You probably don't need to buy a self-help book. The reason is that you already engage in a large arsenal of activities that improve your quality of life such as strength and stability exercises in the gym, drinking Bolivian brandy with friends, relishing a red cloth copy of Daniel Berylne's 1960 classic Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity in a reading chair, or listening to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on your Bose noise-canceling headphones. None of these are difficult to do. There is the question of whether you know how these and other self-chosen seemingly pleasant activities influence your mood, productivity, vitality, and social life. Do you make good choices? Do you know the proper dosage and timing? The best way to figure this out is to start collecting information to see what works and what doesn't.
Timothy Ferris provides a great example of this in his tome The 4-Hour Body. He was on a quest to discover the most effective and efficient way to add muscle, lose fast, run faster, sleep better, and be a better sex partner. It is almost irrelevant whether his strategies work for you. Ferris provides a detailed lesson about how to be systematic in experimenting with your life to move closer to a highly personalized ideal. I'm suggesting you emulate this approach instead of passively absorbing the tactics that scientists, writers, and journalists are offering.
What works for the average person might not work for you. What works in the short-term might be counterproductive in the long-term. What works when negotiating with agreeable people might need to be abandoned when negotiating with bastards. Read widely but more importantly, test different ideas out, making sure to measure what you want to change. And if you want to know whether something works, keep metrics of what life was like before you started the change plan (the baseline).
Yesterday, I read a research study by Alex Linley
and his UK colleagues on the importance of naturalistic interventions. Over the past 10 years, scientists have being going ga-ga about the need to be grateful each and every day (here are some articles, videos, and references from the world's leading expert
). The science is powerful; when you are grateful on a given day, you feel better, sleep better, exercise more, have better social interactions, and are less likely to urinate in a public hot tub. But keeping a daily ritual where you write down three things you are thankful for each day can become a tedious homework assignment
What Alex wanted to know was whether the simple natural act of eating ice cream on a given day offers just as much of a mood boost as the more mentally demanding act of gratitude reflection time. Lo and behold, it was. Keep in mind, Alex and his gang weren't trying to determine whether these activities lead to long-term changes in people's personalities. He just wanted to know whether a mood boost can be gained with simplistic, low effort, natural activities on a given day. (Read the full study here.)
I am not suggesting that eating ice cream is the panacea for life's woes. I am not suggesting you eat ice cream. I am not suggesting that you disband challenging activities that improve the quality of your life in ways other than your mood (such as being courteous to neighbors even if they are clearly never going to be your friend or even make you laugh ... ever). I am suggesting that you treat your life as an experiment to figure out what activities in your everyday life offer the most dividends. If they work, use them wisely. If they don't, carefully consider whether life activity modifications are needed.
Be a scientist and discover what works for you. If you don't know where to begin, this is where the scientific literature works best ... where scientists unearth what works best for the average person. Habits are great. Possessing knowledge of what leads to the most desirable outcomes for us in different situations is even better.
If you are serious about assessing your wellbeing and tracking changes overtime, use Work on Wellbeing (try it free) [Disclaimer: I am affiliated with them]: https://www.workonwellbeing.com
Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a public speaker, psychologist, and professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University. His new book, The upside of your dark side: Why being your whole self - not just your “good” self - drives success and fulfillment is available from Amazon , Barnes & Noble , Booksamillion , Powell's or Indie Bound. If you're interested in speaking engagements or workshops, go to: toddkashdan.com