No matter where you turn at this time of year, you’ll be hit with advice from everyone about how to save more money, set better resolutions, be a better parent, act a little happier, and be more successful in 2013. Some of the advice will be good, some will be the same old stuff you’ve heard for years that sounds like white noise to you, and some will get your attention because it’s landing in the right place for you at the right time.
I hope that this post lands in the right place for those of you who want change, but who want something unexpected in the advice arena to grab you. Goal setting and its intersection with well-being is my specialty, so I’m always studying new findings in these areas, trying to find ways to translate it into practical applications for clients, students, readers and those with whom I come in contact.
Because my training is outside of psychology, and more in the areas of history and journalism, my brain connects disparate points in unexpected ways. This is what “disruptive innovators” do; they assess information differently from people who have always been in a certain silo, whether it’s psychology, chemistry or economics, and instead think in patterns that are familiar to them. The “disruptive” thinking often produces unexpected innovations.
“US News and World Report” used to list “50 Ways to Change Your Life” at the start of every year before the magazine was sidelined in recent years, and it was always so thought-provoking that I can honestly say that something important shifted every year as a result of their off-beat ideas. In homage to them, here are five – not fifty – ideas that I hope are disruptively innovative to your life in 2013, and that lead to greater flourishing in meaningful areas.
1. Get yourself a new gang to supplement your current crowd. I’m not suggesting that you should ditch tried and true friends who make you a better person, and vice versa. Following on research from multiple domains, I think we all need to pick one of our top goals for 2013 and deliberately find like-minded people with whom you’ll spend time this year to up your chances of success. Why? People who do things together in pursuit of shared goals tend to elicit better performances from themselves, even if they are already accomplished in that area. For example, American distance runners began to train on their own in the 1990’s, which mirrored a decline in the country’s dominance in these events, while countries where runners trained in packs – like Ethiopia, Kenya and Japan – rose in prominence. The pendulum has swung back again as pack training has taken off, with one of the top coaches, Kevin Hanson, noting that if one member has success, everyone else in the group has confidence that they, too, will succeed, which is an additional benefit. Other research has found that groups that simply walk in step are happier than solo walkers, and most recently, it was reported that rock-and-rollers who pursued their careers in groups as opposed to solo careers lived twice as long as artists who went out on their own.
2. Go away somewhere that’s on your bucket list. Yes, you’ve heard that vacations are important, and that Americans tend to power through them by refusing to disengage from technology, but there are other reasons why you should always have a trip you are anticipating on your calendar. The “Cornell Legacy Project” has surveyed hundreds of Americans in their golden years and asked them to pass along their wisdom so that others might learn from their mistakes. One finding is that most people regretted not having a bucket list of trips to check off in their adult years, and instead put off traveling the world – or even their state – until it was too late to do so. Experiences that you share with others appreciate in value over time, adding richness and variety to your life, but if you don’t cement them on your calendar, they won’t happen. Added bonus: as you approach the time of departure, your immune system will improve in anticipation of pleasure.
3. Take a massive risk towards a valued goal. Hard to believe, but our society has stripped so much risk out of daily life that even children’s playgrounds have been impacted – and it’s not good. Psychologists say that playgrounds have been so “dumbed down” to avoid injury or litigation that there is nothing thrilling left there to test one’s skills. This leads to children who not only avoid going to playgrounds, they have so few risks in their lives that they develop more anxieties and phobias than children who are allowed to test their limits. For example, children who don’t climb trees end up more afraid of heights, according to a study from Norway. Risks are the growing edge in life, and we need to be there regularly or we’ll lead safe lives that don’t challenge us. A few more facts: entrepreneurs are risk-takers who have “functional impulsivity” that leads them to make positive economic decisions at high-stress times. Leaders also develop confidence from “facing down their fears,” which separates the bold from the timid. “If you don’t test the muscle by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, the muscle doesn’t grow, it shrinks,” according to Alfred Edmond, CEO of Black Enterprise magazine.
4. Revisit a regret. According to “peak-end” theory, we remember events in our lives based on the highlight of that event, as well as how it ended. Often, our regrets center on how we ended something of value in our lives – relationships, a hobby, a job, or goal pursuit. I’ve discovered that I can create new memories for myself in areas that used to carry regrets by going back to them, and re-engaging in them so that I can pick whatever ending I want. For example, two hobbies that ended abruptly for me in my early twenties didn’t conclude on a high point, which always made me uncomfortable and sad when I thought about them later. Several decades after they ended, though, I returned to both activities by joining a swim team and also taking jazz piano lessons while being the accompanist at my children’s elementary school. So find something you regret and brainstorm a new way to conclude it so that “peak-end” theory predicts future positive memories.
5. Do different things every single day. Whether we know it or not, every day we tend to do what we did yesterday, or what we’ve done on a regular basis. What that means is that we literally live on auto-pilot, rarely being proactive and mostly reacting to what is in front of us. The problem with this is that the brain loves novelty, and is stimulated by something as small as driving a new route, parting your hair on a different side, or switching the side of the bed you sleep on. It’s been reported that couples who shake up their social lives by doing different things with new couples on a regular basis have happier marriages, and even that dieters who do something different every day lose more weight and keep it off.
What would my readers suggest as ways to disruptively innovate their lives in the coming year? And happy new year! May 2013 be your best year yet, with many flourishing returns.
If you’d like to know when the next free five-day class on “Creating Your Best Self” begins, please go to www.carolinemiller.com and sign up for my newsletters. My next self-paced paid class on how to live “Your Happiest Life” begins on January 14, 2013. The class is four weeks long and includes evidence-based exercises from Positive Psychology and elsewhere to help you manifest change and set the most productive goals of your life. I’m purposefully including information, worksheets and reflection questions that have never been seen in most places because of my commitment to bring the findings of academia to the general public. If it’s not proven, I won’t promote it!