Resolutions That Can’t Fail

December 27, 2013

It is that time of year when everyone sets their New Year’s Resolutions.

But only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!  (if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)

But all is not lost. There is a better way.

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That Work

Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

Starting today I am off for a week of reflection and contemplation. Early January I will share my themes for 2014.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living

What to Ditch to Improve Your Life and Business

October 7, 2013

You’ve heard it before: To get more done, work smarter, not harder. One business innovator reveals what 3 things you can eliminate to help you do just that…

For the past year, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of working less by telling myself that I only have one hour a day to get things done. This has helped me reduce the number of hours I work from 100 a week to just 20 per month. (If you want more details on how I’ve accomplished this, read my last article, “How To Work One Hour A Day And Have A Thriving Business.”)

If you’re looking for ways to effectively cut back, think about this: Sometimes the key to getting more done is simply to do less. Think about ditching these three things in order to free up more time:

Ditch Your Worst Customers

Admit it: You’ve got customers who generate less income than others, yet take up more of your time than they should. Maybe instead of trying to get more customers, it’s time to ask, “Which customers should I eliminate?”

For me, the customers who are price-sensitive tend to be the most difficult to work with. Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” I no longer work with cynics. Instead, I give time to my value-oriented customers who prefer to focus on results rather than fees.

One strategy to consider: Ditch the 20 percent of your customers who are sucking up your time but not producing commensurate returns. This not only frees up some hours in your day; it also frees up your mental energy. I realize that when money is tight, cutting customers loose can seem like a risky proposition. But you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100 percent of your customers happy 100 percent of the time will keep you working 100 hours a week, limiting your true growth potential.

Ditch Your Lowest Return Activities

Look at the amount of work you do. Look at your to-do list. You will never get 100 percent of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. And we know that, yet we still strive to get 100 percent of the work done….

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum site

Spread the Happiness

June 14, 2013

We have all heard that smiles are contagious.  Is that really the case?

There have been numerous studies that show that not only does a smile physiologically change your own mood, but it can also alter the mood of those around you.

A smile causes a shift in our brain chemistry that assists us in extending our lifespan by managing stress, reducing pain, lowering our heart rate, reducing blood pressure and acting as a natural anti-depressant.

An article in Psychology Today examines the impact a smile has on our brain.

“Smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well”

If this isn’t enough reason to flash those pearly whites, consider the impact a smile has on those around you.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia illustrates that “attractive faces produced activation of medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a region involved in representing stimulus-reward value.  Responses in this region were further enhanced by a smiling facial expression…”  In layman’s terms, when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded.

This was illustrated through a Swedish study where participants were presented with images that expressed emotions of joy, anger, fear and surprise. Researchers asked subjects to frown when looking at the smiling images.  What they found was that the participants’ initial reaction was to mimic the expression they were presented with. It took conscious effort to accommodate the researcher’s request to frown.  Very simply put, smiles are contagious.

It was renowned psychologist and author Daniel Goleman Ph.D. who identified why this is.

“A previously unknown class of neurons — mirror neurons — acts like a neural Wi-Fi system, monitoring everything the other person is saying and doing.   Mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly.”

If you want to positively impact those around you, it isn’t enough to simply crack a smirk. Other studies have also shown that individuals will mimic the type of smile they are presented with.

In our society, we often smile in an effort to be polite whereas genuine smiles happen spontaneously and is an indicator of pleasure.  Observational studies demonstrated that strangers, getting to know one another, would always match the type of smile they received.  Additionally, they responded more readily to a genuine smile versus a polite smile.

“Similarly, participants in a lab-based study learned key-press associations for genuinely smiling faces faster than those for politely smiling faces. Data from electrical sensors on participants’ faces revealed that they engaged smile-related muscles when they expected a genuine smile to appear but showed no such activity when expecting polite smiles.

The different responses suggest that genuine smiles are more valuable social rewards. Previous research shows that genuine smiles promote positive social interactions, so learning to anticipate them is likely to be a critical social skill.”

So what if you don’t feel like smiling?  Fake it until you make it.  Research has shown that the act of smiling alone, can stimulate physiological responses that will ultimately turn that forced grin into a genuine smile. talks about this phenomenon by sharing the work of Robert Zajonc on the emotional effects of smiling.

“His subjects repeated vowel sounds that forced their faces into various expressions. To mimic some of the characteristics of a smile, they made the long “e” sound, which stretches the corners of the mouth outward. Other vowel sounds were also tested, including the long “u,” which forces the mouth into a pouty expression. Subjects reported feeling good after making the long “e” sound, and feeling bad after the long “u.”

The key to happiness (yours and others) may be as simple as a smile.  Or as Louis Armstrong would sing: “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

P.S.There is research that suggests that getting Botox injections might actually make you happier since you can no longer frown. Hmmm….

Spend Your 24 Hours Wisely

June 7, 2013

Time is a fixed commodity.  We all get to enjoy the same 24 hours a day as everyone else.  But for some, this is not enough to do everything they want.

Therefore, whenever I am on the road and I am deciding how to spend my time, I ask, “Is this something I can only do here and now?”

For example, I was recently in San Francisco.  In comparison to the temperatures in Boston, the weather was warm enough to enjoy the beach. Therefore I took advantage of this luxury and stayed in a hotel near the ocean.

Conversely, I was in New York City a few days later where the beach wasn’t an attractive option, but it offered other unique opportunities.

By focusing on the things I can only do here and now helps me decide what is the best way to use my time.

A lot of people enjoy activities like dancing at nightclubs. But I know I can go clubbing almost anywhere.  Many like to shop when they are on the road, but I can do that anywhere as well (unless it is to buy something unique from that area).

What are the things that you can’t do elsewhere; that you can only do where you are right now?

It might be taking advantage of the weather or your geographic location (unique food options, area-specific landmarks). It might be leveraging the time of year (e.g., special events at Christmas time in New York City). And don’t forget to take advantage of the people around you. (Ok, that last point didn’t sound exactly right, but you know what I mean.) I try to see my friends when on the road, because if I don’t, I won’t see them at all.

Think about each day, even when you were home. What are the things that you can only do right now? What are the things you can only do certain times of year? While this won’t give you more time, it may make the time that you have significantly more valuable.

P.S. This concept applies to innovation too. Many companies try to do everything, and as a result do nothing well. Focus your energies on things you do better than anyone else that create exceptional customer value. Stop doing everything else, and find partners others who can do it better than you.

Facts About Happiness That May Surprise You

May 11, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

At the end of this month, I will be speaking in Copenhagen at a Happiness at Work Conference.  This got me thinking about what it is that makes people truly joyous.

Business Insider gathered some research on this topic and amassed 36 Scientific Facts about happiness, some that may come as a surprise.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself:  Perhaps that is why Forbes reported that approximately 543,000 new U.S. businesses are started every month. This is one of the reasons I work for myself. If I don’t like my boss, I only have me to blame!
  • Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance:  “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient—when a minute ago, he’d have been perfectly content with $0.” I have written about this extensively in the past. See my article, I Won’t Work for Money.
  • Happy people are lucky:  Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse.  For example, an individual arrived to an interview with his leg in a cast and mentioned that he had fallen down a flight of stairs. When asked whether he still felt lucky, he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before as he could have broken his neck. This is absolutely how I live, maybe sometime to a fault. I do operate from the belief that everything happens for a reason – I learned this from my father.
  • Happiness is not a destination:  I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves.  But the reality is that while these things can contribute to happiness, it is not as much as you may think.  According to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.” This is the essence of my Goal-Free Living book.

Other studies show that people with more money are happy. But what is intriguing is that the researchers found that money did not cause happiness.  Happiness was the creator of wealth.

What other things make you happy?

Live, Listen, and Play Like a Kid

April 10, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Today I had the honor of seeing my good friend, Ed Gerety, speak to 200 junior high school students. He was amazing.

What I found most interesting was the response from the audience.

I am used to speaking to corporations where the average age is probably 40 – 50. Here the average age was 12 – 13. There is a marked difference between these groups!

When Ed asked the student to do something, 100% participated (well, several of the teachers sat and stared blankly). When he asked them to do something that an adult might think as “silly,” the audience went wild with laughter. When he told moving stories that might generate “crickets” from an adult audience, he received gasps, cheers, and awwwwws from the teenagers. There was an unbelievable energy in the room. Everyone was hungry for Ed’s message.

When did we, as adults, become so jaded? When did we forget how to participate and play in life? When did we decide that “looking good” in front of others was more important than full self-expression? When did we become so arrogant that we know more than everyone else? When did we stop truly learning and living?

I was inspired by these students. I was tempted to call them “kids.” But after spending an hour with them, I realized that they are more adult than many adults.

Today, I encourage you to look at the world through the eyes of a teenager. Play. Laugh. Participate. Clap. Gasp. Show your full range of emotions.

As Ed said during his presentation, tell people you love them. Be thankful, every day, for what you have. Help others. Stand up for yourself.

I’ve attended a lot of seminars and training over the years. But spending 60 minutes with Ed and a couple hundred students was the most valuable education I have received in years.

P.S. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when working for a large organization. I presented to 400 executives in the morning followed by 200 high school students in the afternoon. The two audiences could not have been more different. I wrote about how to tap into your “inner innovation child” in an American Express OPEN Forum article. You can also read my article “Unleash Your Inner Innovator” (pdf). It appeared in a British Magazine 10 years ago.

Appreciate, Don’t Accumulate (transcription)

February 12, 2013

Here is the transcription of yesterday’s video

This week I’m going to talk about ways that you can work a heck of a lot less, while having a much better life.

On Wednesday, I’m going to talk about a philosophy that I call the “20/80/80 principle.” It’s a way for extracting the greatest amount of value out of what you’re doing, with the least amount of effort, thus freeing you up to do other things.

Now, if you’re going to use this general mindset of freeing yourself up, you need to recognize that it’s not just about making more money. It’s also about freeing yourself up from the current burdens that you may have in terms of lifestyle, and some of the decisions you’ve made.

Back in 1999, I was living in New Jersey. I had a three-bedroom house. It was a gorgeous place. I had furniture. I had lots of great things. And then I moved to England. When I moved to England, I ended up moving into a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment. Because I was moving across the Atlantic, I didn’t want to bring a lot of things with me, so I really got rid of everything.

Everything that I owned literally fit into two boxes – my clothes, my belongings, anything that I needed. Now, of course, living in a furnished apartment was great, because I didn’t have to worry about furniture, dishes, and things of that nature. But I owned almost nothing.

I discovered back then, that there is this freedom, this liberation, that comes from not having a lot of things and from being able to actually live the simplest life possible. There’s less clutter around you, therefore, there are less things to worry about. And because you’re spending less money, you don’t have to worry about making as much money. It give you freedom.

We often hear the expression, necessity is the mother of invention. The reality is though, that when you work out of necessity, your invention is limited. When you come from a place of freedom where you’re able to start living the life as you want to live, you tap into true creativity.

Therefore, instead of accumulating, what you need to do is start appreciating.

What you want to do is simplify your life. You want to be able to look at how you spend your money. Look at your house. Look at your car.  And really ask yourself what would be the benefit of getting rid of them. Or downsizing to the point where you have less clutter and fewer financial obligations.

What you get out of that is more freedom. If you do this, it will then free you up to make completely different decisions with your life: how you choose to live your life and how you choose to work.

I know, for myself, having done this,that it is a liberating experience. By getting rid of things, you actually add to the positivity of your life and to the energy you’re able to create. Because you’re not innovating and creating from a place of need, desperation, or survival. Instead you are innovating from a perspective of freedom, pull, creativity, and passion.

So the first step to this is to really just take a hard look at your life and where you’re spending your money and what you have. And then ask yourself, “What do I really, truly need?” Once you do this, you can move onto the next step (which we’ll talk about Wednesday), which is a process and philosophy for being able to, not just free up your belongings, but free up your time.

When you free up your lifestyle and everything around you, and you free up your time, you then have this incredible freedom to truly create extraordinary things.

Appreciate Don’t Accumulate

February 11, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie, shot in Las Vegas…

It is common for people to want more. We want a bigger house. A nicer car. Cooler furniture.

But sometimes the key to living a successful life is to want less; to focus on appreciation rather than accumulation.

The fewer things you have, the clearer your mind and the less you need to worry about money. This freedom enables you to be more innovative with your life.

Be sure to read Wednesday’s blog when I discuss the 20/80/80 principle for working less while making more.

Click here for a transcript of this video

Podcast: Interview with Author of “The Antidote”

December 7, 2012

Today I am thrilled to share with you a 45 minute conversation between me and Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

I met Oliver several years ago. We got connected through a book review he did back in 2007 for the Guardian newspaper in England.

He opened his review by saying, “One of the most stress inducing books I’ve ever read is called GOALS!, by the management expert Brian Tracy.”  Reading this, given my contrarian perspective on goals-setting, I knew I was going to like this guy.

Oliver concluded his article by saying…

“Contrast that with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book Goal-Free Living makes the case that you can have some kind of sense of direction to your life without obsessing about the specific destination. ‘Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,’ he says. ‘While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful opportunities.’ That sounds a lot more smart to me.”  (For those in the goal-setting world, you will appreciate his last point as being a poke at the SMART goals, advocated by many)

After reading this, I immediately wrote Oliver, and soon after we met up in a pub in London. I quickly discovered that he has a contrarian perspective on so many aspects of personal development. And he has a great (dry) sense of humor.  I knew we would get along great.

Fast forward 5 years (after several meetings in pubs on both sides of the “pond”), Oliver wrote The Antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read a book. And I was not disappointed.  After devouring it on my Kindle, I asked Oliver if he would do a podcast with me.  Fortunately he kindly agreed. We did not discuss anything in advance. He did not give me questions to ask and I didn’t prepare any.  It was a totally goal-free, in the moment interview. I think you will agree, he has some pretty incredible perspectives.

You have three ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

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  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)
  • Read the transcription

Please share this with your friends.  I am sure that after listening to this, you will agree that this interview can have a profound impact on anyone who is addicted to positive thinking.

How Playing a Game Changed My Life

October 22, 2012

In my book, “Goal-Free Living,” I talk about the importance of Seeking Out Adventure.  Trying new things is one avenue for enhancing your creativity.  As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect. Dots being ideas or experiences.”  He claims that people who are more creative have had more experiences.  Well, my sister has decided to be proactive about seeking out adventure.  But for her, it is not just about becoming more creative.  It is about enhancing her life.  It is a form of self discovery.  I asked her to document and share her perspectives in a guest blog entry.  So, with great pleasure, I would like to give you Deborah Shapiro’s new game…

Stepping out of a relationship is challenging, at least for me.  And after the conclusion of my most recent relationship there was a debilitating void.   I began to realize that my life’s activities had revolved around the individuals I had been with. Once alone, I had no idea what to do with myself.  Our friends were the same.   Our activities revolved around what he liked to do and I was happy to accommodate as I cared more about who I was with than with what we were doing.

I was left with an existential crisis on my hands.  Who am I?  What are MY passions?  What are the things that bring ME joy and happiness?  Why do I feel so alone?   I had no idea how to answer these simple questions that someone at the age of 45 should have long discovered.

After much consideration what I saw was  that I needed to take different actions to have the life I so desired; actions that would disrupt a very predictable future reminiscent of my past.

So, I decided to play a game.

The Rules:  Since I didn’t know what I really enjoyed doing nor understood where my passions lie, a fitting game to create was to take on a new activity every day.  The intention was for me to experiment with a whole new set of actions or do those things that I hadn’t done in a while. I would create a running list of items as they surfaced and would tick them off at the appropriate moments.

One of the essential rules created was that I would suspend all judgment of whether I would like the activity or not.  How could I know if I liked something if I hadn’t ever done it?  Additionally, I am at a different point in my life.  If I had tried something previously with limited success, perhaps now would be a more fitting time.

The Results (so far): Although it has only been a month since I started this game, the results have been staggering.  Life altering, to be frank.

Look at all these friends!

Due to the nature of the game, I had to reach beyond my traditional circle of friends so that I could be amongst others who were willing to participate in those activities I had identified.  In doing so, my circle of friends has grown exponentially.  My once quiet phone is now ringing off the hook with amazing individuals.  And surprisingly, those that I had thought were “not my type” have ended up being some of my most cherished friends.

This realization created a new rule:   In addition to not filtering activities based on my preconceived notions, I will no longer limit who I will do them with.

I had always thought that, at my age, people would already be settled into having a set base of friends with little room for newcomers.  But what I have discovered is that there are many others out there as hungry as I to forge new friendships. I was feeling alone.  But, in the wake of this new game, I find it somewhat comical as to how anyone could feel alone amongst a population of close to 7 billion.  I was responsible my loneliness.

Look at all these things to do!

Equally as comical, is the fact that I had ever said, “I have nothing to do.”    Because of this game, I have been trained to listen for any activity that could present itself.   Ideas are literally EVERYWHERE.  You just need to listen for them.

I’ve gotten ideas from Facebook, the news, passing conversations with neighbors.  The best source?  My new friends.  They know of and are excited about my game and want to join in.  There has been a recent onslaught of emails and texts containing ideas from trapeze lessons to swing dancing, hot yoga to paddle boating.

These activities have always been there, the difference is that I am now listening with intent.  But more importantly, I have a structure in place to fulfill on these events.  Without that structure, an idea would be just that…a nice idea.

Every day really IS a new day!

In searching for something new, I started to see what wasn’t.  My life.  I began to recognize that I had a pattern for doing virtually the same thing, the same way, every day.  I wake up.  Brush my teeth.  Make coffee.  Clean the house. Go to work.  Send emails. Make dinner.   Watch TV and then go to bed.    No wonder why people are dissatisfied with their lives.  In my case, I had unwittingly created routines that had me condemned to a life of ordinary.

So I started to look at how I could adjust some of these patterns.  How about tea instead of coffee?  Or taking a different route to work?  Maybe listening to a different genre of music or watching a new show on TV.    How about eating something exotic for dinner? Or writing a handwritten note to a friend instead of sending an email or text?

I have long complained that technology has made life impersonal.  I have just begun to see that I am the one making it impersonal, not technology.  Just because it is easier to send an email or text, doesn’t mean I have to.

By making these small adjustments, I saw that every day is truly my own creation!  My life was stagnant, because I was making it that way.  That is the good news – bad news.  However, seeing this now opens up the opportunity for me to create my days any way I desire.

Playing a game has changed my life

Why has playing a game been so effective for me?

In games, there is no right or wrong.  There is nowhere to get to.  YOU create the rules so you can change them at any time.  You can even stop playing if you want. (But why on earth would I want to?!)

And because I had no preconceived notions of how the game would go, I had no expectations for the results.  If I had established a specified outcome, a defined place to get to, I would have created a pressure for myself to achieve that goal, making the game feel more like a burden than a game.

This has me really wondering:  How much could life differ if we all lived it like a game?

It has only been three weeks. Imagine what I will discover over the next year or 5?  How will the rules change?  What new insights are in store?  Time will only tell.

Oh, you are probably wondering what passions I have discovered.  Only one thus far.  I am passionate about trying new things.  Come play!

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