“Slow down”: You’ll be surprised what year these words were written

Rice fields Bali

“In the circumstances of modern life, with its acceleration of pace, the practice of silence is admittedly not so simple as it was in the days of our forefathers. A vast number of noise-producing gadgets exist that they did not know, and our daily program is more hectic. Space has been annihilated in the modern world, and apparently we are also attempting to annihilate the factor of time. It is only rarely possible for an individual to walk in deep woods or sit by the sea or meditate on a mountaintop or on the deck of a vessel in the midst of the ocean.”

The year is not 2014, or 2000, or even 1990. The year is 1952, and Norman Vincent Peale is writing The Power of Positive Thinking. He goes on:

“Over-stimulation produces toxic poisons in the body and creates emotional illness. It produces fatigue and a sense of frustration so that we fume and fret about everything from our personal troubles to the state of the nation and the world.”

Sound familiar? The hectic-ness of today – with smartphones and social networking – may take a different form, but it appears that the affliction of feeling hurried is universal. Some of us don’t know what to do with ourselves unless we are rushing.

But the answer is simple: slow down. “Muddied water let stand, will become clear,” said philosopher Lao Tzu.

I’ve always had a self-imposed sense of hurriedness. Even though I work remotely – which means my hours are flexible, especially now that I’m halfway across the globe – I still used to set exact hours for myself and feel antsy if lunch ran over or I started late. Lately, I’ve tried to remind myself that things (read: lines that I’m standing in) don’t always move as fast as I want. And the point is to enjoy life – not get everything done as fast as possible.

I love the concept of rhythm that Peale talks about. Everything has a rhythm, he says. Listen to nature, and you’ll hear its rhythm. A stove, a car, a job all have a rhythm. “To avoid tiredness and to have energy, feel your way into [their] essential rhythm,” he writes. I’m currently feeling my way into the essential rhythm of Bali, which operates on “island time” – in other words, meals take a while to make their way to your table.

Imagined that way, slowing down is like falling into pace with the things around you instead of feeling disjointed and blurry.

“Slow down, for whatever you really want will be there when you get there if you work toward it without stress, without pressing,” Peale writes. “Practice being peaceful . . . Then note the quiet power sense that wells up within you.”

And there is no secret in how to do this, he admits. “The only way to stop is stop.”

Weekend inspiration: Find your fire, and never be tired again

flame

“That’s the secret. He was on fire for something. He was pouring himself out, and you never lose energy and vitality in so doing. You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind. Your mind gets bored and therefore tired doing nothing. You don’t have to be tired. Get interested in something. Get absolutely enthralled in something. Throw yourself into it with abandon. Get out of yourself. Be somebody. Do something. Don’t sit around moaning about things, reading the papers, and saying, ‘Why don’t they do something?’ The man who is out doing something isn’t tired.”

- Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking 

Photo by Flickr user Lunaticademente

Choose happiness

Happiness is a choice

Is it as simple as that?

When I was in college, I had a crush on someone with a girlfriend. I kept hoping he would come to his senses and start dating me. (He never did.) One night, realizing how much it was getting me down, I just decided to be happy. I wouldn’t let it bother me anymore. And it didn’t.

In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale says something profoudly simple about happiness: choose it. Make happiness a habit. Think about that – some of our habits aren’t actions, they’re emotions. Sometimes our negativity is just a a reflex, not a real assessment of reality.

Many of the sayings about happiness talk about it like a choice. Accentuate the positive. Look on the bright side (not the dark side). Walk on the sunny side of the street. In other words, focus on the good things, and life will be good. Don’t deny the negatives – recognize them – but make the judgment that the combination is still positive.

Peale recommends the mantra: “Things are going nicely. Life is good. I choose happiness.”

Or: “I believe this is going to be a wonderful day. I believe I can successfully handle all problems that will arise today. I feel good physically, mentally, emotionally. It is wonderful to be alive. I am grateful for all that I have had, for all that I now have, and for all that I shall have. Things aren’t going to fall apart.”

But if we focus on the negative, we’re manufacturing our own unhappiness. We’ve started a Sad Factory, and it can take any raw materials and turn them into a Bad Day.  We use fancy equipment like pessimism, fear, and worry.

It’s a choice – it may be as simple as that. But it’s not just one choice: it’s many, many choices we make over and over every day, throughout the day, for our whole lives.

Photo by Flickr user The Daring Librarian

6 ways to be more peaceful

peaceful nature

Written in 1952, The Power of Positive Thinking emphasizes something that we’re only realizing the implications of today: stress is bad for your health. Nowadays, we might talk about overwork and economic crises. Back then, the example was fear of communism, which “undoubtedly affects digestion adversely,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote.

To combat negative thoughts, Peale recommends these six techniques for bringing more peace into your mind and life.

1. Every day, empty your mind at least twice of fears, regrets, insecurities, hate, and guilt. You might tell them to someone you trust, or make a ritual of it: write them down and then crumple up and throw out the paper.

2. Think peaceful thoughts. Conjure up beautiful images like nature or art, or slowly repeat words like “tranquility” and “serenity.” Memorize peaceful poetry or quotations.

3. Express peaceful ideas in your conversation, rather than complaints or stress. Talk positively. “Thoughts create words, for words are the vehicles of ideas. But words also affect thoughts and help to condition if not to create attitudes,” Peale writes.

4. Practice silence every day for at least 15 minutes. Surely Peale means meditation: “Conceive of your mind as the surface of a body of water and see how nearly quiet you can make it, so there is not a ripple. When you have attained a quiescent state, then begin to listen for the deeper sounds of harmony and beauty.”

5. Notice when you have a peaceful experience, and try to remember it so you can revisit it later.

6. Don’t be your own tormentor. Let go of guilt and fear.

6 ways to be more self-confident

self-confidence

I’ve come to realize that self-confidence is one of the components of positivity. To be optimistic about the future, you have to believe that you’ll be able to handle it.

So I wasn’t surprised to find rules for increasing self-confidence in Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Here are six of the secular ones:

  1. Imagine what success would look like. Your brain will automatically work to make it a reality.
  2. When you think a negative thought, counter it with a positive one. (It’s raining, but at least I get to use my new umbrella!)
  3. Don’t ignore your troubles, but don’t inflate them into huge obstacles, either.
  4. Be yourself: don’t try to imitate other people.
  5. If you feel inferior to others, figure out why. (Knowing thyself is so important.)
  6. Do an honest assessment of your abilities, then add 10 percent.

Photo by Flickr user glsims99

The power of negative thinking

negative thinkingIn The Power of Positive Thinking (originally published in 1952), Dr. Norman Vincent Peale talks about how focusing on your woes is bound to inflate them.

“If you or I or anybody think constantly of the forces that seem to be against us, we will build them up into a power far beyond that which is justified. They will assume a formidable strength which they do not actually possess.”

His example? A depressed man who said he had nothing left in his life. When questioned, it turned out that he had loving family and friends, integrity, and faith.

I’ve certainly experienced this – like most human beings. When I missed a flight recently, it felt like the worst day of my life. I forgot that I had an understanding family across the ocean in the States, and a kind fiancé who went on a futile mission to fetch my passport in time. There have also been instances when I feel overwhelmed by the huge weight of stress or fear, only to realize that the circumstances don’t warrant it.

It turns out that if we focus on something, our brain often distorts the perception of everything else. Inattentional blindness is when our eyes zero in on one thing and become blind to the rest of reality – a gorilla included. Under the availability heureistic, we judge probabilities based on how easily we can think of examples; because the media (and our attention) has focused on plane crashes rather than car crashes, we believe they’re more likely to happen to us.

For me, the solution is to pause and figure out the reasons I’m feeling down – and not just let the emotion grow into this big, unidentified, mysterious glob. For Peale, the solution is (unsurprisingly) positive thinking.

If “you mentally visualize and affirm and reaffirm your assets and keep your thoughts on them, emphasizing them to the fullest extent,” he writes, “you will rise out of any difficulty regardless of what it may be.”

Photo by Flickr user Sean MacEntee

Positive people: For Shashi Bellamkonda, positive is the nicest way to be

Shashi Bellamkonda - Philly - 2Shashi Bellamkonda grew up in India in a competitive environment, pitted against his peers to see who would get into the best schools and get the best jobs. But instead of adopting a cutthroat mentality, he took on a different attitude: “Smiles are free and priceless.”

Shashi thanks his father for that lesson, which came in the form of a book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, perhaps the most famous “networking” book of this century. From it, Shashi learned that a smile goes a long way – whether that’s in the midst of a crisis or on the street.

“The communication between two human beings can actually create some energy,” he says. “If you’re walking into a place and you’re smiling and you’re happy, you’ll find that the whole world also starts becoming happy.”

Now, Shashi lives in the US, teaches at Georgetown University, and works in digital marketing. When something goes wrong at work, you’ll probably find him smiling and trying to solve the problem – not assigning blame.

“You can train yourself to say, ‘How can I be the nicest person and at the same time get my message across?’” he says. “When you’re dealing with other people, your goal should be ‘How do I get this done?’ more than ‘How do I tell people that they’ve done something wrong?’”

A question of perspective 

Positivity is an evaluation: seeing the world and pronouncing it good, or at least expecting good in the future. And the way we evaluate depends largely on us. To most adults, a rainy day is an annoyance; to many kids, a rainy day means fun, colorful boots and jumping in puddles. It’s a question of which perspective we take.

Shashi has a few tips on how to look on the bright side of life and avoiding honing in on those dark corners. First, start directing your eyes and heart to the good things you already have.

“Happiness is a state of mind,” he says. “You can think you need $1 million to be happy or $10 million to be happy, or . . . people seem to be happy even if they’re not living in the biggest mansion ever.”

Then, go about your day with an eye for those bright spots – in essence, stop and smell the roses. But these days, he says, that expression needs a bit of a digital update. “It’s now become stop to smell the roses and take a photograph – which is okay because you want that memory,” he laughs.

Next, take 15 minutes to clear your head, whether that’s meditating or just sitting quietly. That should clean out your mind of its negative ruminations and make room for the positivity to flow in.

And one of the ways to fill your head with positive thoughts is to seek out positive stories and news, Shashi says. If he ever started a nonprofit, its goal would be to get every media outlet to produce 10 percent positive news – a huge change from the 24/7 cycle of negativity that we find on most networks. Positive news helps you put things in context – the economy may be bad, but people are still succeeding, innovation is still happening, and communities are still rallying together. Shashi even attributes some of his positivity to the stories of good triumphing over evil that he read as a kid.

We may not be able to control the news, Shashi knows, but we can change the channel. We certainly can’t stop the rain, but we can buy a fun pair of boots. And if nothing else, we can curve the muscles of our face up into a smile.

My 2014 New Year’s resolution: Pursue truth and beauty

Paris Promenade Plantée

But reflecting on 2013 and what I hope for 2014, I’ve realized just how apt it is. Maybe I’m stretching the meanings a little bit, but I’m okay with that. So my official 2014 resolution is to “pursue truth and beauty” – with all of the nuance that entails.

Pursue

I’m not a fan of uncertainty. I plan in advance, sort out options in my head, and generally like to put things into their little boxes. But I’m starting to see that learning – that thing I profess to love, that drives my career – is uncertainty. Learning is saying, “I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what they are, but I’m going to try to find them.” It’s saying, “I may be very bad at this [skill, job, activity] but I’m going to give it a shot even if I don’t know if I’ll get anywhere.” Learning is exploring, opening up, finding, and re-discovering.

In college, my style of essay writing was always feverish. Once I got into the 400-level philosophy classes, they stopped giving us actual questions to respond to; instead, we had a general theme and could come up with our own argument. After we got an assignment, the rest of my day would be spent feverishly researching, trying to pin down this big uncertainty of a thesis before it drove me nuts.

But this isn’t a good model for life, going back and forth between the complacency of having the answers and stressful discomfort with uncertainty. The learning happens when I settle myself in research mode and don’t demand the answers to come now. I’ll never be done figuring out life; I’ll never get my A and be able to rest easy.

My motto is not to possess truth and beauty, but to pursue it.

Truth

In my original formulation, the truth I was pursuing was knowledge: knowledge about things like innovation, psychology, and morality. But there’s another, slightly less lofty truth I want to pursue in 2014: the truth that’s right under my nose.

One of my great afflictions is the well-honed talent of worrying about things I can’t control, like my health or whether the plane’s going to be late. And while I see that this is incredibly dumb – and a huge waste of time – it continues. In 2014, I vow to ask myself: can I change this? And we know what happens when you ask yourself this question:

Worry chart

Sometimes it feels like my stance toward the world is too tense. I’m fighting and resisting and struggling: I can’t believe things are this way, I don’t want them to be this way, and I get preoccupied wishing they were different. I want to relax my grip on life, and just Let Go. Breathe. Phew, doesn’t that feel better?

Beauty

Finally, on the positive side, is beauty. And beauty isn’t just those rare sunrises and symphonies and cozy restaurants that come into my life every so often. Now – particularly with the help of the Happier app – I’m starting to see beauty in more places. This morning, I saw the blue-and-yellow morning sky streaming through the windows of the gym. The other day, I saw my boyfriend’s eyes crinkle into a smile. Decorating the tree, I saw a deep red, glittering ornament in the shape of a hot air balloon.

I often live in the future, planning for the long term and doing the right things, forgoing pleasures for productivity. Finding beauty in the little things is just one way of being happy in the present – and, in some sense, isn’t a string of happy days all anyone wants? After seeing beauty, the next step is to go further and be grateful for it. I’m taking Happier’s Everyday Grateful course in January, and I’ll be reporting on how that goes.

My final insight from 2013 is to see the positive, the beauty, within myself. I may want to be less stressed, more patient, and more successful. But that falls under the “pursuing” category – life is a journey, and I’m working on it. For now, I do my best to be a good girlfriend, daughter, and sister; I exercise and take care of my body; I’m proud of the work I do; and I take my principles seriously. Life may be messy and uncertain and uncontrollable, but this – who I am – I can control. I can cultivate and nurture and grow, while being happy at any given moment with what I’ve created. It’s a delicate dance of striving and contentment, and I’m still learning the steps.

Worry chart by: JoyReactor

2-minute tricks to increase your chances of keeping your New Year’s resolution

New Year's resolutionTechnology is all around us: if we’re the fish, it’s the water. Instead of lamenting how it’s ruining our lives, here are four quick tricks for using technology to keep your New Year’s resolutions top of mind.

1. Change your passwords. Pick the password you enter the most, and change it to something related to your resolution. If your goal for 2014 is to change your diet, make your password eathealthy42014.

2. Change your alarm names. I’ve been trying to be more positive and less stressed lately, so I changed the name of my alarm from “Alarm” to “New day :-)”

3. Change your wallpaper. When’s the last time you updated the background on your computer or your smartphone? Change it to something that reminds you of your resolution – a basket of fruit or a runner, for example.

4. Add a calendar reminder. Put your resolution on a digital calendar (like Google Calendar) that sends you an alert by email. Or, better yet, sign up for AskMeEvery and keep track of whether you’re keeping your resolution by responding to their daily emails with a simple yes or no.

 

17 habits of optimists

The Optimism AdvantageIn The Optimism Advantage, psychology PhD Terry Paulson offers 50 tips for how to be optimistic. He developed these insights over 30 years of doing programs on optimism and change for companies like the Federal Reserve, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart. Here are 17 habits of optimists gleaned from the book:

1. Optimists are realists who have overcome challenges in the past, and believe they’ll overcome them again.

“If you think optimism means adopting a Pollyanna mind-set where everything turns out right, then you’ve got the wrong idea . . . True optimists have earned their positive attitude from a proven track record of overcoming real obstacles. They did it the old-fashioned way; they earned confidence one obstacle, one challenge, and one victory at a time!” – Paulson

2. Optimists adopt a survivor mentality and believe they’re in control of their lives. They don’t think like victims or look for others to blame.

3. Optimists don’t ask “why me?” They understand that life isn’t fair or unfair; it just is.

4. Optimists are grateful.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” – Albert Einstein

5. Optimists put the bad in perspective and even see the good in it.

6. Optimists consume heroic, inspiring stories (like biographies) rather than negative news on TV.

7. Optimists have a purpose that helps them overcome obstacles and stress with a positive attitude.

“Be a humble explorer, repeatedly becoming a beginner in new arenas as you keep shaping your life one day at a time. Finding your purpose is too important a goal to come easily, and it’s worth every second of the struggle!” – Paulson

8. Optimists keep learning new knowledge and skills so they can be confident they’ll be prepared for the future.

9. Optimists take care of their bodies by eating and exercising well.

10. Optimists embrace action and are constantly adapting their strategies and goals (like entrepreneurs).

“The tragedy of life is not how soon it ends, but how long you wait to begin it.” – Paulson

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

11. Optimists aren’t afraid to fail, because they know failure is part of the journey to success.

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” – Thomas Edison

12. Optimists dispute the negative thoughts in their head by looking for conflicting evidence, entertaining alternatives, focusing on the most likely rather than the worst consequences, and recognizing that worry is useless.

13. Instead of calling themselves names, optimists focus on constructive criticism of their own actions. They ask: what did I do wrong? How can I fix it? How will I act differently next time?

14. Optimists focus on what they’re doing right and recognize their accomplishments.

15. Optimists take advantage of simple pleasures and humor.

16. Optimists surround themselves with optimistic people and make time for them.

17. Optimists understand that it takes hard work to stay optimistic.

Want more? Check out Terry L. Paulson’s “The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results.”