and unique; something only she does. It gives me this overwhelming feeling that I’m witnessing one of the most special things in the universe – something that’s never happened before – and I can’t help but feel like I’m helping create the narrative of her life.  Almost like I’m building memories with her that will someday encompass her early life experience.  We’re helping build her past.

Last summer I made a short movie with photos from my daughter’s first two years as we were getting ready to release Movie Maker (what I work on all day).  It was one of the best things I’ve done for myself.  I was able to express my feelings more completely and creatively through pictures and short sentences, and it’s a gift I’ll give her someday when she’d old enough to understand it.  Every so often I go back and watch it, and I find myself filled with pride (and nostalgia) as soon as I hear the first bar of the song start to play. <By the way, I actually got the inspiration for my movie from Gretchen’s The Years Are Short>

I feel like this is one way I tap into that “past positive” aspect of time perspective, which is so critical to overall happiness.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

When I was 18, I thought happiness was something I would have “someday” when things settle down.  Until then, I’m go-go-go because I felt I had so much to do before I could really consider myself happy.  But one day fairly recently (during the last couple years) I realized that “happily ever after” doesn’t exist at all.  There isn’t a time in the future when all will be right with the world, when everything will be exactly how I had imagined it being.  And if there is, that feeling won’t last forever… it may not even last a week.  The present moment, the here & now, is the only thing that actually is.  I realized I couldn’t wait until everything is perfect to be content with life.  My perspective shifted for the better once I internalized this.

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Written by Mike Torres

November 5th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Your Master Habit: Get One Thing Clicking, Watch Others Follow

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Click here for photo For many people, forming and keeping positive habits is a real challenge.  Each habit can sometimes require a different mindset or a slightly different approach in order to make it into a routine, and that can make it awfully difficult to stay consistent.  It turns out that our happiness is a direct result of how much control we have over our environment, and control is directly correlated with how well we’re able to form and maintain positive habits.  If you’re able to identify changes in your current behavior that align to your values and bring you closer to your goals, and then keep those positive changes going on a regular basis, you’ll find that you’ll have a comfortable level of control over your life.

Think back to a time when you felt everything was in order in your life; you felt great in your relationships and with your family, your job was something you looked forward to each day, your finances were on a positive trajectory, and you were getting regular exercise.  Heck, you were even flossing every day, making your bed, and staying on top of the laundry.  Every night as you drifted off to sleep the only thing you were thinking about was counting sheep.  Minimal stress, maximum smiles.

Compare that to how you feel right now – do you have that same sense of control over things?  Do you find one or more areas lacking?  How many things would you change if you could?  If you’re sitting there thinking that something’s lacking, this post may help get you back on track.  Yet thinking about the level of effort involved in getting everything going at once can be pretty overwhelming.  Where to start?

The key is to stop beating yourself up about all the small things you’re not doing, and focus on getting just one habit back on track first. 

In a series of studies performed by a social psychologist named Roy Baumeister, it’s been suggested that “improving self-regulation operates by increasing a general, core capacity. That is, as the person performs exercises to improve self-regulation in one sphere, he or she becomes better at self-regulating in other spheres.”

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Written by Mike Torres

July 12th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

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