Mindability leaders were pleased to read Neil Pasricha’s recent Harvard Business Review article that turns the spotlight on a research-based morning practice that has significantly improved the quality of his days. Our favorite highlights from “This Two-Minute Morning Practice Will Make Your Day Better” plus ideas by Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups and from Mindability that can help you prioritize happiness are included below.
Index card habit
Even though Neil Pasricha is a New York Times bestselling author who writes about happiness - he found himself experiencing deep loneliness, chronic sleeplessness, and endless anxiety. The highlights that follow show how his research helped him find a positive solution we can all adopt:
After reading the book Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, I became convinced my issue was decision fatigue. My to-do list was a mile high! So in an act of desperation, I began writing down a couple things I would focus on each day on a blank 4×6 index card. “I will focus on… ” helped me carve some “will dos” out of the endless “could dos” and “should dos. ”
The practice began providing ballast to my days because it blew away the endless fog of “what should I do next?” and helped break giant projects down into simple tasks. A looming book deadline became “write 500 words, ” an all-hands meeting about a major redesign became “send invite to three execs for feedback, ” and my nonexistent exercise regime became “go for a 10-minute walk at lunch. ”
I will focus on…
I started buying index cards in packs of 100 at the dollar store and felt a sense of pride whenever I finished another pack.
The practice was wonderful for reducing decision fatigue, but I was still much too focused on the negative throughout the rest of my life. Over the next few months, I came across research that convinced me it wasn’t my fault.
What do I mean?
It turns out our brains contain an almond-sized amygdala that secretes fight-or-flight hormones all day. A couple hundred thousand years of evolutionary programming makes us want to stare at bad news, sad news, and controversial news — endlessly. This naturally ingrained tendency is why we rubberneck on the highway, scan for the one-star review, and immediately find the one question we got wrong on the math test. Our amygdalas are fantastic at looking for problems, finding problems, and solving problems, but they’re also ripe for exploitation. News media and social media sites have perfected that perfect sour-sweet-sour combo that grabs the greatest amount of our attention possible. So I decided it wasn’t my fault I was negative — it was the world’s fault!
But I live in the world. So what did I do? A study comparing people who wrote down gratitudes to people who wrote down hassles or events taught me that if I write down things I’m grateful for every week over a 10-week period, I’ll not only be happier, but physically healthier.
Each day, I added this to the back of my index card:
I am grateful for…
Do you do bicep curls? Hamstring curls? I started thinking of gratitudes as a brain curl. The key is that they really need to be specific. Writing down things like “my apartment, my mom, and my job” over and over doesn’t do anything. I had to write down things like, “the way the sunset looks over the hostel across the street, ” or “when my mom dropped off leftover matter paneer, ” or “having lunch in the cafeteria with Agostino today. ”
I was proud of my new morning index card habit, but I still found myself holding too much stress. Then I came across a study in Science called “Don’t Look Back in Anger!” showing that minimizing regrets as we age increases contentment. In other words, the act of sharing what’s worrying you actually helps extricate it.
So I added one final line to my daily index card:
I will let go of…
I will let go of…the rude email I sent last night at 11 p.m. I will let go of…the meeting with the boss I completely missed. I will let go of…the fact that I haven’t called my parents in two weeks.
The difference this little practice made in my life has been incredible. Because the truth is, we’re only awake for around 1,000 minutes a day on average. If we can invest just two of them to prime our brains for positivity, then we’ll be helping ensure the other 998 minutes of our days are happier.
Over time, I switched the order around, turned it into a formal journal, and now leave it on my night table. When I wake up, it’s the first thing I see, and the fact that it’s so short helps me feel like I’m setting up my day for success before I even begin.
Am I completely cured? Am I always happy now? No! Of course not. But this two-minute, research-based morning practice has massively improved the quality of my days.
I will let go of…
I am grateful for…
I will focus on…
I hope it does the same for you.
The power of music
Can you improve your memory and feel better, if you dive into your playlist or put on your noise-canceling headphones? “There’s nothing like hearing a favorite old song to brighten your spirits," writes the Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups. In addition to making you happier, music can improve memory, in some cases reduce pain and even decrease stress.
One positive experience
Even if you have had a long day and the sun is setting, there are still opportunities to focus on the positive. Mindability leadership suggests, that before going to bed, journal for approximately 2-3 minutes about one positive experience that happened to you that day.
It can be a relatively small event, but one that you found personally meaningful. Or, it can be something of more significance depending on what has transpired.
Keep this journal for 21-30 days. Research has shown that it and the gratitude exercise result in positive and lasting effects on your mood as well as physical health, including insomnia. The results can last for months.
Be sure to review your journal(s) on a regular basis, and consciously savor as many of the positive emotions that go along with it as you can.
Bringing it all together
Have you adopted a tip that helps you prioritize happiness? If you have, please add a comment in the section below and join the conversation.
Our research at Mindability also tells us that resilient leaders search for answers and meaning. Continue your search and learn more about resiliency today at www.mindability.com and follow us @mindability