Two Simple Tricks to Improve Your Week

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Christine Carter, a friend (and author of the acclaimed Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents), and I are reading each other’s ideas for our next books.  Her draft is like one of those aps you sign up for which tell you all the stuff they’ll be accessing on your phone, e.g., your location, social networks, etc.  Only her draft is accessing the secrets of my brain!  When she publishes I’ll be incredibly excited to tell you — or let her tell you — all that is so cool about her approach, but for now I don’t think she’ll mind my sharing a couple tricks I’m already using.  They are based on this immense and growing field of studies of the brain and the mind — the former being that ancient thing we share with the animals that makes instantaneous decisions just like our new pup Aria does (like when she wants to pee on our rugs).  The mind is that great mystery that philosophers and psychologists and theologians and other ‘ologists have been pondering for centuries.  Ok, I promised two simple tricks.

Aria ready to learn tricks

Aria ready to learn tricks

First, you need a place to use the tricks.  So, think of one thing you really want to get done or substantially accomplished this week.  Something important.  Perhaps complicated.  Perhaps challenging to get to. Something that will take some real brain energy.  Got it?

Now, walk away from your brain for a minute to look at two things it does when you want it to work. First, it gets distracted, tired, confused, etc. As John Haidt wrote in The Happiness Hypothesis, the mind is like an elephant sometimes, with you as the helpless rider on top.  You say, “attack the inbox,” and it says, “I think I’ll go refill my coffee.”  (It’s huge yet a sneaky elephant, for it gets you to the coffee before you even know you’ve stood up.)  Second, that same brain likes candy, e.g., dopamine.  So, knowing this about your brain, trick the elephant this week in two ways:

1. BEFORE you start your big work, lay out a clear path that hugely diminishes the elephant’s temptations.  You know where you work best and what distracts you. Close Outlook.  Close the door.  Put the phone on DND.  And pick a time when the elephant is not craving lunch, a coffee break, or a nap.  Set yourself up for success by not tempting or weakening the elephant.

2. Set a reward for yourself ahead of time.  Tell the elephant that dopamine is coming and it will be immediately delivered when you get X (modest, achievable) amount done:  Lunch with a friend at your favorite place.  A candy bar.  A 10-minute walk.  A wander through Dan Mulhern’s website :-).  10 minutes looking at your fantasy baseball results.  Ten minutes on your smartphone with Words with Friends or Ruzzle.  Promise the elephant some easy brain work — the kind our pup get mindlessly chewing a toy.

Christine’s gift is writing about the proven scientific connections between the brain research and combining them with simple, crazy, fun, everyday ways we can get out of our way and achieve greater satisfaction.

These two simple tricks share a main feature core to this work:  Building the skill to dis-associate yourself from that elephant, that monkey mind, that little pup.  I think it was Drucker who said that great managers don’t just work IN the business; they work on the business.  This starts with the leader herself:  don’t just work IN that mind of yours, but step away from it, from time to time, to strategize on how to make that little bugger work, so you can truly . ..

Lead with your best self,

Dan

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