Monthly Archives

October 2016

Clear your head to focus on what’s important!!

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cognitive load

Clear your head to focus on what’s important!!

A big part of increasing your mental energy is reducing what’s on your mind, i.e. commonly referred to as your cognitive load. This is especially important for optimizing your limited attention / conscious thought. We will talk about 4 areas where you can reduce your cognitive load.

  • Externalize memory
  • Reduce Decision Load
  • Automate with Habits and Routine
  • Offload Time Pressure and Triggers

Externalize Memory

Working memory is limited. Recent studies, using MRI, show we can remember about 4 things for 20s, unless we do something with it (Peter Doolittle: How your working memory makes sense of the world). Our long-term memory is not only unreliable, but it can be easily changed (Elizabeth Loftus: How reliable is your memory). Memory is constructed; that is, we fill in the gaps in our perception to make sense of the world. We can even implant false memories through suggestion. We actually believe these constructed memories are accurate. We already discussed how sleep can help us solidify and retain long-term memory, but what else can we do? One of the biggest things we can do is to externalize memory. Summarizing what we have learned not only helps us remember it, but these summaries also give us an external memory reference we can quickly review later. Many courses on time management encourage you to do a mind dump of everything you need to do (Udemy Timejar Effect). This allows you to capture it, prioritize it, and get rid of that nagging feeling you are forgetting something.

Taking notes on your ideas and observations is a practice used by many creative people. Having the ability to capture things at any time is huge for your creativity progress. I use my phone to capture notes because it is portable and always with me. Digitally taking notes also scales well. You don’t have a bunch of paper to search through, store, and manage. With digital notes you can search your notes quickly. I occasionally carry a mini notebook that fits in my pocket, mainly for drawing ideas. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a good replacement for drawing on paper, though I have hopes for the new IPad. We remember things better that we visualize. Visualizing memory is actually the main trick that memorization champions use. We can only remember a few numbers, but we can visually and specially remember where 1000s of objects are in our home. Don’t underestimate the power of your visual memory.

Reduce Decision Load

As we discussed in the willpower section, decision fatigue causes later decisions to be less effective than earlier ones, regardless of how trivial. US President Obama lets others select his clothes and meals to help reduce decision fatigue. The average adult makes 35K decisions a day; no wonder we get tired. There are several ways you can reduce your decision load and make better decisions.

  • Default Decisions: For trivial decisions, have default decisions. For instance, what you will wear, what you will eat for breakfast, etc.
  • Big Decisions Earlier: Make your important decisions earlier in the day, when you have the least decision fatigue.
  • Let Someone Else Decide: If it is not a decision you need to make, let someone else decide. At a new restaurant, ask the waitress what their best dish is and order that. If you have a decision at work that someone else can make, empower him or her to make it.

Reducing your decision load can help you make the best decisions for the things that matter.

Automate With Habits and Routine

In the article on Habit and Behavior Change, we discussed how habits work and the most effective ways to make habit change. The magic of habits is they reduce your cognitive load and willpower needs. So what are good candidates for automating with habits? Anything you want to do frequently. Many successful people use morning rituals like Tony Robbins, Barak Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and so many more. Here are examples of their routines (morning ritual mastery):

  • Tony Robbins – Priming (15m – meditate, gratitude, visualize the day you want), Workout & Hot / Cold Pool (30m)
  • Barak Obama – Workout (45m), healthy breakfast, avoid coffee, and avoid criticism
  • Bill Gates – Treadmill (1hr) and watch the teaching company
  • Benjamin Franklin (4a) – What he wanted to do that day and what good he will do that day.
  • Jack Dorsey (530a)- Meditate and jog
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger – Workout, breakfast, and read

A common theme is preparing for the day you want. Most are a combination of waking up your body (exercise and breakfast), priming, and planning your day. Nighttime routines are also important for preparing for the next day. Things like reflecting on your day, gratitude, and thinking about what you want to do next can help prep you for the next day.

Offload Time Pressure and Triggers

We often worry about what comes next in our day or follow-up we need to do. Planning and using tools, like notifications, timers, alarms, and your calendar, can help offload this schedule tension. Executives have assistants who help plan their day and tell them when then need to move on to the next event. They don’t worry what is next; they are focused on the present moment and interaction. Tools like Boomerang can automate follow-up reminders when working with someone or delegating work. There is something very peaceful about knowing your tools are preventing you from missing anything important.

Join the fight against cancer!!

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american cancer society

The odds of getting cancer are 1 in 2 for males and 1 in 3 for females. The odds of dying from cancer are 1 in 4 for males and 1 in 5 for females.

American Cancer Society

The odds for getting cancer are staggering (1 in 2 for males and 1 in 4 for females), so you or someone you know are likely to have been affected by cancer. For me many of the women in my life have been affected by cancer. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and my partner Kate is a thyroid cancer survivor. Seeing people you love go through this is very difficult. That waiting room can be very lonely when someone you love is going through 9 hours of surgery or has to be in isolation due to radioactive treatments, both of which were the case for Kate. I have also lost many uncles, aunts, and cousins to cancer prematurely. Cancer affects us personally and adds a tremendous burden to the healthcare system. One organization that I am proud to support is the American Cancer Society, which was founded in 1913. Their mission is to “Save lives and celebrate life. Every single day.” 74 cents of every dollar donated goes to cancer research, patient support, prevention education, detection, and treatment.

So I was fortunate to recently participate in the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Arizona. This morning walking event raised over $425K to fight breast cancer. If you have the opportunity, please help in the fight against cancer. Also take care of yourselves. A recent study found 70% to 90% of cancers are caused by lifestyle. These lifestyle issues were primarily around diet, smoking, alcohol, and weight. This highlights how important it is to feed and treat your body right. I wish you, your family, and friends a healthy and long cancer free life. Take care friends.

american cancer society

Which came first success or happiness?

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happiness success

“Happiness precedes success, not the other way around.” – Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

Happiness is entirely an internal state of mind vastly driven by the meaning we put on events. The same event can happen to different people making one person happy and the other miserable. The difference is in how each individual perceived the event. According to Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds, studies have found that happiness is only 10% environmental. The other 90% comes from our genetics (50%) and our thought process (40%).

To be happier, we must either try to control external conditions (not always easy and only 10% of our happiness) or change how we experience external conditions. At a high level, happiness is driven by relationships, the meaning we place on events, our freedom to make a choice, and how much time we spend in flow (being fully engaged in what we are doing). There are several strategies to improve your happiness:

  • Gratitude Attitude: Once a day, go through all the things you are grateful for. Gratitude is an incompatible with unhappiness. The reason we need to do this daily is the adaptation effect. Humans are very adaptable, which has many survival benefits and also some interesting psychological impacts. Someone who wins the lottery and someone who loses a leg will be at the same level of happiness in a year. So how do we overcome the adaptation effect? A good example is the wonderful smell of bread when you first enter a bakery. After a few seconds, we adapt to the smell and can’t smell it anymore (we are massive difference-detecting engines). We have to leave and come back to experience that wonderful smell again. It is the same thing with repeating what you’re grateful for, like your partner, friends, family, home, food, vehicle, etc. It makes all of these blessings new again.
  • Playfulness and Humor: A playful attitude that has fun and finds humor in things will make you happier. Play takes up 20% of animals’ time, and is critical to social and brain development (see The Playful Brain).
  • Experiences Instead of Things: If you want your money to make you happier, spend it on experiences rather than things.
  • Physical Behavior Drives Mood: If you walk with a bounce in your step, those physical cues will make you happier. People that smile intensely live 35% longer (see For a long life, smile like you mean it)
  • Small Acts of Kindness: Doing little things for others will make us happier.
  • Affectionate Writing: For better relationships, write letters about what you love about that person. It will affect how you interact with them in many positive ways.
  • Good Relationships: The longest study of its kind (75 years) found the number one factor in having a happy and long life was good relationships (see this TED Talk by Robert Waldinger)
  • Positive Self-Talk: High performers practice positive self-talk. A negative inner dialogue negatively affects mood (see this TED Talk by Mariano Sigman).
  • Increase Flow: People who spend more time in a high performance flow state are happier. This is because they are doing something they enjoy (see The Flow Genome Project).
  • Positive Meaning: Assign positive meaning to your work and daily life events.
  • Avoid Entitlement Thinking: One secret to happiness is not to lower you expectations, but to lower your entitlement thinking. That is not thinking the world owes us something, but rather that we can earn it.

Remember, happiness is a way of thinking. Happiness can make your journey through life much more enjoyable, fulfilling, and successful.

Want a 10x Mindset? Learn about a Growth Mindset & Realistic Optimism.

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passion growth optimism

We discussed the superpower of curiosity in a prior article; another important mental superpower is a growth mindset. In her book Succeed, psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson talks about two mindsets related to growth:

  • Fixed Mindset: People with a fixed mindset feel limited by their current ability. They spend time proving their ability and protecting their ego. This often means avoiding situations where they might fail.
  • Growth Mindset: People with a growth mindset believe they can attain any new ability. People with a growth mindset spend time improving their abilities. A high growth rate that continually adds abilities will beat a fixed set of abilities in the long run.

Many studies have been done on this in classrooms. To instill a growth mindset in children, praise effort, not ability. When someone with a growth mindset comes across a problem, they believe they can figure it out through learning, creativity, and effort. If you don’t know how to do something, simply add it to your learning list.

You should never let your current ability hold you back or allow yourself to be overcome by limiting beliefs. The rate of learning or growth is the biggest indicator of success. In today’s world of human knowledge doubling every 13 months, becoming an intentional lifelong learner may be the only sustainable advantage. Therefore, a growth mindset is essential to your success.

In the book The Secret, the author claims imagining you have something will help you get it. Research finds this isn’t exactly right. First, having a goal is important; otherwise, you don’t have a target. Thinking about the benefits of the goal can be motivational because it reminds you why you are doing something. The most important thing to imagine is how you will get there. That includes what you need to do, any obstacles you may encounter, and how you will react to those obstacles. This is realistic optimism: the belief that you can do it, but there will be challenges, and you can handle them.

Need to make a change? Hack your habits & willpower! (Part 2 of 2)

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change behavior willpower

Need to make a change? Hack your willpower and habits. (Part 2 of 2)

So how can we leverage our willpower to better achieve our goals? Well, there are two aspects: reducing the willpower required to do something, and increasing our willpower reservoir. Willpower is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Exercising willpower in any part of your life helps you increase your willpower to use in other parts of your life. In his book Willpower, Thomas Abreu describes the things that wear down our willpower. According to Abreu, Ego Depletion (the loss of willpower) happens due to:

  • Exercising Self Control (Not doing undesirable things)
  • Exercising Self Discipline (Doing desirable things)
  • Decision Fatigue – There is a large body of research on how decisions, however small, make later decision-making worse. This is why many famous people, including Steve Jobs and Barack Obama, have designed their lives to reduce their decision load. For example, they wear the same outfit each day, have default meal decisions, etc.

As we mentioned in the previous article, habits reduce the need for willpower because they happen automatically. Building the right habits can really enable many parts of your life. One of the simplest behavior hacks that has helped me is the habit of starting a timer when you start a task. Once I start the timer, I just start working. There is magic in starting, because it creates the momentum that drives us on. If you are having a trouble starting a task, break it down into the simplest, smallest thing you can make progress on. Our only window of action is the current moment, so all progress is necessarily small. Both of these techniques reduce the “activation energy” you need to start something.

Another big factor in willpower is motivation. In the book Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., she debunks many myths of motivation through many scientific studies. One key myth is that imagining having what you want motivates you to get it (as touted by the book The Secret). Actually, you need to focus on the benefits of what you want and the obstacles you will need to overcome to get there instead. Through my research, I found some great science-backed ways to hack your willpower. Here are several willpower hacks you can incorporate into your daily life:

  1. Only change 1 or 2 habits at a time to overcome willpower depletion.
  2. Increase barriers to habits you don’t want. Out of sight is out of mind. For example, don’t leave snacks in plain sight if you are trying to eat healthier.
  3. Decrease barriers to habits you do want. For example, set your gym clothes out the night before if you want to work out the next day.
  4. Have self-compassion to avoid the “what the hell effect” or “snowball effect.” When you fail, forgive yourself quickly.
  5. Create a space between the trigger and the behavior you want. This gives you time to think and change to a desirable behavior.
  6. Add triggers to your environment for positive habits. This can be as simple as putting a note on your monitor, hanging up art with a quote that is important to you, displaying a picture that inspires you, etc.
  7. “Eat the Frog” – Your willpower is strongest in the morning, so do the most important, hard-to-start things in the morning.
  8. Habits, once created, conserve willpower.
  9. Reduce your decision load by automating decisions. For example, have a go-to breakfast plan and a default meal choice for each restaurant you visit. Having set routines in the morning and night is another example.

I hope these insights and techniques help you to be more successful at making positive changes in your life. I am thankful to be able to share these ideas with you. Happy habit hacking!!!

Written by Guy Bieber

Inspire Be Inspired Create Amazing Experiences 

When you need “The Guy”: @theguybieber theguybieber@karmas.co bookings@thepotentialbook.com

Need to make a change? Hack your habits & willpower! (Part 1 of 2)

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change behavior willpower

Need to make a change? Hack your willpower and habits. (Part 1 of 2)

We all struggle with willpower at times, both in doing things that are good for us (self-discipline) and stopping things that are bad for us (self-control). I have done extensive research on habit change and have used these tricks to change many of my own habits. I would love to share them with you…

Understanding how willpower and habits work can help us be more successful. The truth is we spend a big chunk of our time on autopilot. Habits drive 40% of our activity each day. Art Markman (Ph.D.), author of Smart Change, describes the two behavior systems at play: the go system and the stop system.

The go system is made up of behaviors we automatically do – basically the habits we already have. The go system takes no willpower; it consists only of things we automatically do when we are triggered. For example, you might have developed the habit of automatically brushing your teeth (behavior) when you wake up in the morning (trigger) or grabbing a glass of wine (behavior) when you arrive home from work (trigger). The stop system, however, takes willpower to activate. This is when we consciously decide to do something different, when we override the go system.

Understanding habits, triggers, and rewards is essential to changing behavior. So what is the anatomy of a habit?

  • Habit = Trigger causing a Behavior leading to a Reward (H = T -> B -> R)
  • Trigger = A trigger is a condition that occurs in your environment that causes you to engage in behavior. This can be event based (someone cuts you off on the freeway), location based (arriving at your workplace), time based (when your alarm goes off in the morning), or even something in your environment (like a note that says “stay calm”). Here is a great talk on effectively using triggers in your life.
  • Behavior = A behavior is the action you automatically do in response to a trigger.
  • Reward = A reward is a benefit you get from the behavior.

Adding new habits is actually easier than changing an old habit. Research shows when changing a habit, you will be more successful if you replace the old habit with a new one. Research has also found that it takes 20 repetitions of the new behavior for it to become a habit. So what does habit change take?

  • Habit Change (repeat 20x) = (Motivation + Ability + Stop Activation when the Trigger Happens) -> A New Behavior -> A New Reward
  • Motivation = A reward you really want.
  • Ability = You must have the ability to do the new behavior.
  • Stop Activation = You have to use willpower to activate the stop system when the trigger happens.

To have motivation, you need to really believe the new reward is worth changing for. There must be clear benefits that you really want. You also need to choose to make the change. Others choosing for you undermines motivation. Said another way, you need a strong “why.” You also must have the ability to do the new behavior. Finally, you have to know what triggers the behavior in order to activate your stop system. Then you can do the new behavior and get the new reward. When you change a habit, you are really creating a new if-then statement. This is actually an extremely compact way to describe what you want to do, and it is easy to remember.

  • if trigger then new behavior then reward

It is important to have an immediate reward when making a habit change – even if that is giving yourself a simple “I’m awesome” high five. Some rewards that are further out (like the benefits of losing weight) miss the small successes that lead to the big success.

So now you understand the power of habit, how habits work, and how to plan a habit change. In the next part of this series, we will discuss how to hack your willpower to be more successful at changing your habits.

Written by Guy Bieber

Inspire Be Inspired Create Amazing Experiences 

When you need “The Guy”: @theguybieber theguybieber@karmas.co bookings@thepotentialbook.com

Want to be at the top of your game? Flow with it!!

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flow

The secret of happiness is learning to enjoy the passage of time. – James Taylor

In studying the science of human performance, some of the best research has come out recently on a state called flow. What is flow? Flow is that state when athletes are at in the zone at the top of their game, where developers are their most creative, and where musicians are in the groove. A 10-year McKinsey study of top executives found that executives in the flow state were 5x more productive. Think about what that means; that means they could come in two days a week and they would be twice as productive as their competition. You have probably been in a flow state before, but just had no name for it.

There are some excellent books out on flow and even an organization that is aggressively helping people hack their flow states:

These books describe the essential conditions of the flow state as:

  • Clear Goal – You must have a clear goal to go after. If it is a goal you selected that is even better.
  • Ability – You have to have the ability to achieve that goal. This is a fine line between too easy (boring) and too hard (anxiety). Typically, it is 4% harder than your current ability, i.e. you are stretching to achieve the goal.
  • Immediate Feedback – Without immediate feedback, you cannot tell if you are going in the right direction, which causes a lack of clarity.
  • Presence – You are fully engaged in what you are doing in the current moment.
  • Turning off the Self-Critic – Your energy is all about doing, not about doubting whether you can or judging yourself.
  • Lose Sense of Time – People in a flow state often wonder how time passed so quickly. They essentially lose track of time. This is a key indicator you are in a flow state.
flow
flow

The other great benefit of flow, besides high performance, is that people that spend more time in flow are happier. They are doing something they enjoy. An interesting paradox of this is that people have more flow in work than in leisure. We want more vacations and yet are happier at work. We actually get more joy out of planning a vacation than taking one.

In sports, you see people that try to disrupt the flow of their opponents or to put it another way, they try to lower the performance of their competition. In football, they call a timeout when the other team is making progress. In tennis, John McEnroe intentionally disrupted his opponents’ flow by having an outburst. However, flow is not just for sports. I recently hosted a Future of Work conference that Jamie Wheal from the flow genome project attended. He made an interesting comment that technology workers’ performance should really be measured by how long they spend in a flow state. That is the idea that flow management is performance management. Put another way, manage your flow instead of your time.

This diagram best describes the flow state (based on Yerkies Dodson Law of performance versus arousal):

flow

So, what should you do if the task is far beyond your current ability? In a growth mindset, you would add it to a list of things to learn, offload the work, or perhaps get a mentor. If the task is too easy, it is probably a problem not central to your contribution, and you should consider offloading it. Then you can focus on the things you are best at and stay in a high-performance flow state. Just remember the flow conditions above and try to create them for what you are working on. This is precisely what the karmas service will give you the ability to do. It will allow you to find ways to learn, offload (automate or delegate), and get mentoring from many services based on your particular goals, projects, and tasks. To learn more about reaching your potential, check out the potential book. I wish you flow, happiness, and success.

Written by Guy Bieber

Inspire Be Inspired Create Amazing Experiences 

When you need “The Guy”: @theguybieber theguybieber@karmas.co bookings@thepotentialbook.com