Browsing the archives for the decisions tag.
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Better Writing Through Writing About Writing

Writing

The original version of this article first appeared in my column “Brain Hacks for Writers” over at the online publication Futurismic. I’m editing and republishing each of my BHfW columns here over time.

My life is fairly crammed, and writing time is hard to come by. Today I got one of those precious blocks of time in which I could write for several hours almost without interruption, yet as I fired up the computer, I felt not excited about the prospect, but worried and on edge.  I also felt a little unsure: I had several projects I could be working on and was waffling on which one to choose.

Looking before leaping
I could have just plunged in and begun working on whatever seemed easiest, most obvious, or most attractive, and if I got deeply enough into the writing that I achieved flow, that might have gone well. On the other hand, I might have made a bad choice out of inattention, and it’s possible that even if I’d made a good random choice, my concern that I might be working on the wrong thing or my general unexplored discomfort might have seriously interfered with my ability to focus. Under those conditions, I might be especially unlikely to enjoy the work, which is a problem, because while common sense suggests that it doesn’t matter to productivity whether you enjoy the writing or not as you do it, in truth not enjoying what we’re doing tends to make us quit sooner, latch onto distractions more easily, feel less positive about what we’re achieving, and avoid coming back to do more. Liking the process of writing is a good way to write more and to be more invested in our work.

Schema journaling
So instead of starting by writing, I started by writing down my thoughts about writing. One of my current projects is a layperson’s book on mental schemas. Mental schemas (the habitual patterns called “early maladaptive schemas,” if we want to be more technical) are persistent ways of thinking that tend to interfere with living a happy and productive life, explored in detail in a branch of psychology called Schema Therapy. To provide a framework for making use of these ideas in my book, I’ve been experimenting with something I call a Schema Journal, where daily entries are an opportunity to find focus, work through confusing situations, reflect on progress and obstacles, and find answers to difficult questions. This same approach can be used without keeping a journal to sort out any situation that seems to be interfering with writing, whether it’s intellectual (like choosing which of two projects to pursue), emotional (like feeling worried that a project isn’t going well), or organizational (like having trouble finding time to write).

Schema journaling tools
Just writing freely about problems is a good approach, but it can be especially effective to write to a specific purpose. Here are some of the available tools or purposes writing about writing can have:

  • Feedback loop: Reflection on how behaviors and choices are affecting a situation so far, identifying improvements, and coming up with specific plans to use those improvements at the next opportunity.
  • Exploration: Thinking in detail about an opportunity or problem to come up with more specific questions or goals.
  • Decision: Making a choice. This is the kind of entry I used today, starting with the question “Which of my writing projects should I work on at the moment?” This came after realizing that what was holding me back from feeling enthusiastic about writing was that I was conflicted about which project to work on. If I hadn’t been sure what the problem was, an “Exploration” entry would have been the thing to do first. That would have led me to the question I could use for my Decision entry.
  • Assignment: Choosing a task that is usually avoided and setting a specific time frame for getting it done. This shouldn’t be a big project, but rather a specific thing you can accomplish, preferably in one attempt. Ideally this is something you can repeat, for instance “Choose a short story that needs a small amount of editing, edit it, and send it out.” The writing to do about the task is whatever is needed to create enthusiasm and get focused.
  • Envision: Visualize a future situation that helps motivate you. The situation should be plausible, but doesn’t have to be something that’s immediately realistic. Getting used to the idea that things could go well and allowing ourselves to feel some of the emotions we experience when things do go well can help create a more positive and focused mood for writing.

There are additional kinds of entries in an actual Schema Journal that are more involved and have longer-term intentions, but the five specific tools above offer ways to get past the emotions, complications, and mental obstacles that prevent writing from getting done, or sometimes that simply get in the way of enjoying the process.

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How to Turn Complex Choices into Hard Numbers

Uncategorized

I was recently struck by writer and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau‘s recommendation for a way to choose between a number of possible business opportunities, and I realized immediately that it was applicable not just to business decisions, but to any choice that involves a lot of competing possibilities with different pros and cons. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a useful one if you want to take a lot of possibilities and end up with a single score for each one so you can decide which is best.

In a nutshell, what you can do is figure out what factors are important to you and rate each idea or possibility on a scale of 1-5 for each of those factors. You can use paper, a word processor, a spreadsheet, or another medium. What you get in the end is a grid, kind of like this:

The 5-point scale
Why a 5-point scale? Because it’s detailed enough to be able to distinguish between levels like “terrible,” “bad,” “OK,” “good,” and “great” while not so detailed that it’s difficult to decide what value to assign. The process isn’t supposed to be surgically precise: it’s just meant to show us which way the wind is blowing. Our quick, subjective impressions of each item will generally be good enough information to provide the answers we’re looking for.

Keep in mind that 5 always means “best,” not necessarily “highest.” For instance, Hawaii has a 1 for “cost” not because the cost is low, but on the contrary because the cost is high and therefore merits the worst rating.

While I think a 5-point scale is especially handy, you can use any scale you want (say, 1-3 or 0-10, etc.). Just be sure to use the same scale for every factor.

Instant insight
You can see right away how this approach is handy. For instance, Hawaii might sound great, but when you factor in the very high cost and the lower amount of relaxation you experience because of airports, reservations, and all the rest, it doesn’t stack up as well (using this method) as the other two options.

Weighty questions
With that said, there’s a major problem with the system as Guillebeau and many other people use it, which is that it treats all considerations as equally important. In many cases, that works out fine; as I say, we’re just trying to get a general direction. In other cases, though, it can be … well, less than ideal. Consider the following example:

Using this approach, it’s easy to see that it’s better to dive without a parachute than with one–except that … you know … it isn’t.

So how do we fix this problem? By using weightings!

What are weightings? They’re just a way of adding up or averaging information proportionate to other information, in this case to information about how important each item is. By introducing weightings, we can let our grid reflect our priorities. Consider this new version of the skydiving grid:

Our totals have changed completely, and they shouldn’t be compared to totals from any other grid, but they tell a clear story: even for this obviously danger-loving individual, skydiving with a parachute is a much better choice than skydiving without.

Of course, using weightings is more complicated than not using weightings, especially in terms of calculations, because you have to multiply each rating by its weighting before you add things up. If you don’t want to get technical, I’d like to invite you to skip down to the picture of the kitten now, and I’ll mention that I can probably upload a template that won’t require you to do any of the technical work if enough people want it.

If you don’t mind getting technical and are following along in Excel, here’s how I set up the spreadsheet so that the total would use the weighting values I specified:

The little $ signs, in case you haven’t used them in Excel before, mean “use the row (or column) I specify even if I copy this formula somewhere else.” By referring to B$4, C$4, and D$4 instead of B4, C4, and D4, we can copy the formula from F5 into all of the rows below, even if we add a hundred options, without having to change the formula.

OK, it’s safe to read on! No more technical stuff!
photo by Merlijn Hoek

Just useful; not miraculous
Weighting isn’t perfect either, of course. It’s hard to put hard numbers on the relative importance of things like “environmental friendliness” and “good for the kids,” say, and if we just put the highest importance on everything, then we might as well not be using weightings at all. Also, if we have two different but related factors (like “general aesthetics” and “goes with the furniture”), then both of those add together to give them a weight that’s probably higher than intended–although if we’re using weightings, this can be fixed by cutting both weights roughly in half because the two are in a sense working together. This same problem comes up if we don’t use weightings, but in that situation, there’s no good way to fix it, so that’s another point in favor of using weightings instead of unweighted ratings.

I don’t want to lose sight of the benefit here: the amazing thing is that you can take any number of choices–just a handful or hundreds–and evaluate them all at the same time. There are other ways to make these kinds of choices, like filtering and sequencing (see “How Fewer Choices Make for Better Decisions“), but using weighted ratings makes it possible to evaluate them all at once and to tweak the decision-making process afterward to see how that changes things. (Because you can always decide to add or change your ratings or alter their weights, and in a spreadsheet or similar solution, those changes will immediately show new scores.)

Using your results
If you’re using a spreadsheet, you can sort by totals when you’re done (in Excel, highlight all of your data, including the choice names and the totals, then choose Data > Sort) so that your choices are then listed in the order from best to worst, according to your spreadsheet.

You don’t have to then make the choice at the top just because it got the highest score: again, this process is just a way to put things in perspective. However, that perspective can be invaluable for figuring out what to actually do next.

My example
I put together a spreadsheet for myself of a few of the many, many speaking and writing projects and possibilities I’ve started or considered, and set it up using weighted ratings, as I’ve described above. Having a technical background and being very interested in squeezing every last drop of meaning out of my information, I made some further enhancements, which you can see here. Note the little red corners: those mean that I can hover over the factor with my mouse to see details of how I should rate, so that I can assign ratings consistently. I’ve also used conditional formatting to highlight better and worse information with different colors. (You can click on the image to see it at full size.)

If you’d like a copy of my template for the grid above, please comment here. I’ll put something fairly user-friendly together and post it if there’s a need.

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The Little Lying Creep That Lives in My Head

States of mind

I used to have excuses: I wasn’t as clear on what would make me happy, on the difference between happiness and pleasure, or even on whether or not happiness was what was really important. Even when I understood what the best things were to do, in the past I often couldn’t figure out how to care and act on that.

Past excuses
These days I don’t have those excuses. I understand how central happiness is and how it’s different than pleasure. From researching and writing about habits over the past years, I have so many available ways to get and stay on track, it’s not so much a bag of tricks as a chase van full of them. I have a clear sense of how to be a deeply fulfilled, effective, and compassionate person.

So why aren’t I doing a better job? Sure, I’m doing pretty well, but why aren’t I closer to, you know, perfect?

It’s true that knowing isn’t enough, but if we understand the process of bridging the gap between knowing and doing (see the link for details), that’s not much of an excuse. No, I think what gets in my way those times that I could do the better thing and end up doing the worse thing, is the little lying creep that lives in my head.

I’ll call him “the Creep” for short.

Meet the Creep
Let’s say I come across a plate of doughnuts. I might say to myself,  “Yeah, those doughnuts look good, but you know what would make me feel better and happier? A round of push-ups.”

The Creep will respond “You know what would actually make you feel better? A freakin’ doughnut, that’s what. Push-ups don’t make you happier than doughnuts do. Push-ups just make you a joyless, self-righteous exercise junky. Doughnuts make you somebody who’s eating a delicious doughnut.”

Or I’ll have an hour or two available and think, “Why don’t I spend this time going over my task list and reorganizing items into updated categories so that I have a better handle on what I need to get done over the next couple of days?”

The Creep will respond “Or you could not do something stupid and boring and instead install World of Warcraft. Then you could spend the next six months playing that. Come on, it would be fun!”

I am pleased to say that these days, the Creep usually loses. I’ve been waging a long and exhausting battle against him over the course of years, learning to be more reliable, more productive, more self-aware, kinder, and a lot else.

Yet he’s still a major daily obstacle. I know he’s a big fat liar, but he’s so convincing. He emerged when I was very young, and I’m used to following his instructions.

Sometimes he’s even partly right. “Wow, this doughnut is good,” I might say, and he’ll say “I know, right? Now let’s get you some kind of candy to go with that.”

Later I’ll point out how the Creep’s advice has created problems or squandered opportunities, but he’ll be unavailable for comment.

Keep on Creepin’ on
These days, I try not to fall into the trap of fighting the creep. You can’t win an argument with him: he keeps coming up with more “common wisdom,” more “obvious truths,” and more justifications. “But you’re tired,” he’ll insist. “And you had that thing with the water spraying all over you, which wasn’t fair and was annoying, and anyway who are you trying to impress?”

Even if we get past all that, he doesn’t stop. “Yuh huh,” he’ll say. “Nuh uh,” I’ll point out. “Yuh huh,” he’ll rebut. He can go on like that all day … and sometimes has.

Still rummaging through the toolbox
So what’s the cure for the common Creep? I don’t have a single, easy answer: now that I’ve identified him, I have to see what mental tools I can use to get him to settle down. I take heart that I’ve been making headway, that he’s become a weaker and weaker influence over time.

I’m also interested in this idea of the Creep as a character or a mode in my head. This connects well with the schema therapy concept of modes, nine different roles that people take on mentally, for example the Healthy Adult and the Impulsive/Undisciplined Child.

Seeing the Creep as a mode or role, as soon as I identify him as being the one behind an idea in my head, my perspective shifts. I can say to myself “Well of course the Creep wants to do that. But what does the part of myself who actually has a clue think?”

Actually, I didn’t even realize that the Creep was a mode until I started writing about him here, and with that realization I suddenly have access to the Schema Therapy tools that apply to modes–dialog between modes, for instance, where the healthy part of me asks the Creep what’s going on.

Creeps wanted
What about you? Do your worst impulses have a personality? What tricks does that character have up its sleeve? Got a name for it? I’d be interested to hear your stories.

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Stay the Course or Try Something New and Promising? Some Ways to Decide

Strategies and goals

A friend recently mentioned that she was having trouble deciding whether to stay with a project she’d been working on for some time or to follow a new, very unusual idea she’d come up with that could, she thinks, be highly successful. While she’s been enthusiastic about the new idea, it isn’t catching on with the people she’s talked to about it so far.

There is no simple way, much of the time, to make these kinds of decisions. Some of us are constantly seduced by new and exciting ideas–for me, for instance, it’s an unusual week when I don’t dream up some huge project I could be doing instead of what I have on my plate already. I’m glad to say I usually write these down and stay the course, since if I followed every one I’d never finish anything at all.

Others of us have no inclination to rock the boat and want to stay with what we have–sometimes even when that’s showing every sign of failing.

So how can we make good decisions about choices when we can’t predict the outcomes? Here are some suggestions for ways to do that.

Sometimes audacity is brilliant
First, it seems to me that doing things that other people say will never work sometimes works amazingly, as with J.K. Rowling’s much-too-long debut young adult novel or Beethoven’s opening to his 5th symphony, which starts on the second beat.

Innovators have to be able to hold the line
Second, even when an audacious idea is successful, its creator often has to perservere well beyond the usual point of success to get anywhere. Rowling was rejected by a couple of dozen publishers before Bloomsbury picked her up, and the great majority of writers would probably never have persisted that long. I gather that some of the initial reaction to Beethoven’s 5th symphony was disbelief and scorn, though some of that may have been because the premiere went very badly.

Failure is normal
Third, most ideas that other people say will never work really do never work, just because it’s hard to make a big, new thing come to life in an effective way. Audacious surprise successes are very unusual.

How committed can you be?
Fourth, the audacious ideas that do succeed seem to do so only when their creator is completely behind the idea, heart and soul. I can reflect on a variety of businesses I’ve worked on the past that have begun promisingly but ultimately died with a whimper because I didn’t want pour my entire life into them. Some were very sound, and one of the businesses did hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business before it petered out, but when it comes down to it, business isn’t what interests me, so that these days I avoid getting involved in business pursuits whenever I can even though I’ve gained a lot of good experience in that area.

Follow happiness
Some advice that’s very good in other situations, like “follow your passions” or “just do it!” can fail us when we’re working on complicated decisions. One suggestion I’ve heard is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” This kind of advice has led uncounted young people to Hollywood to try to become stars, for instance, and the huge majority of them wash out completely. Does that make it a bad decision? It depends. Maybe the thing to do is to choose the course that will make you happy even if you fail, just because you tried and you put everything you had into it. With that approach, even failure can be a form of success.

Photo by brockzilla

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Why New Year’s Is Such a Good Time to Make a Resolution

Strategies and goals

In an article last week (“Should You Make a New Year’s Resolution?“) I talked about New Year’s Resolutions and how to tell whether or not it’s worth it for you to make one. In this post I’d like to touch on a related subject, which is the value of New Year’s as a time to commit to a goal–that is, to make a resolution.

I’ll say first that the New Year certainly isn’t the only good time to commit to a goal. Almost any time, even when things are at their worst, can be a good time to change things for the better (see “Why the Worst Time to Change Things Can Be the Best Time to Change Things“).

Even so, the New Year offers some special advantages:

  • With the winter holidays over, for many of us the New Year is a great chance to incorporate something different into our normal routine without having to worry about the interruptions of vacations, holidays, or most other unusual circumstances. While it’s essential to find ways to continue to pursue our goals even when we’re pulled out of our routine, it’s easiest to get a habit rolling when things are at their most normal
  • There’s an emotional advantage to getting a new start, and even though on some level a new year is just a change in numbers, it does a real feeling of something new beginning that we can harness to our advantage.
  • Maintaining a winning streak can give extra durability to habits we’re trying to build (see “Harnessing a Winning Streak“), and January 1st is a convenient and effective date on which to start a new winning streak.
  • In a very real sense, it’s never a bad time to improve our lives. Even without its special advantages, January 1 is still a good date to start something positive.

I would offer a few cautions about starting a new goal, though:

  • Don’t start something new that will disrupt a good habit you’re already working on or that will sap too much time or attention from other priorities.
  • As tempting as it may sometimes be to try to remake our entire lives, choose only one goal to work on energetically at a time: choosing two or more almost always results in overstretching our time and attention, leading to failure. And be sure to choose the one thing that’s really most important to you.
  • Choose a set of behaviors (something you can control) and not an outcome (something you can’t control). For example, you might resolve to eat healthily and exercise (two ways to pursue a single fitness goal), not to get skinny; resolve to adopt good task management practices, not to “be more organized”; or resolve to work on your business idea, not to “get rich.”
  • Prepare first. It’s often hard to give proper support to a spur-of-the-moment resolution. By planning in advance you can make schedules, enlist help, read books, join groups, or do whatever else you need to give yourself the best chance of success.
  • Don’t give yourself a “bad habit bachelor party”: that is, don’t behave badly as a last gasp, as this will make it harder and more jarring to behave well. Making good choices is a reward to yourself, not a punishment, something that it will make you happy to embrace, not avoid.

This series will continue next time with a suggestion of a good way to review an entire life and take stock of what one goal is most worth pursuing for a particular person.

Photo by legalnonresident

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Should You Make a New Year’s Resolution?

Strategies and goals

New Year’s resolutions have a long history, reportedly stretching back to the ancient Romans in their worship of the double-faced god Janus and even a couple of millenia earlier to the ancient Babylonians. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good idea for you or me, though. If you’re already working hard on one goal, for instance, adding another goal can drain enough of your time and attention that both goals fail, the old and the new.

In an experiment tracking 3,000 people in 2007, only 12% actually succeeded with their goals. If you want to be part of that 12%–and you’re already way ahead of the game by reading articles like this–don’t proceed unless you know that the resolution and the timing are right.

New Year’s can be an ideal time to start work on a new goal. As we’re getting into the time of year when planning for a New Year’s resolution makes the most sense, I’d like to talk about why New Year’s resolutions can work, what gets in the way, and how to tell whether or not to make one in the first place.

To resolve or not?
Resolutions can be harmful if we go about them in a bad way or drain effort from a goal already being pursued. When considering making one:

  • Only focus on one large goal at a time. I know it’s hard to put aside some things we really want to accomplish while focusing on one particular goal, but changing habits (which is what we need to do to achieve goals) requires not only a good approach but also plenty of time and attention–too much for it to be possible for most of us to transform in two or more ways at once.
  • Only proceed if you know what you want and what to do to get it. Having unclear goals or lacking a plan will usually result in failure, which is disheartening and not very constructive. If you know what you want but not how to get it, do some research. You can start on this site, The Willpower Engine, where you can find hundreds of free articles on changing habits and pursuing goals, or by talking to or reading about someone who has done what you want to achieve, or by finding a good group to join.

I’ll continue with this series on New Year’s resolutions in upcoming articles by looking at  the special advantages of making a resolution at the New Year, some cautions, and a way to inventory your goals and dreams so as to go forward in the best possible way.

You might also be interested in some related posts:

Photo by Ravages

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How Fewer Choices Make for Better Decisions

Strategies and goals

“Overwhelmed” isn’t a very good state of mind in which to make decisions. When we have too many things competing for our attention at the same time, it becomes difficult or impossible to compare them all to one another at the same time. It’s like having a whole classroom of kids calling out answers, or a dozen different messages coming up at once on the computer: if there’s no time to stop and go through the items one by one, we may be able to pick out useful things here and there, but we can’t evaluate all the choices effectively. At this point, habit tends to take over. If the habit in question is a good one, that’s great, but in areas where we’re trying to make life changes, this is generally bad news.

The way to make better choices in these situations is to narrow things down, to get the choices to a small enough number that we can make an intelligent, considered decision about which to pick. Two good ways to do this are sequencing and filtering.

Filtering: honing in
If you know certain things about the choice you want to make–for instance, that you want the job applicant to have sales experience, or that you want to pick a menu item that’s heart healthy–you can filter by putting aside or ignoring all the options that don’t have the quality you’re looking for. Once you’ve done that, you can filter or sequence further to get an even smaller set of options, or if the group is small enough, choose directly from the filtered selections.

The reason filtering is often better than evaluating items one by one is that it’s easy to get distracted or preoccupied with less-important factors when you have a lot of different criteria to consider. Going through options one by one, you might end up hiring someone with a really good cover letter but no sales experience, or eating the delicious-looking fried food platter that caught your eye.

When to use filtering
Filtering is mainly useful for situations when you have specific, definite needs. If sales experience isn’t essential, for instance, then filtering by it could make you ignore the best candidate for the job. In cases where you can’t come up with rules to apply to narrow down selections, sequencing may be a better choice than filtering.

The exceptions are for less-important decisions or decisions you have to make very quickly. If you want to make a good decision but don’t necessarily have the time to make the best possible decision, or if the time involved in considering every possible option isn’t worth it for the decision you’re making, then filtering is still useful even with criteria that aren’t entirely absolute.

Sequencing: one thing at a time
Sequencing means taking the options one after the other and considering each of them. You can consider each item individually and pick out only your top choices, or compare each item to the item after it and choose between each pair. With the first approach, you should end up with a much smaller set of options that you can either consider as a group or sequence or filter to narrow down more. With the second approach, you’ll already have your final choice when you’re done going through the list.

Sequencing is also very useful when you have a set of choices that aren’t numerous enough to be overwhelming, but that are difficult to choose from. Comparing each item to the next and carrying along the “winner” of each comparison makes it possible to focus attention on just the differences between two choices.

Whether you use filtering or sequencing, narrowing down choices is a good defense against feeling overwhelmed by options, and a good way to serve your goals rather than serving the habits you’re trying to break.

Photo by ZeHawk

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Change My Attitude: The Power of Priming

States of mind

Like it or not, many of our decisions, actions, and opinions happen based on an instant response, without any careful thought. For example, we may see someone we don’t like and grimace for a microsecond before putting a more polite expression on our faces; miss momentary opportunities through being mired in depression or anger; or misjudge a person by their face or clothing.

These instant responses are the subject of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. They’re also a part of our behavior that is extremely hard to change. For example, the vast majority of people of all races to take a test to judge racial bias based on how easily they sort faces into categories like “good” or “criminal” come out with at least a mild bias against blacks even when they are consciously and emphatically in support of racial equality. Even knowing this, and knowing how the test works, people taking the test are unable to overcome a bias that may have been ingrained, unfortunately, through hundreds or thousands of cultural channels.

But there is one way to change things for some test takers: thinking about admirable black people, current or historical, tends to cause test-takers’ racial bias to disappear. Thinking about Martin Luther King begins to put all black people into a positive light.

This effect isn’t limited to racial bias. Some other examples of priming experiments:

  • People who answered trivial pursuit questions after thinking about what it would be like to be a college professor did 13% better than people who were asked to think about traditionally non-brainy subjects–that’s the equivalent of getting more than a full grade better on a test, just from a few minutes of mental preparation!
  • Being unknowingly exposed to a number of words that described age tended to make subjects in one study walk more slowly.
  • People primed with ideas about patience would wait for any length of time for people to finish a conversation instead of butting in.

The power of priming, then, is in being able to change our unconscious, immediate, ingrained reactions. If these studies mean what they seem to imply, then if you’re going to a party hoping to make a romantic connection, you’ll be at an advantage if you spend time thinking about romantically successful people. If you’re afraid your future in-laws from rural Appalachia won’t like you, listen to some champion fiddlers and avoid watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. If you’re going to run a race, try reading something about Jesse Owens first.

The power of priming may not be dramatic, but it’s significant, and priming affects the knee-jerk responses we usually can’t do anything about.

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What Are Your Mental Schemas? A Quiz, Part 3

Handling negative emotions

Here’s part 3 of the quiz on mental schemas. See Part 1 for more information about what this quiz might be able to tell you and why mental schemas are worth understanding, along with the first set of questions. You’ll find the second set of question in Part 2.

Do you feel as though you are set apart from the rest of the world in the sense of being superior?
Do you often feel as though you should be able to have certain things despite those things being impractical, harmful, or unavailable?
Does it sometimes seem to you that the rules that should apply to other people shouldn’t apply to you?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may be struggling with an Entitlement Schema.

Do you often find yourself making impulsive decisions you later regret?
Do you notice yourself making choices that you know at the time are bad ones?
Do you have trouble suffering through boredom or frustration, even for a worthy end?

These kinds of experiences may point to a Lack of Self-Control Schema.

Do you find you prefer to be told what to do rather than having to decide yourself?
Would you have trouble feeling loved and valuable if important people in your life did not approve of your actions, even though you felt your actions were right?
Do you often feel controlled or rebellious?

Feelings like these may suggest a Subjugation Schema is at work.

Do you tend to feel that meeting your own needs is less important than meeting the needs of others who are close to you?
Do you feel guilty when you spend time, effort, or resources taking care of your own needs?
Do you find it very hard to ask for or receive help?

If so, you may want to read about the Self-Sacrifice Schema.

Do you find you aren’t happy unless other people are happy with you?
Are you constantly working to win other people’s love?
Do you find rejection extremely painful?

These kinds of attitudes are common in people who have the Need for Approval Schema.

That completes the quiz. Did you find one or more schemas that you felt were descriptive of you? Seeing these schemas clearly can be the first step in overcoming them once and for all.

Photo by meddygarnet

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Why Inconvenience Is Essential to Change

Habits

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You look at your life and decide you need to change something. It might be eating healthier foods, getting your papers organized, or not watching so much TV. At first you’re excited about it, especially when you try it out and you actually start to make some progress. Things are going well.

Then a problem crops up. Maybe you’re invited to dinner and the menu is so far from your healthy eating list, you can’t see it from there without a high-powered telescope. Or you have an important engagement in the evening and don’t get home until 10:30–too late to easily do your filing for the day. Or you find out there’s a marathon of your favorite show ever airing over the weekend.

What often happens to us in these situations is that we make an exception. It’s so inconvenient–nearly impossible, we sometimes tell ourselves–to keep with our program that we can make one completely reasonable exception. And then another exceptional situation comes up, and another, and pretty soon we realize we haven’t been making progress at all and give up in despair.

When this happens, it isn’t that the universe is against us: in fact, this is exactly how we should expect things to go if we try to break a habit. By definition, doing things by habit means taking the easy road, and so breaking a habit–or forming a new one–means taking the difficult road.

To put it another way, habits aren’t made and broken by only changing our behavior when it’s convenient to do so: the real changes in our behavior come when we have to push really hard to maintain our new intentions. It doesn’t take much effort or thought to, for instance, keep up with filing papers when we have plenty of time and no interruptions. The real test–and the time when we have the greatest opportunity to change our own mental processes–comes when things get inconvenient, when we’re tired, distraught, distracted, embarrassed, busy, or when we don’t have all of our materials or tools on hand. When we choose to say “I’m going to stick with my goals anyway” in this periods, we become able to change even deeply-ingrained habits. But when we wait for change to become convenient, we’re likely to be left waiting a very, very long time.

By the way, one of the best ways to deal with inconvenient situations is to plan ahead of time for them: see “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower.”

Photo by all-i-oli

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