Why you should choose to make certain memories more vivid

Seeing VividlyFor better or worse, we all have memories of the holiday season. And our expectations of what will happen and of how people will act this year can’t help but be influenced by memories of our past experiences.

In the amazing book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz writes:

“We assume that the more available some piece of information is to memory, the more frequently we must have encountered it in the past…but frequency of experience is not the only thing that affects availability to memory. Salience or vividness matters as well… In addition to affecting the ease with which we retrieve information from memory, salience or vividness will influence the weight we give to any particular piece of information.”

This means that what makes certain memories the first that come to mind is strongly affected by how vividly we’ve imprinted them, like through strong emotions, or with our senses like sight, sound, taste, touch.

Many neurology and psychology studies have shown that our memories can shift, both consciously and unconsciously.

How does this relate to NoCo? I started thinking about how often we colorfully tell stories about things that annoyed us or made us angry – and how sometimes we can fail to paint equally vivid stories of the good things in our lives.

I’ve heard people come back from a vacation and say that it was great, and share a few highlights, and then describe in detail some problem they had with their reservation or a transportation mishap or aggravations with their traveling companions.

Think about when you’ve been told stories about family gatherings in which you hear little about the delicious food or thoughtful gifts, but plenty about the annoying conversations and embarrassing moments. (I’m plenty guilty of talking about family gatherings in just this way myself.)

Do you see where this is going? The tendency to give brief highlights about the good and then weave richly illustrated stories about the bad contributes directly to what we remember about any given event. The vividness of any complaint makes it the dominant feature when you retrieve a memory, shoving aside other more pleasant things that were also true.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore those things that are annoying to you. But it does suggest that you should pay attention to staying more balanced in your retelling of any event.

Bring alive the positive things through details that touch the senses like color, flavor, sound. And if you do find yourself needing to talk about negative things, stick to the facts. Keep negative stories short and dull, stripped of emotional and sensory details.

Specifically, try to tell 3 positive vivid stories for every negative one. This is the “positivity ratio” described by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson to be the tipping point between “whether people languish or flourish.”

If you do, the next time you’re asked about it, your memory might be just a little sweeter.

——————
References:
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life

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12 Simple Actions for Lasting Happiness

JumpHawaiiWe’ve all heard that to improve our happiness we should do things like “cultivate gratitude,” “live your purpose,” and “be in the now.”

These statements are great and I agree with them all, but I’ve heard from several people that they can be too vague. In the end they’re still left wondering:

“OK, but what do I do?”

So for those of us who are action-oriented, here are 12 simple things to do which can raise your happiness set point, the baseline experience of how happy you are that you return to regardless of whatever good or bad is happening in your life.

You can do these actions in any order and with any frequency you like. Note that the impact on your happiness set point is cumulative, not immediate, and their impact increases the more consistently you do them. For the most lasting change, do at least one of them every day for a year.

1. Write a List of Happy Moments

Take out a piece of paper and a pen and write a list of times in your life that you felt happy. Big or small, doesn’t matter. Just write them down.

Why this works: Psychology has demonstrated that we are all subject to cognitive biases that change how we perceive our experiences, and that we’re predisposed to pay more attention to negative things as a basic survival strategy. This practice focuses your brain on positive things, which over time can shift your bias towards recognizing the good things in your life.

The paper and pen is recommended over using a keyboard because it turns out that the kinetic experience of writing also helps us learn new things.

2. Stand Up Straight and Smile

Stand up and in a relaxed (not forced) way, pull back your shoulders and extend your chest a bit. Picture your shoulder blades trying to touch in the back, and imagine giving your heart a little extra room in your chest. Next step: Smile. Imagine it starting in your eyes, then pulling the corners of your mouth upward a bit. Relax the muscles in your forehead and in your body overall as you do this.

Why this works: Studies have shown that how we hold our bodies can affect our outlook on the world and how we see ourselves. Collapsing the chest is associated with feeling defeated or depressed. Other studies have demonstrated that too much sitting is bad for our health. Now think about how much time we spend sitting with our shoulders forward doing things like reaching for keyboards, steering wheels, food, books, game controllers, etc. Regularly taking conscious breaks to stand up straight is a great way to counteract this.

There’s also research showing that smiling releases neuropeptides that fight stress, plus endorphins and other neurotransmitters that make you feel good. As an added bonus, a lot of people smile back when you smile at them and that just feels good on its own.

3. Eat Slowly and Pay Attention to Your Food

Whatever you’re eating, take a moment before you put it into your mouth to see the color and smell it. When you put it in your mouth, pause so you can fully taste it. Feel the texture of the food on your tongue, against your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Chew slowly and see if the flavors change. While you’re chewing, imagine the effort that it took to get this food to you. Bonus points for extending gratitude for the soil, plants, and all the people involved in that chain of production.

Why this works: Feeling happy is strongly related to how present you are in the moment as opposed to thinking about something else or daydreaming. Eating slowly and consciously is a great way to practice this awareness in very concrete way. As an added bonus, if you’re trying to change your eating habits this practice will support that.

4. Share Unexpected Thank Yous

Notice little things that people around you are doing that you appreciate. Write a note and give it to them to let them know that you noticed and to thank them for it. For example: Thank the supermarket bagger for being attentive to the weight in each bag, or thank the bus driver for picking you up and giving you a ride, or thank your neighbor for being your neighbor.

Why this works: Many studies have shown that regularly practicing gratitude improves happiness, and even improves health. Many of the greatest outcomes are from sharing gratitude with the person in question – that raises the happiness level for both. As for the idea of doing unexpected things,  that’s related to #5:

5. Play

Play non-competitive games. Use your imagination. Joke around. Go down a slide. Be silly. Wear a costume. Just let the goofy part of yourself out, even if just for a few minutes. Then laugh until it fills you up.

Why this works: Play has been proven to be important for adults as well as children. It’s how we learn, bond, shake off stress, and release neurotransmitters associated with happiness. Without play we’re less creative, less empathetic, and less connected to each other. Not only that, it’s fun!

6. Be Generous

Do something generous that stretches you a little bit, and don’t do it anonymously. Let someone go ahead of you in a line. Buy coffee for a stranger at the cafe. Pledge to support a friend’s fundraising drive. Volunteer at a school. Be generous with your time and give someone your full attention.

Why this works: Humans are social creatures, and altruism is a key part of what makes our social systems work. Being generous in a way that increases social bonds has been clearly shown to increase happiness, even more than donating anonymously.

7. Practice Listening

When you’re in conversation with someone, give them your full attention. Watch out for any tendencies you might have to be distracted by thinking about what you’re going to say, or if you’re just waiting for your turn to talk. Really listen and let yourself be surprised by what you say in response instead of having it be planned out.

Why this works: Having deeper, more connected conversations is associated with being happy. Consciously listening in this way helps develop and reinforce empathy, which is key for social connection, which in turn reduces our sense of isolation or separateness, raising our sense of safety and happiness.

8. Invite a Sense of Awe and Wonder

Drop yourself into a situation which is bigger than you are and let time stop while you experience it. Watch the sunset. Stare at the stars. Dive in the ocean. Hike through the mountains. You can also watch videos and listen to music which swell your heart and fill you with awe.

Why this works: A recent study found the experience of awe made people feel like they had more time and made them more patient. In our time-starved world, that’s a huge bonus. Allowing yourself to feel wonder is also related to the Buddhist concept of being in “beginner’s mind,” the sense of openness, of looking at things with new eyes. This is connected to mindfulness and being in the moment.

9. Move Your Body

Walk. Run. Dance. Do yoga. Hike. Cycle. Skateboard. Swim. Simply get up and move around as much as you can, whenever you can. Then do it again.

Why this works: Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel happy. Also, it’s easier to feel happy if you’re healthy, and it’s easier to stay healthy when you’re active.

10. Pretend Others Want What’s Best For You

Most of us have experienced being shamed, and we’ve all been criticized. These experiences hurt. As a result, we are on the alert for it, often imagining that other people are judging us, even when they don’t say anything out loud.

Turn this habit around and imagine instead that people are cheering for you, that they want you to succeed and are wishing you the best. If they don’t speak up, you don’t know what they’re thinking, so you may as well imagine it’s something nice.

Why this works: There’s no concrete scientific evidence that this exact practice works. However, in our experience, doing this makes crowds less scary, reduces anxiety, and generally made it easier to be ourselves and to approach others. It’s also related to the well known concept, “assume positive intent,” which can reduce judgement and is a key component of collaboration.

11. Hang Out With Happy People

You know there are some people who make you feel better just by being around, and there are others who leave you feeling drained or bitter. If you want to feel happy, make a conscious effort to spend more time with happy people, and minimize the time you spend with negative people.

Why this works: This one’s partially borrowed from Jim Rohn’s work saying that we’re the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. It’s also extrapolated from research that shows health outcomes can spread within social circles like a virus.

Of course, if you want happy people to choose to hang out with you, you need to do #12:

12. Stop Complaining

There are healthy complaints and unhealthy complaints.

Healthy complaining helps you vent out negative emotions and supports solving the problems you’re complaining about.

Unhealthy complaining usually involves a frustration that’s not current or is about something too big to solve, and it’s spoken to someone who can do nothing about it. Unhealthy complaining is often habitual, and over time contributes to stress and feelings of powerlessness. Habitual and unconscious complaining can erode relationships, stifle creativity, and reduce productivity. For more on healthy vs. unhealthy complaining, read the Intro to NoCo (no complaining).

If you catch yourself complaining, ask yourself if the person you’re complaining to can help you solve your problem. If they can’t, then ask yourself why you’re choosing to complain to them at this time. There may be a more direct way to achieve this desire without complaining.

This is simple but not easy. If it were easy, then there would be no need for the No Complaining Project. And there would be no point to this project if it wasn’t worth it. It is worth it. Go NoCo today.

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Change Your Life Outcomes by Posing for 2 Minutes a Day

photos by Sander van der Wel, R. Leslie Dalmore

photos by Sander van der Wel, R. Leslie Dalmore

You know that you can tell how someone is feeling by looking at their body language. In truth, their body language is often more accurate than what they’re saying out loud.

But did you know that it goes the other way, too? That your body position can affect your feelings?

Now take that one step further:
You can change how you’re feeling by changing how you’re holding your body.

Amy Cuddy is a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, and she’s found that different body positions release different hormones, affecting how people perceive you – and your own perceptions of yourself.

Watch her TED talk on “power posing.” It’s quite amazing.

How does this relate to complaining? The majority of complaints are an expression of powerlessness and victimization. This research demonstrates that how you’re holding your body could be decreasing your cortisol levels, leaving you more prone to stress and making it harder to shake those feelings.

What to do: If you’re stuck in a complaint-rut, try one of Cuddy’s techniques. For example, if you find yourself complaining about work the moment you come home, take two minutes to do a power pose before you enter your door and see what happens.

If you try this, please post a comment on our Facebook page and share your story!

Amy Cuddy demonstrates the “Wonder Woman” power pose.

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Monday Meditation

someecards.com - The worst part of my Mondays is hearing you complain about Mondays

It’s Monday. Welcome back!

This is a friendly NoCo reminder not to fall into the trap of reflexively complaining about having to be back at work this Monday.

If you catch yourself about to complain, pause and remember not everyone is so fortunate. Many are still looking for jobs. They don’t get to go to work today.

Take 30 seconds or so to be grateful that you have a job to come back to.

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How to Handle Family Complaints

Thanksgiving is almost here. We all hope this is a holiday filled with genuine warmth, where the focus is on gratitude and we feel loved and supported by our families.

Sadly, I know the reality is that many are likely to spend much of the day on the defense against criticism, dodging negative comments and complaints.

In honor of (and in preparation for) impending family gatherings, I’d like to share with you a few tips.

I’m often asked:

“How can I make my [father/mother/sister/brother/aunt/uncle/cousin/child/other family member who I must spend time with] stop complaining?”

If this is your question, I have some bad news: You can’t “make” anyone stop complaining. Most people don’t like being told what to do. As parents and teachers know all too well, you can request changes and you can even lay down consequences for not changing, but in the end, each person is independent and the decision to change is theirs alone. Not only that, but this question smacks of judgement and most people get either angry or defensive when they feel judged.

BUT don’t give up hope! There are definitely things you can do to reduce the number of complaints in your world and minimize their impact.

A word of caution: Doing any of the following takes courage and vulnerability. Your tolerance for that can go up and down on any given day so be patient with yourself and others (particularly family). Breaking old habits and introducing new ways of interacting takes effort. The results are generally not instantaneous, and you will likely encounter some rough patches along the way, but it’s worth it so keep trying.

Tell your family you’ve decided to Go NoCo and ask for their help

Telling others that you’re working on breaking your own complaining habits can kick off a great conversation about what is and isn’t a complaint, why you think it’s important to stop, and what you hope to gain by giving it up.

Ask for help recognizing when you’re complaining, and (if you usually complain a lot) note that you might be more quiet than usual if you can’t think of something positive to say.

If you’re feeling bold, let people know that you might have to leave conversations if they take a turn that makes you want to complain.

Note: This method only works if you’re genuinely working on your own complaining habits. If you’re just putting on a front to control others, they’ll see right through you. And they’ll probably start complaining even more about you.

Expanded (harder to swallow) note: It’s can be difficult to see (and accept) that wanting to control another person’s complaining is really you complaining about their complaining. Take on going NoCo on as a personal challenge. Others may want to follow your lead, but only if you’re genuine about it.

Declare Complaint-Free or NoCo Zones

Designate a part of the house or a specific time as a Complaint Free Zone, such as in the kitchen or during dinner.

This works well if you’re already recognized as a leader in some way, like the host of the party, head of the family, or the main chef.

It’s key to make the declaration before the complaining starts, so it doesn’t feel targeted. Send an email to everyone in advance, or put up a sign saying “No Complaining” in the desired location to get the conversation going.

If you’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while, Thanksgiving can give you a convenient excuse to start. Switching the conversation away from complaining about what you don’t have to gratitude for what you do have is supposed to be the focus of this holiday in the first place. The trick is to encourage everyone to keep it going for an extended period of time.

Get curious about why they’re complaining

Every time I hear someone complaining, I know that I’m listening to someone who is unhappy in some way. That may be a supremely obvious statement, but it’s something that we often forget, particularly when we’re exhausted by listening to a complainer. Complaints (particularly chronic ones) are symptoms of something else, an unfulfilled need or desire that the speaker has a hard time expressing directly.

Next time you’re stuck listening to a complainer, shift your focus away from your own suffering and try to imagine what the other person might be really needing or wanting. While you can never know for sure exactly what is going on in another person’s head, you probably have some good intuitive guesses.

Do they feel overlooked and need attention? Do they feel unloved and so take on the victim role to gain sympathy? Do they feel insecure and so feel the need to put someone else down in order to feel better? Do they feel powerless and therefore lash out at others with blame?

Tap into your own empathy and think about a time that you felt overlooked/unloved/insecure/powerless. Remember what that feels like. Put yourself in their shoes and speak to them from that place.

Try to respond to their deeper underlying need with something that’s positive and affirming. If you imagine they feel overlooked, give them extra attention focused on a positive story or experience. If you think they feel insecure, ask them about one of their past achievements or do something that underscores their essential place in the family.

For example, one time I noticed that someone near me was starting to complain about everything and everyone, butting into conversations with complaining non-sequiturs. I realized that she was feeling ignored by all the busy people around her. I went over to her and asked if she took any photos on her recent trip, and if I could see them. For the next 10 minutes or so, she lit up as she recounted her adventures and told me the stories that she so clearly wanted to share. I gave her my full attention and genuinely enjoyed feeling her joy. Afterwards, she was calmer and happier for the rest of the day.

Be patient. Breathe. Be grateful.

Listening to a chronic complainer can be very painful. The core desire of wanting them to stop is to reduce your own suffering. Here I have the best news of all: It is possible for you to suffer less regardless of whether or not they stop complaining.

When we are suffering internally, it’s often because we want the world to be different from what it is. We wish that we had a picture perfect family. We wish that our [father/mother/sister/brother/aunt/uncle/cousin/child/other family member] was less negative or self-centered. We imagine that we’d be happy if only [x] happened.

When you encounter yourself thinking like this, pause for a moment and breathe. Think about the part of you that’s impatient and wanting to change reality and ask it to take a rest. Picture yourself having more patience, more acceptance of reality being what it is. Search inside yourself for feelings of gratitude and focus on them. This gratitude can be as specific as about a particular kind of food you have on your plate or as general as feeling grateful for being alive right now.

Lastly, remember that no matter what is happening, “This, too, shall pass.”

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The above techniques have been “field tested” by myself and others. They are based on the work of countless people in psychology, neuroscience, Buddhism, and various other fields. To me the depth and breadth of the work in these areas serves to demonstrate how many are struggling, and it’s inspiring to see how many want to help.

Above all, be kind to yourself and try not to absorb others’ judgments. Know that I am with you, that I fight my own demons of depression, self-judgement, and negativity. Whatever your struggle, you’re not alone.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving or whatever kind of holiday you choose to celebrate. I am deeply grateful to all of you and thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts with you.

If you have questions or comments, please post them on our Facebook page.

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