Life Moves Pretty Fast, So You Better Pay Attention

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in while, you could miss it” – Ferris Bueller

This summer, I’m teaching a 4-week psychology course that lasts for 3.5 hours a day. I know that students have a hard time paying attention for more than about 30 minutes at a time—especially when someone boring like myself is blathering on and on about research methods—so I try to schedule in mini-breaks here and there.

For the past few days, I’ve been watching what my students do during these breaks. Without fail, one activity predominates over the others.

Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed “use cell phones,” you’re right on.

As soon as the break starts, most of my students whip out their cell phones and start checking their text messages, Facebook feed, Snapchat messages, and email (although fewer and fewer students seem to be checking email regularly these days).

Some of them get up and walk around, but the large majority of them immediately jumps onto their cell phones to see what they might’ve missed over the last 30 minutes.

The other day, I noticed something especially interesting about my students. During their entire break, there was nary a word exchanged among them. Instead, for the entire duration, they all stayed in their seats, glued to their cell phones.

As I sat there and watched them, it took everything I had not to yell at them, “For the love of God, please put away your damn phones and have a conversation!”

My experience is not novel, though. This lack of social interaction has become increasingly common in my classes over the last few years. (My colleague Dana Dunn wrote about this recently, too. Check out his blog.) Rather than chat with the people sitting just a few feet away from them, students prefer to “interact” with others through the medium of technology. In fact, a recent report from the Pew Research Center showed that cell phone use among young adults is up dramatically over the last few years (and a good chunk of that use occurs in class).

Cell Phones: Why the Appeal?

Now, from a psychological perspective, it’s fairly easy to understand why cell phones are so appealing.

One thing we know from a ton of research is that immediate “rewards” are more appealing than delayed rewards. For instance, most people would rather have $100 now than $100 in 1 year. The dollar amount is the same in each of those choices, but having to wait 1 year reduces its psychological value immensely.

So, think about what happens when you check your cell phone: You have access to immediately available “rewards” in the form of text messages, Facebook “Likes,” Snapchat messages, and amazing YouTube videos about the hilarious things that cats do.

Similarly, we know from a good amount of research that rewards requiring effort are less appealing than rewards we can easily obtain. To illustrate, imagine the following choice:

You can either have $100 for “free,” or you can have $100, but only if you clean the entire house.

Again, my guess is that most of you would rather get the money for free than work for it.

Now, imagine how effort probably impacts cell phone use in my classes. Jumping on your phone and having a text-message conversation with your friend is probably easier than initiating a conversation with someone you don’t know very well. Plus, when you initiate a conversation with a relative stranger, you never know how it’s going to turn out (‘cuz, you know, there are some real weirdos out there).

So, I get it—I understand why students (and others) are quick to jump on their cell phones. And you know what? I’m no saint when it comes to this either. I probably check my cell phone way more each day than I should. (Just because I understand why behavior happens doesn’t mean I’m immune to the factors that cause it.)

Cell Phones: Causing Problems Since 1980

Unfortunately, cell phone use can be problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a leading cause of car accidents. But here are just a couple more reasons why it might be relevant to my students:

Multi-tasking reduces productivity immensely, which means that students who check their cell phones while studying will probably have to spend more time getting their work done (which, for those students who hate their majors, won’t make life any more enjoyable).

It also reduces learning. My colleague Mandy Gingerich has shown convincingly that texting in class significantly reduces exam performance (and yet, even after I talk to students about these studies, many still use their cell phones in class).

But I think there’s an even more important reason why all of us should put our cell phones away more regularly: Being on them (and other technology) all the time simply makes us miss life!

Was That My Life That Just Went By?

This point was drilled home for me a few years ago.

I was sitting in my favorite recliner with my laptop in my lap (hence the reason they’re called laptops), trying to get through the mountain of email that had accumulated in my Inbox. Just as I was getting into a rhythm, my son, who was about 3 years old at the time, tapped me on the shoulder. He started to ask me to play but quickly stopped himself. “Oh, I see you’re working,” he said. “Never mind. I’ll go and play by myself.”

The disappointment in his voice was like a knife to the heart. I thought about all the times he had asked me to play and how I frequently replied, “Just a minute. I’m working.”

I also noticed how old he looked. It seemed like only yesterday that he was the tiny baby I rocked to sleep. And now, here he was, 3 years old and growing like a weed. It made me wonder how much of those 3 years I had missed simply because I was too busy looking at my computer or checking my cell phone.

At that point, I realized that I needed to be more focused on the present moment and less focused on everything else: my lengthy to-do list, the mountain of emails in my Inbox, the text messages, Facebook, and, most importantly, that “hilarious” YouTube video where Charlie bites his brother’s finger.

Because here’s the thing: The present is all we have.

The Importance of Being Present

The past is gone, and the future isn’t here yet (and, in reality, it never gets here). In fact, when you think about it, life is ultimately made up of nothing but the present moments, experienced over and over again.

And that means if we don’t pay attention to the present moment, we essentially miss out on life. If we are constantly thinking about the past or the future, we’re missing out on the present. If we are constantly glued to our cell phones, we’re missing out on important things that might be happening right in front of us.

It reminds me of a concert I was at a few years ago. My wife and I were seeing Cowboy Mouth at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Anyone who’s seen a Cowboy Mouth show will tell you that they’re one of the greatest live acts around. (If you don’t believe me, check out this video of the band playing their late-90s hit “Jenny Says.” Plus, how can you dislike a band that writes a song about Kelly Ripa?). During one moment of the show, their energetic drummer/singer, Fred, was getting the crowd riled up. I remember him saying to someone in the crowd, “Dude, put down your cell phone, and stop living life through a screen.”

I love that.

Put down your cell phone, and stop living life through a screen.

Ultimately, it makes me wonder if my students are missing out on life. It makes me wonder how many potentially amazing opportunities they’re missing out on simply because they’re glued to their cell phones—both in class and out.

When I ask my students about their college years, they inevitably say one common thing: how fast they flew by. “I can’t believe I’m already done with my first semester of college” quickly becomes, “I can’t believe I’m about to graduate. Where did the time go?”

I remember feeling the same way. And here’s a dirty little secret for you: As you get older, the time flies by even faster.

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I graduated from college. I can’t believe I’ve been a college professor for 13 years. I can’t believe it’s been almost 9 years since I got married. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 7 years since my first son was born and 4 years since my second son was born. I can’t believe how quickly my beard has turned gray (which, I believe, is directly related to the birth of my sons).

When it comes right down to it, I want to be present for my life. I want to be present for what’s happening right now. I want to be present for my wife. I want to be present for my boys. I want to be present for my friends. I want to be present for my students. (For the curious reader, here’s a nice blog post on learning to become more present.)

I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about the past—because it’s done and gone.

I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about the future—because it’s not guaranteed.

And I certainly don’t want the next 20 years to fly by and wonder how I missed out on them.

I think we all need to put down our cell phones and stop living life through a screen.

 

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Wherever You Go, Be the Hero

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately.

First and foremost, today is Memorial Day, a day to honor those who died while serving in our country’s armed services. They are the heroes who put their lives on the line so you and I can have the freedoms that we are so fortunate to have. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be a hero and how we all can use this concept to improve our own lives.

But before I discuss how the concept of “hero” can provide useful guidance in our own lives, let’s take a minute to discuss exactly what a hero is.

What is a Hero?

According to Merriam-Webster, a hero is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.” Merriam-Webster also notes how a hero is “the chief male [or female!] character in a story, play, movie, etc.”

Together, these definitions suggest that a hero is someone in a movie or play who engages in great acts.

At this point, some of you might be asking, “So, what does this have to do with me? I’m not in a movie or a play.”

Well, you may not be in a movie or play the same way Jennifer Lawrence or Julia Roberts or Chris Pratt or Will Smith is in a movie or play. But in fact, you are in a story: You are in your own life story.

Regardless of whether you happen to view your life as “movie-like” or not, you are nevertheless the star in a very interesting story—a story that, in fact, no other person in the history of the world has ever lived before.

And if you’re the only person to have ever lived that story, then, almost by definition, your story is interesting.

So if you’re the star of your own interesting life story—or life movie, if you will—it begs the following question:

Are you being a hero?

Are you engaging in great acts? Are you doing the kinds of things and making the kinds of decisions that would qualify you as a hero in your own life movie?

Most of us probably have some vision of how we’d like our lives to turn out: what kinds of things we want to accomplish, how we want to act, what kind of an effect we want to have on others, what type of legacy we want to leave.

Take a second (or a few minutes) and think about it. What kinds of things do you want to accomplish? How do you want to act? What kind of an effect do you want to have on others? What legacy do you want to leave when you’re gone?

If you were writing (or re-writing) your own life story, what would you have you do?

In essence, that’s your hero.

So ask yourself this question: Are you making the kinds of choices that your hero would make? Because, even if there are problems or character flaws at the start of the movie, the hero always turns it around and does the right thing at the end.

Be the Hero of Your Own Movie

I started thinking about this idea several months ago when I came across this great video by Joe Rogan, who used to host the NBC television show Fear Factor, but who is now best known for commentating fights for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and for his highly rated podcast.

Take a look.

I just love the idea of viewing our lives as a movie, one that we have the opportunity to write.

The cool part (as Joe notes) is that it doesn’t matter what’s happened in our lives so far. It doesn’t matter whether our lives have been horrible, great, or somewhere in between. Even if we feel like someone else has written every chapter so far, we nevertheless have the opportunity to “take over authorship.” We can write the next chapter, and we can make it great (hence the tagline on my homepage).

What About My Hero?

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself asking this question when confronted with difficult (and sometimes no-so-difficult) decisions.

I can either eat junk food, which might provide me with some short-term pleasure, or I can eat something that will help me lose weight over the next 6 months: What would the hero of my movie do?

I can either focus and work hard while I’m in my office, or I can log into Facebook and scroll through posts for the next hour: What would the hero of my movie do?

My kids are not listening to me, and I’m about to blow my top: What would the hero of my movie do?

I can spend my time at work trying to please everyone else, or I can work on things that truly matter to me and to my mission, regardless of how this might make some others feel: What would the hero of my movie do?

My boys want me to play baseball with them, but I’m working on a blog post about heroes: What would the hero of my movie do?

(Excuse me, I have to go play baseball with my little dudes. I’ll be back in just a bit.)

Okay, I’m back…

One thing I really like about this idea is that it’s portable: I can apply it anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether I’m teaching, playing with my kids, hanging out with my wife, or buying groceries. The concept still applies. I have a vision of what I want my life to be like, and I can make decisions based on that vision.

So, what would the hero of my own life’s movie do?

Well, here are just a few things…

For one, he would finally lose weight and get really healthy, so that he can be around for his family for a very long time. (Have you ever noticed how movie heroes are almost always in good shape?)

He would stop worrying about whether he’s “good enough” to join a band. Instead, he would get out there and play (because playing music with others is one of the best ways to improve).

He would focus as much of his time as possible on doing things that really matter to him and to his mission.

He’d be more willing to step outside of his comfort zone and take risks, knowing that some of those risks might result in failure but that some of them might also produce amazing, life-changing outcomes.

I also think about how my “hero” would’ve acted when he was back in college.

Would my hero freak out because he got a bad grade on an exam? (Answer: No)

Would my hero spend several semesters in a major he hated? (Answer: No)

Would my hero do the absolute least amount of work needed just to get by? (Answer: No)

Would my hero focus solely on GPA and not really care about whether he actually learned the material? (Answer: No)

Would my hero sit in class and read the school paper [or text or surf the Web] rather than pay attention? (Answer: No)

Would my hero be so worried about failing that he wouldn’t even take a chance? (Answer: No)

Would my hero complain because he had to work hard? (Answer: No)

Would my hero worry so much about what other people thought of him? (Answer: No)

And as I think about how my “student hero” should’ve acted, it also makes we wonder: Are my students, both current and former, being the heroes in their own life movies? (Answer: I certainly hope so, but I’m not so sure…)

Go Forth and Be the Hero

Ultimately, I think the concept of “being the hero” is simple. Of course, simple doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”

Doing things you know are right is often hard. And just as heroes have to battle obstacles on their way to “victory,” so too will all of us encounter obstacles in our lives. And you know what?

That’s okay. It’s a part of this thing we call LIFE.

In fact, in my opinion, life would be pretty damn boring if everything came easy to us. I mean, let’s admit it: Isn’t it sometimes fun to come up against obstacles, work hard to overcome them, and then reach victory?

I mean, isn’t that what being a hero is all about?

So, as you think about your life, think about what you’d want your hero to be and what you’d want your hero to do. And then think about whether you’re doing those things. If not, fire your current author, take over authorship, and start writing a new chapter.

Go out and be the hero in your own movie.

When you do, I’d be willing to bet that some pretty cool things might start to happen.

 

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Behavioral Contracts: A Useful Tool for Changing Bad Habits

stop_bad_habits

Changing bad habits.

It’s not easy.

In fact, whether you’re trying to stop biting your fingernails, go to bed earlier, smoke less, study more, exercise consistently, or eat healthier, changing bad habits can be downright difficult.

And it can be downright frustrating.

I’ve written previously about my many attempts to lose weight. And few things in my life have been more frustrating than successfully changing my habits and losing weight, only to fall back into old habits and gain it all back again.

But as I’ve learned more about behavior change over the years, I’ve come to better understand (a) why I (and others) engage in bad habits and (b) what I can do to increase the chances that I will be successful when I try to change them again.

One tool that has proven effective in helping me (and many others) change bad habits is the behavioral contract.

(If you’re so inclined, searching Google Scholar for the term “behavioral contract” will provide you with thousands of studies that have examined the effectiveness of behavioral contracts in changing various bad habits.)

But before I get to the specifics of what a behavioral contract entails, let me take a minute to discuss a useful framework that we can use to understand and subsequently change our bad habits.

Changing Bad Habits: The Three M’s

In his excellent little book, “Self-Help Without the Hype,” Dr. Robert Epstein (who worked with the famous psychologist, B. F. Skinner, in the late 70s and early 80s) discusses how changing our behavior can be boiled down to three simple (but not necessarily easy) steps—steps he calls “the three M’s.” These include:

Measuring our behavior

Modifying our environment

Making a public commitment

The rationale behind these steps is fairly straightforward.

measurementFirst, to know whether our bad habits are changing, we have to measure them. To determine whether we’re eating healthier, for instance, we need to identify exactly what we mean by “healthy eating” and, then, count (or measure) how often we’re doing it. This gives us the ability to say with more certainty whether our healthy eating is changing. Interestingly, simply measuring our behavior is sometimes enough to change our bad habits, largely because we finally see how often we’re engaging in the undesired behavior. (To measure my habits, I have found coach.me to be a valuable resource. There are numerous iPhone and Android apps that do the same thing as well.)

Second, we need to modify, or change, our environment. For over 100 years, researchers have shown that much of our behavior is affected by our surroundings (even when we’re not aware of it). For example, did you know that eating with other people significantly increases the amount of food you eat? Or did you know that eating off a large plate makes you eat more than eating off a smaller plate? (For a great review of how the environment affects our eating habits, check out Dr. Brian Wansink’s book, “Mindless Eating“). What this suggests, then, is that to understand our bad habits, we have to look at what’s happening around us when we commit them.

Ultimately, our environment can be separated into two general categories, both of which have an affect on our habits: consequences and antecedents.

ABC figure

(Note: This framework for understanding behavior has been around since the late 1800s. For awhile, it fell out of favor in psychology, but it has once again gained a following because of books like Charles Duhigg’s New York Times bestseller “The Power of Habit.“)

The first—and most important—part of the environment that affects our behavior is what we call consequences, which are the events that follow our behavior. Loosely speaking, these are the “rewards” we experience when we behave a particular way (although the technical name for these events is “reinforcers“). Some consequences consist of “getting things we like.” For example, when you eat, you get to taste good food. When you smoke, you get a nicotine rush. When you drink to excess, you get social approval from friends (although you might also experience a “punisher” in the form of a hangover the next morning). When you study hard for an exam, you (hopefully) get a good grade. Other consequences consist of “removing or avoiding bad things.” Taking aspirin when you have a headache removes the pain. Skipping class allows you to avoid a boring lecture (Anyone? Anyone?). And putting up an umbrella allows you to avoid getting rained on.

These consequences ultimately make our behavior happen again: We do things to “get the good” or to “avoid the bad.” Importantly (and a point that is often misunderstood by critics of this approach), some of the most powerful rewards we receive are subtle “social” rewards such as smiles, pats on the back, sincere compliments, and so on.

Using this framework as a guide, we can assume that if we are engaging in a particular behavior, it is either allowing us to get something we like or to avoid something we don’t. Thus, a good question to ask when we’re trying to understand why we (or others) engage in bad habits is, “What happens after I do them?”

Simply asking this question can go a long way in understanding why we do what we do.

The second part of the environment that affects our behavior is what we call antecedents. Antecedents are “cues” that occur before our behavior and signal that a particular consequence will occur if we behave a particular way. For instance, seeing a red light is a cue to stop your car, which then allows you to avoid an accident. Similarly, hearing your psychology teacher say “Be sure to read Chapter 5” is a cue to study Chapter 5, the consequence of which might be a better exam grade. And seeing a lit-up “Starbucks” sign might be a cue to go and buy a White Chocolate Mocha, which provides you with the consequence of sweet, frothy goodness. These antecedents have their effect because they are associated with—they are signals for—”getting good things” or “avoiding bad things.”

Sometimes, we are keenly aware of the antecedents that affect our behavior. But often we are not. For example, if we always eat in front of the TV, it might eventually become a powerful cue for eating. We may not even be aware that sitting in front of the TV makes us want to go to the cupboard and eat an entire bag of Doritos. But every time we watch TV, we find ourselves with a hoagie in our left hand and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia in our right hand. This is why some behavior-change programs ask you to keep track of where you are and who’s around when you engage in a bad habit. These give you clues about what part of your environment might be cueing the undesired behavior.

Ultimately, if our bad habits are being caused by certain antecedents and consequences, then changing these aspects of our environment will change the bad habits.

commitmentThe final step in changing bad habits is making a public commitment. This allows us to capitalize on the social consequences that have such a powerful effect on our behavior. Others can give us social “rewards” when we do well; they can also provide social “punishment” when we don’t follow our plan. The primary goal of this step is to let others know of our intentions, which can allow them to help us during good times and bad.

So, What is a Behavioral Contract?

contract

Now that I’ve spent some time discussing a “behavioral” framework for understanding bad habits, let’s get back to behavioral contracts.

As you may have already guessed, a behavioral contract is a written agreement between two (or more) people specifying what behavior is required by each and what consequences will be delivered when they do (or do not) meet the objectives specified in the contract.

In a behavioral contract, you can specify exactly how you’re going to:

Measure your behavior

Modify your environment

Make a public commitment

Rather than write five more paragraphs on what types of information to include in a behavioral contract—which, I’m guessing, would be a cue for many of you to engage in the behavior of “clicking out of this boring, long-ass blog post”—let me instead link to a sample behavioral contract that I’ve used with a friend several times in the past (and one that I’m planning to implement once again in the next few days).

Here it is (with some information changed to protect the innocent).

Notice how this behavioral contract contains very specific details about the three M’s. It tells exactly what I need to do to avoid sending a large chunk of money to an organization I despise.

And I can tell you that when I’ve used behavioral contracts in the past, my habits have always changed for the better.

Using Behavioral Contracts: Some Important Things to Consider

Now, if you decide that you want to use a behavioral contract to change your own bad habits, there are a few important things to consider.

First, when asking others to be a part of your contract, you need to include someone who will not “let you slide.” If you know that you’ll be able to break your contract without negative consequences, then you probably won’t be motivated to meet the terms specified in the contract. I know that if I screw up, my friend will quickly mail off the check I’ve given her.

Second, you need to find ways for your contract partner to be able to verify that you did what you said you did. For instance, when I was in graduate school, I wanted to exercise more consistently, so I set up a behavioral contract with my roommate. We actually talked to employees at the gym where I worked out, who agreed to watch me when I was there. My roommate was then able to talk to them and verify that I had exercised when I said I did. Providing ways for others to verify your behavior will motivate you to meet the terms in the contract.

Finally, you have to find consequences that are big enough to motivate you to change. For some, losing (or gaining) $1 might be enough to produce a change; for others, the consequence might need to be larger (and, of course, the consequences don’t need to be monetary in nature). When I did the contract with my graduate school roommate, the consequence for not exercising was that I had to pay his rent, which, if I remember correctly, was in excess of $400 per month. For a poor graduate student, that was enough to get me moving. In recent contracts, I’ve used large chunks of money from my “guitar fund”—money that I’ve been saving for years so I can buy myself a nice, new guitar. And in a previous behavioral contact that I used to lose weight a few years ago, I wrote a check for $500 to a political candidate I despised. What I really wanted to do with that money was start a college fund for my son. Which do you think I’d rather do: pay $500 to a politician I despise or start a college fund for my son? You can probably guess that my habits changed very quickly.

So, there you have it—a plan for changing your bad habits along with a description of how you can use behavioral contracts to get it “set it in stone.”

I guess the only question left to address is: Are you ready to sign on the dotted line?

 

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If You Wanna Find Your Passion, You Gotta Try New Things

Give It a TryFor the past few years, I have taught a course on the psychology of passion. The primary goals of the course have essentially been twofold: (1) to help students become familiar with the scientific research on the topic of passion and (2) to help students use what is known about the topic to find and pursue their own passions.

Goal #1: Easy

I have found that Goal #1 is relatively easy to achieve. Over the course of the semester, students learn that being passionate entails spending time on, valuing, and loving an activity. They also learn that there are actually two types of passion: (1) harmonious passion, which produces a feeling of being in control and which is associated with a variety of positive outcomes; and (2) obsessive passion, which produces a feeling of being controlled and which is associated with a variety of negative outcomes.

Ultimately, by the end of the semester, my students have a solid grasp of the concept of passion. They understand that, for many reasons, harmonious passion is better than obsessive passion, and they start to recognize whether they have some harmonious or obsessive tendencies of their own. They even can articulate why it’s so important to pursue activities they are harmoniously passionate about.

Goal #2: Not So Easy

And yet, even with all of this newfound knowledge about the importance of passion, we have a hard time achieving Goal #2.

In my experience, many students have trouble identifying what they are passionate about. When I ask them to tell me things they like to do, the answer is often, “I don’t know.” Or if they have an answer, it frequently involves relatively unimportant activities like playing video games or watching TV or Netflix or YouTube videos (etc.).

So, in an attempt to help students identify things they might love and value, I have them complete a number of activities designed to get them to reflect on their own lives. For example, I have them track what they do each week and then think about what they enjoyed. I have them think about when they feel most “alive.” I have them identify when they are in “flow” (which is associated with harmonious passion). I ask them what they would do for free. I ask them to consider what they would spend their time doing if they found out they only had 6 months to live. I ask them to think of things they can’t not do.

These are all useful activities. But even after completing them, many of my students still conclude that they are not overly passionate about many of the things they do on a daily basis. (Surprisingly, watching endless YouTube videos doesn’t seem to do the trick.)

Ultimately, what I’ve found while teaching students about passion is that pursuing our passions often isn’t the hardest part of the equation. Rather, it seems to be finding what we’re passionate about that frequently presents the first, big hurdle.

So, how might we go about finding things we’re passionate about?

Well, there’s no shortage of advice on the topic. An Amazon.com search for “finding your passion” results in over 1,500 book titles. A quick Google search for the same phrase produces just under 34 million hits (and that number will most likely continue to grow). And more often than not, these books and websites provide suggestions like:

Think about what you love to do.

Hang out with supportive and passionate people.

Follow your excitement.

Make a vision board.

Be curious about the things you do each day.

Think about what you’re good at.

Think about successful people you know and what you admire about them.

And so on…

None of these is necessarily bad advice, but they’re each missing an important component—an important first step that must be in place for passion to develop.

And unfortunately, this first step is often overlooked.

So what is this important first step that so many tend to overlook as they go about finding their passions?

Actually, the first step is rather simple:

YOU HAVE TO TRY NEW THINGS.

According to Vallerand and colleagues (2003), here’s how passion develops:

First, you try different things (check out this cool TEDx talk on the topic of trying new things). Eventually, you find some of those things to be more interesting than others. Not surprisingly, once you identify those activities that are most interesting to you, you end up spending more time on them. And if you find those activities to be valuable or important in some way, they can (under the right conditions) become your passions.

The notion of trying things seems so obvious, but yet it’s a step that many of my students (and others) tend to overlook.

Instead, people somehow believe that they will identify things they are passionate about by sitting in their bedrooms engaging in some specialized thought exercise. This, however, isn’t typically how it happens. As entrepreneur Marie Forleo is fond of saying, “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”

So, let me say this once again: To become passionate about something, you first have to try new things.

If you’re not passionate about something right now, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to become passionate about it if you keep on doing the very same things! As the famous saying goes (and which is often misattributed to Albert Einstein), “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Trying New Things and the Importance of Mindset

Now, with that being said, it may take a shift in your mindset if you’re going to follow this advice and try new things in hopes of identifying something you’re passionate about.

For example, with students, it might mean going to college and NOT declaring a major right away. Rather, you may want to take some classes (with an open mind, of course) and see what interests you first. Granted, this approach might initially make you feel like you’re behind everyone else (which, in fact, won’t be the case), but that’s okay.

It might also mean “failing” on your way to finding what you love to do. As you try things, you may not—and most likely WILL not—like all of them. Moreoever, as you try things, you may not be good at all of them. But you know what? That’s life! We’re not going to be good at everything we do. In fact, we’re going to be merely average at most things we try. And that’s okay.

It’s also going to require you to step outside your comfort zone. I think this is where many college students (and others) have trouble. We like to be comfortable. For so long, we’ve listened to trusted authorities (parents, teachers, and others) who have helped us along the way. They tell us what to do next, and we frequently follow their advice (because doing so has allowed us to stay relatively comfortable). But trying new things often requires us to go against the grain, to move in a direction that runs counter to what others are telling us to do. Only when we step outside our comfort zone and try new things do we have a greater chance of identifying what excites us and what’s most important to us.

Ultimately, if we’re truly interested in pursuing things we are passionate about, we first have to identify what those things are. And quite often, the first step to making that happen is to try new things.

Give It a Try 2So take a chance and step outside your comfort zone. Say “yes” to things that scare you. Go ahead and try something new every once in awhile. Heck, aim a little higher and try to do it every day for the next 30 days.

If you take the time to try a few new things—and if you have the courage to listen to your own heart—you might just be surprised at what you find.

 

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Fall Seven Times…

Last week, I described the success I experienced on my weight loss journey in the month of April. I lost about 17 lbs. and was feeling really, really good.

But after a month of being “in the groove,” I told myself that I deserved to “loosen up just a bit.” I told myself that it would be okay if I took a day or two off and celebrated my success. I told myself that I should enjoy the time with my family (my parents were visiting), not worry too much about putting healthy foods in my mouth, and then get back at it.

off the wagonBut here it is, almost a week later, and I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit.

I’ve eaten a good amount of junk this week (including a hefty piece of cake while attending a birthday party tonight).

And the exercise has been non-existent.

And now, I’m starting to feel it: that feeling of “blah” I get when I haven’t been eating well or moving enough; the schlocky sleep patterns that inevitably come when my body is trying to “process” all of the junk I’ve given it; the debilitating fatigue that hits me like a ton of bricks around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

noted previously how the biggest hurdle I’ve always faced when I’m trying to lose weight is consistency (or lack thereof)—it’s my bugbear, the thorn in my side, the bane of my existence, my bête noire. I go for a month or two and then, more often than not, fall back into my old ways.

And it always makes me feel like this:

argh

In the past, I would use my “failure” as a license to reintroduce myself to the old habits that had been hidden away for the past few weeks: “Well, I’ve failed yet again, so I might as well just order a pizza and be done with it.”

But I’m not going to do that anymore.

I’m going to breathe, maybe do a bit of meditation, and recommit to my goals.

And then I’m going to move on.

fall 7 timesI came across this old Japanese proverb tonight, and I thought it was a good reminder that when we fail—when we fall down—it’s usually not that big of a deal. We should stand back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

 

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