Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Women and Men

>> Tuesday

Earnest people throughout history have expressed the goal of attaining peace on earth. Many methods have been proposed and tried, but not many of those ideas have been practical. But in an interview with Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, I heard her say something that made me think of one possible way to make some actual headway toward the goal of "peace on earth."

She said if more people knew about sociopaths, there would be less war in the world.

She was dead serious, and I think she may be right. We could bring about a more peaceful world by making an understanding of sociopaths widespread. Consider these facts:

1. According to the famous Milgram experiments, 65 percent of people follow the orders of an authority.

2. Sociopaths want to win. They seek control. They are excellent manipulators. They don't care who gets hurt. They don't care who lives or dies.

3. They sometimes make it to positions of power, sometimes even becoming the leader of a country. And they do what sociopaths do: They take advantage, they get away with whatever they can, and when they are in a position of strength, they sometimes invade or threaten other countries, causing war.

If more people knew the characteristics of a sociopath, more people would identify them for what they are before they gain too much authority and power. Fewer sociopaths would make it to positions of authority.

Result: Fewer wars.

There would be less horror and misery in the world.

The truth is, even though it is a common belief that "man is a violent species," we are not. But when sociopaths gain positions of supreme authority and start wars, 65 percent will obey authority, and most of the rest will be fooled and manipulated into supporting the cause (or locked up or executed).

The result is war. Most people who actually fight in wars feel terrible about what they experience. They don't want to kill or hurt other human beings. They feel they have to (to save their country, to save the people they love, to stop a dictator from taking over the world, to save their fellow soldiers in the battle, etc.).

But the point is, the only reason sociopaths are able to get away with as much as they do is because most people are so ignorant about sociopaths. Not very many people know about the existence of such a thing as "common, everyday sociopaths." And even if they do, they don't know the easily-identifiable characteristics of a sociopath. They don't know how to spot them.

If you do, you can share your knowledge with others. If you don't, you can learn about it here. Then you can share what you've learned far and wide and in every way you can. And urge everyone you know to help you spread the knowledge.

Ask people, "Did you know there are sociopaths among us?" Ask people of they know what a sociopath is. Ask people, "Did you know one in fifty people is a sociopath?" Ask these questions with people you know and talk about it. Most people don't know, and at the very least, it makes for interesting conversation. Ask people, "Did you know there is no known therapy for sociopaths? And in fact, therapy usually makes them worse because it helps them get better at manipulating people?" Ask people if they know how to spot a sociopath.

Learn about sociopaths and teach the others in your life about it. This will give you a long-range sense of purpose, which will raise your mood. But this simple thing could also change the course of history. You could help bring the cherished dream of humanity closer to reality.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot


Exercise Beats Depression

>> Thursday

A study by the Black Dog Institute showed that "people who have suffered clinical depression believe that of all the therapies and techniques (not including drugs and psychotherapies) it is exercise that helps the most, followed by yoga/meditation, relaxation and massage."

I've seen studies like this before with similar conclusions, and I've never seen one that refutes this claim. One way to look at it is: Exercise beats depression, as if exercise were a kind of drug. Another way to look at it is that the lack of exercise is unnatural. In other words, depression is a side-effect of a severe exercise-deficiency.

If you assume human bodies need exercise to be healthy and happy (or at least undepressed), then exercise would function like any other essential. If you don't get enough vitamin C, your connective tissue begins to disintegrate (scurvy). If you don't get enough vitamin B-3, your skin peels and you start going insane (pellagra). And if you don't get enough physical exercise, you lose your ability to rise out of depression.

It's something to think about, anyway. At least it's something to try that won't hurt and has other positive benefits even if it doesn't completely lift one's depression. If you know someone who is depressed or discouraged, send them this article, and also the article, Undemoralize Yourself.

Exercise works for all of us. Even if you're not depressed, a little exercise usually raises your mood. It's an all-purpose moodraiser that just about anyone can use. If you haven't exercised in the last couple days and you're not feeling as good as you would like, try doing some exercise today and see if that helps. I'll bet it will.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more about the benefits of exercise: Where To Tap.


The Only Technique You Need to Live the Life You've Always Wanted

>> Sunday

That's a big title to live up to, but assuming you're willing to do the work, the technique will more than match the title. The method is simple: Clearly and persistently envision your goals. In detail.

That's it. Everything else flows from it — the work you do, the ideas for what to do, the motivation to do it, the insights into how to solve problems — all this springs forth naturally when you clearly envision your goals often.

It's a good idea to set goals and write them down. But deliberately visualizing your goals in detail adds so much power to goal-setting, it'll put you in another league.

"But," you might be thinking, "whenever I set a goal, I already have a picture of what I think it will be like." And I'm sure that's true. But have you closed your eyes and relaxed and imagined your goal in its completeness? Have you envisioned all the details you can come up with? And have you done that many times?

My guess is: Probably not. Visualizing goals is one of those things you often hear successful people mention, but you hear it and ignore it, for one reason or another. I ignored it for a long time because I wasn't very good at visualizing. But making mental pictures is a skill like any other, and I've gotten better with practice.

If you're ready to take your life to a whole new stratosphere, start envisioning your goals. Give it twenty minutes at a time. Sit down, close your eyes and relax as deeply as you can. It's best to sit up so you won't fall asleep. Sitting up rather than lying down also helps you control your visions better. On your back, your images tend to drift.

If you relax first, it will be easier to envision positive outcomes. When you're not relaxed, fears and worries are more likely to pop up in your visualizations (here's one way to relax).

Once you're relaxed, imagine the accomplishment of your goal. See what you would see. Start with how you would know. For example, I envision a million subscribers to When I accomplish the goal, how will I know it happened? I would look at my Feedburner stats and see the number 1,000,000 (or more).

After you've reached your goal, what will you do? Who will you tell? What will you do next? Visualize all these things. See the look on your spouse's face. On your kid's face. How will you feel? See and feel and hear all this and more, in detail. Hear what they would say and how they would say it.

Let yourself become absorbed in the vision.

Doing this regularly has tremendous consequences. First of all, it will put you in a good mood more often. When you have a clear goal, when you know what you want and are working toward it, your mood will rise.

One of the most powerful consequence of envisioning your goals is the way it changes your interpretations of ordinary events. You will find yourself naturally — without trying — reframing the events of your life in a more constructive way. For example, after envisioning my goal of a million subscribers, the next day if a reader writes to me and says, "I'm unsubscribing because your articles are too long," how do I take that?

Normally I might feel bad, at least a little. But with a clear, tangible, envisioned goal, this same comment doesn't bring me down. Instead, it makes me think, "I should look into this because if this is a common opinion, I could get more subscribers by keeping my articles short."

See what happened? My clearly envisioned goal caused me to automatically reframe the criticism in a constructive way.

You'll find this happening a lot. Annoyances or upsetting events are transformed into the perfect lessons to help you get where you want to go.

The most noticeable consequence of regularly envisioning your goals is the way it changes how you think about your goal and how you can make it happen. Solutions and ideas pop into your mind spontaneously. Something about getting a clear mental picture of your goal stimulates your creative powers.

It feels like reverse engineering. When I imagine my goals, it gets me to think about how it happened. What led to the accomplishment? I'm looking back from the future, and I can see things I need to be doing now for that to happen. It's a very natural process, but produces surprising insights and great ideas. I have often thought, "Why didn't I think of that before?" Something about envisioning the goal changes the way you see the space between then and now.

You already set goals. You already work toward them. Now add one more thing: Envision your goals clearly and in detail. It will lead to more accomplishment and better moods. I can see it now. Can you?

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.


Make Every Day Thanksgiving

When you notice and appreciate good things about other people, it improves your mood and the moods of the people around you, whether you're at home or at work. You get to live in a more pleasant environment.

You know that already. But it's hard to remember, isn't it? So try this trick:

At the beginning of your day, or even right now, put five pennies in your left pocket. Now try to find something nice to say about someone (something you actually think is true), either to their face or behind their back, and every time you do, move one penny to your right pocket. Try to move all five today.

You may be surprised at the extended consequences of this simple action.

Read more

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot


How To Feel Strong And Happy

>> Saturday

Being alive entails some degree of suffering in one form or another. I'm sure you know that already. If your suffering is pointless, it is just suffering. But if your suffering has some meaning, you'll be able to tolerate it much better, and if it has enough meaning, you can even find happiness while suffering.

Viktor Frankl (author of Man's Search for Meaning) discovered this powerful insight into the human condition while he was in one of Hitler's concentration camps:

You will feel strong and happy to the degree you feel your actions have some meaning.

How would this work in your life? What can you do with this insight? I have an experiment I'd like you to try. First, choose something you're unhappy about. Just one thing.

Now ask yourself, "Can my suffering serve some meaningful purpose?"

It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or what they might think about it. What matters is that your life and your struggles have meaning to you. Does your suffering serve some greater end? Is it the price you must pay for some important purpose?

Don't come up with an answer right away. Ponder it, like a Zen koan, for days or even weeks. But then come back and leave your answer here on the comments. If you find a good answer, it will shift the way you feel about your own suffering.

I'll give you a personal example. Sometimes progress on my goals seems way too slow. It has been frustrating, and sometimes I've felt discouraged and defeated by the obstacles. But I've found meaning and purpose in those struggles. I have learned much more about determination how to restore it, how to strengthen it than I ever would have otherwise, and since I'm a writer, many people have benefited from what I've learned.

I really love to learn, and I want to make a difference, so this means a lot to me. It is meaningful. As soon as I looked at my setbacks and frustrations with this new understanding, they stopped making me so miserable. The very thing making me suffer turned out to be a gift.

That's a powerful shift in perception. That's how to feel strong and happy, no matter what's happening. This principle worked for men suffering horribly in concentration camps, it worked for my comparatively minor sufferings about my goals, and it will work for your sufferings too if you'll give it a chance.

Take your time and ponder the question. Is there some meaning or purpose to your suffering?

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


A Surefire Way To Raise Your Mood

>> Tuesday

Focus on raising the moods of others. This does two things simultaneously that really help. When you focus on raising the moods of others, you take your attention off yourself. When you're less focused on yourself, you usually feel better. And second, helping another gives you a helper's high, which feels good and is good for your health.

But what can you do? How can you raise others' moods? Here are a few simple things that will almost always work:

1. Simply show you are glad to see them. When you greet someone you work with or live with, it can be a fairly routine affair. But if you would make an effort to show — on your face, with your voice, and in your body language — that you are glad to see someone, it will almost always raise her mood.

2. Give a genuine compliment. This may seem like a common one, but you can make it much better by trying to compliment something that is not obvious. If you're complimenting something that is easily apparent, no doubt the person has been complimented on it many times already, so your compliment won't do much to raise his mood. Look harder and find something unique to compliment. Make sure you compliment something you genuinely like. Take a little time to think of something good.

3. Demonstrate your interest in the person. You may like someone, or even love her, and yet not show much interest in her life. Ask questions; listen; then ask more questions. Don't offer anything about yourself for the moment. It is elevating for most people to experience someone genuinely interested in the events of their lives.

4. Do the person a favor. You can do a premeditated action like baking cookies for someone, but even more important is to be on the lookout for spontaneous opportunities to do favors for people. Actions speak louder than words, and having someone volunteer to do you a favor is a strong moodraiser.

You want a surefire way to raise your mood? Raise someone else's. It works every time.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.


Good News You Probably Haven't Heard

>> Saturday

The following is an excerpt from an article by Nicholas Kristof, originally published in the New York Times:

Students in Harper, Liberia.
We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:
• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Read the whole article here: The Most Important Thing, and It's Almost a Secret.


Confession and Repentance

>> Tuesday

The two oldest known self-help techniques in the world are confession and repentance. Before you can change, you must be able to admit (at least to yourself) what you're doing that isn't good. Before you can be honest with another, you have to at least admit the truth to yourself. Or to someone you trust. That's confession.

Repentance means a change of heart. Up until now you've been doing whatever you've been doing and justifying it or excusing it in some way. Repentance is no longer making excuses. It means admitting you no longer want to live that way. Repentance is a change in values. It means something else is now more important to you than the rewards you got from the old way.

After confession and repentance, you're in a position to honestly change your life.

This is not a superficial technique. If you're ready to change something that has not yielded before to more casual attempts, take the time and speak to yourself or someone you trust with complete candor. What are your flaws? What character defect is keeping your life stuck and causing problems? That's confession.

And what values do you have that keep that character defect in place? Are they really what you value most? Think about it. Answer truthfully. What do you value more? That's repentance. Ask these questions of yourself. Take the time and be honest.

This method can not only solve your difficult problem, it can simultaneously solve many others as a side effect. It can also lead to a wonderful feeling of aliveness.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Altruism Truism

>> Monday

In an article entitled If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural, the author says we've got it all wrong. Being kind or generous or altruistic isn't something painful or difficult or something that requires you to force yourself to be unselfish. We've gotten the wrong impression because our parents made us share our toys and religions tell us to love our enemies.

Being kind and generous and altruistic is natural and pleasurable, and the effort people have spent persuading us to be good to others has turned something enjoyable into a chore.

You don't have to be stuck with that point of view, however. What you can do instead is focus on the rewards, the pleasure, the happiness, and the good feelings that your acts of kindness can give you. In other words, you can look at opportunities to be generous or giving or altruistic as moments of happiness you could be enjoying. You can stop looking at them as something you "should" do.

People are basically good. I know there are sociopaths in the world, and they may not be good in any sense of the word. But normal, healthy people, however they may be behaving at the moment, have within them a built-in reward system that gives them pleasure when they perform acts of kindness, random or otherwise, for their fellow humans (or other animals).

How can this help you raise your mood? Simple. If you've been thinking you "should" be kind to others, and you make yourself do it (or feel guilty for not doing it) you can give all that up. Change the way you think about it. Remind yourself that kindness toward others is a source of happiness for you. You don't have to do it. You "shouldn't" do it. But if you want to feel good, you'll definitely want to do it.

This change in your perspective will make your acts of kindness more enjoyable for you, and encourage you to do more, which will make you feel good more often. And oddly enough, the recipient of your kindness will be happier too. Think about it. Would you rather someone did something for you because they enjoyed it or because they felt they should?

Change your perspective about helping others, and everyone wins.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Good Moods Help You Lose Weight

>> Friday

Cortisol is known as "the stress hormone" because it's released in the bloodstream when you feel stressed. Cortisol raises your insulin level which makes you store fat, especially around your midsection (the least healthy place to store it).

Cortisol also stimulates your appetite, especially for sweet and starchy foods, which makes you take in more calories.

This is how stress and bad moods can contribute to weight gain. The antidote is to lower your stress level, and the most enjoyable way to lower stress is to raise your mood.

The more often you're in a good mood, the lower your daily cortisol level will be, and that will help you lose weight and stay slim.

Below are three quick and easy ways to raise your mood (each link goes to an article). Use these tools often:

1. Behave your way into a better mood.

2. Ask yourself one easy question.

3. Become less certain about something.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.


Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot

>> Thursday

Feeling motivated is an especially good mood. When you feel upbeat, energetic and fully alive because you're so motivated, it is one of the best moods you can experience.

Do you think motivation is either something you have or you don't? Did you know you can do things that will cultivate your own motivation? Find out how in my new book, Cultivating Fire.

While it's true that sometimes you are naturally motivated, especially immediately after deciding on a goal, it is also true that you can take actions that nourish and encourage a feeling of motivation — or you can let the feeling of motivation do what it naturally does most of the time: fade away.

Motivation is a tremendous power. A highly motivated person can accomplish seemingly impossible things. In this tiny book, you will learn how to stoke your inner fire — how to get and keep your motivation burning white hot. This not only makes you more capable of accomplishment, but it makes life more fun.

Would you like to see what you are really capable of? Intense motivation can unleash it.


What's the Best Predictor of a Second Heart Attack?

>> Friday

When I took the "signature strengths" questionnaire at, I received an update on Martin Seligman's work. I was impressed by the following astounding finding. It is an excerpt from Seligman's book, Flourish:

In the mid-1980s, 120 men from San Francisco had their first heart attacks, and they served as the untreated control group in the massive Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial. This study disappointed many psychologists and cardiologists by ultimately finding no effect on cardiovascular disease by training to change these men’s personalities from type A (aggressive, time urgent, and hostile) to type B (easygoing).

The 120 untreated control group, however, was of great interest to Gregory Buchanan, then a graduate student at Penn, and to me because so much was known about their first heart attacks: extent of damage to the heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass, and lifestyle — all the traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, the men were all interviewed about their lives: family, job, and hobbies. We took every single “because” statement from each of their videotaped interviews and coded it for optimism and pessimism (determining their explanatory style).

Within eight and a half years, half the men had died of a second heart attack, and we opened the sealed envelope. Could we predict who would have a second heart attack? None of the usual risk factors predicted death — not blood pressure, not cholesterol, not even how extensive the damage from the first heart attack. Only optimism, eight and a half years earlier, predicted a second heart attack: Of the sixteen most pessimistic men, fifteen died; of the sixteen most optimistic men, only five died.

This finding has been repeatedly confirmed in larger studies of cardiovascular disease, using varied measures of optimism.

There are two important things to know about this study. First, the definitions of "optimism" and "pessimism" are very carefully defined. It has to do with "explanatory style" — that is, how you habitually explain events to yourself. Read more about that here.

And second, optimism can be learned, and it doesn't take very long (here's how). An improved explanatory style not only helps your health, it makes you feel better. It improves your mood.

Find out what your explanatory style is (so you can concentrate your efforts at fixing any specific weakness) by clicking here. Look in Questionnaires near the top of the page for "Optimism Test" and take the questionnaire. And then begin using this technique to plug the hole(s) in your bucket. It will benefit you for the rest of your life (which may be a long one).

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


What Goes In

>> Wednesday

Tryptophan is an amino acid (a kind of protein) your brain uses to make serotonin, and in experiments, more tryptophan in the blood causes more serotonin in the brain. What does it matter? Well, if you don't have enough serotonin, it can make you depressed and irritable. This is especially important for women ("Women have much less serotonin in their brains than men," says this article from MIT).

Almost all good sources of protein have many different amino acids, including tryptophan, so it shouldn't be a problem to get enough tryptophan, right? Unfortunately, the other amino acids compete with tryptophan to get into the brain.

But if you eat some carbohydrates with your protein, the insulin your body releases in response to carbohydrates takes the competing proteins out of your bloodstream, which allows more tryptophan to get into your brain.

If you eat meals containing nothing but protein, your serotonin level will be low (too much competition so not much tryptophan can get into your brain). If you eat nothing but carbs, you won't have any tryptophan (it's a protein), so your serotonin level will be low. If you drink a sugary beverage, you have put calories into your body and missed an opportunity to make serotonin. If you eat a fruit snack and nothing else, you missed another opportunity. But if you always mix protein and carbs together in every meal, you will get the maximum tryptophan into your brain, so you'll have enough serotonin, and that will help you feel good.

A nice side-effect is that a higher serotonin level suppresses your appetite. A low serotonin level makes people crave carbohydrates. Isn't that interesting? This means if you eat nothing but protein, you will crave carbs. But if you eat only carbs you will still crave carbs because you're actually craving the tryptophan you need to raise your serotonin. It's as if your body assumes the protein will be there, so it only craves carbs. But carbs won't do it. Mix some good quality protein in there (and good quality carbs too while you're at it) and you have the best chance of being slim and happy.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot


Complimenting Others Makes YOU Feel Good

>> Saturday

Study after study has shown that the most consistent source of good moods is hanging out with other people. Today I have a little tip that will help make your moments with other people even more enjoyable.

The idea is simple: Keep your eye out for something you really like about the person you're talking to, and say it. I know this isn't earth-shattering advice, but it is something we all need to be reminded of because if we don't make any effort to do otherwise, the natural orientation of our minds is noticing what's wrong.

The human brain has a negative bias. You can read all about that here. Because of that, you have to deliberately try to notice what you like or your attention will be dominated by your own brain's negative bias. This effort is completely worth it, however, because it will boost your mood and the other person's mood as well.

So today, try an experiment. Give five good compliments before this day is done. Make sure what you say is true and specific. Phony flattery is unnecessary. If you look, you will find plenty you can honestly acknowledge. And be specific about what you like because then the person can't reject your compliment. If you say, "You're really nice," they might think of all the times they weren't nice, and reject your compliment in their minds. But you could be more specific: "You were very kind to that old woman. I like that about you." This honest, specific statement is much harder to reject, which means it can penetrate their heart and make you both feel good.

One bonus side-effect of your effort is that you will keep your attention on more pleasant things while you're looking for what you like. It's a great way to raise your mood.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


How to Feel Better by Doing Nothing

>> Thursday

To be in a good mood more often, cultivating calmness really helps. Read more about that here. And one way to cultivate more calmness is to spend some time doing nothing. At least that's what it looks like from the outside — it looks like you're just sitting there, or just taking a walk but not really walking anywhere in particular and not walking fast enough to make it exercise. There are several things you can do while doing "nothing" however:

  1. Free thought (letting the mind think whatever it wants to think)
  2. Take deep breaths
  3. Think about a specific thing
  4. Meditate
  5. Relax tense muscles
  6. Pray
These are all helpful activities in the cultivation of serenity, although they do not look like "activities" to an outside observer.

Doing nothing at all, without trying to do any of the activities above, results in free thought — your mind will simply wander where it will. We need more of that. Almost everyone is experiencing a chronic shortage of nothing.

Do you want to know how to feel better? Spend some time doing nothing. Your mind will wander and you'll think things through, and this will raise your mood.

You and I have lots of things we have put off thinking about because we've been too busy working and talking and learning and watching and listening and reading. So these un-thought-about things accumulate and create a kind of tension. When you stop doing anything, your mind automatically starts thinking about those things, sorting them out, coming up with solutions, and the tension drains away.

If your mind does not do this — if when you do nothing, your mind obsesses about worries you can do nothing about — read this.

But the point is that almost everyone needs to spend more of their time doing nothing. Not watching TV or playing video games: Those are doing something. Doing nothing looks like you're just sitting there. Or just walking (not listening to anything, not talking to anyone).

One of the things you had as a child (that you don't have now) was occasional periods of time when you did nothing at all. If you were to spend more time now doing nothing, you would regain some of your childhood serenity.

On your next day off, deliberately set aside a three-hour period to do nothing. Or eight hours. Or the whole day. No email, no chores, no planning, no reading, no watching television, no conversation, no nothing. Just sit still or go for a walk, or both, ideally in a place with few or no distractions.

Try it and notice you feel calmer and happier afterward, sometimes for many days. Do this every few weeks, and the general tone of your life will rise. This is a simple and inexpensive way to improve your mood: Feel better by taking the time to do nothing.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Solving Problems Like an Artist of Life

>> Monday

Imagine you live in an apartment, and just when you're going to sleep every night, the neighbor's infant is on the other side of your bedroom wall in the apartment next door, crying her heart out.

You can't sleep because you can hear the poor baby crying so loudly. Studies show one of the most upsetting sounds to most people is a crying baby. The baby is beside herself with anguish, wailing loudly in her loneliness night after night.

Imagine yourself in this situation. What would you do? Complain to the parents? Talk to the manager? Contemplate moving to another apartment building? Bang on the wall? Get earplugs?

A woman in this situation came up with a creative and actually fulfilling solution to this problem. She figured that since she could hear the baby so clearly, the baby would be able to hear her too. So she sang the child to sleep.

Isn't that beautiful? What a humane, creative, compassionate, and even satisfying solution!

Now think about a problem you have. Think of a problem that really has you pulling your hair out. And try to think of a solution that will not only solve it but creatively and compassionately fulfill you at the same time.

Can't think of a solution like that? Of course you can't! Good ideas usually take longer than three seconds to come up with.

In your spare time while driving and showering and doing the dishes, go over the problem in your mind, and don't just try to "solve the problem." Don't just try to figure out a way to make it go away. Come up with a creative, compassionate, and even fulfilling solution.

If you're in a hurry, use more than your spare time. Do some concentrated thinking on a constitutional or sitting still once or twice a day.

It may take you days or even weeks to think of one. But when you do, wow! You are on your way to becoming a true artist of life.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.


Thinking About Your Own Death

>> Wednesday

If you ever feel distressed thinking about your own mortality, you may be able to ease your troubled mind by taking Tylenol. Strange but true. In a recent study, researchers at the University of British Columbia first got people thinking about their own eventual death. Those who were given a Tylenol before the start of the experiment felt much less disturbed than those who were given a placebo.

Daniel Randles, the author of the study, said, "We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress."

I personally feel I benefit from occasionally pondering my own impermanence. But if it ever seems too much to deal with, we can always ease our minds with a couple of Tylenol. And if you have a friend dealing with this difficult psychological issue, here's something you can offer that might help.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Rudy's Question

>> Friday

Asking questions of yourself is the best way to direct your mind, as I've said elsewhere. The last time I watched the movie Rudy (for probably the 12th time), I grasped anew the power of questions. That was the first time I ever noticed Rudy's question in the movie. Twice in the movie, while he is trying to achieve a goal others view as impossible, Rudy asks of his mentor, "Have I done all I can?"

The thing that most impresses me with this true story is how absolutely focused on his goal Rudy stays, no matter what setbacks he runs into. He is committed. He is so committed it is inspiring. I said aloud to the two people watching with me, "What would happen if we were as committed to our goals as he is to his?"

Afterwards, I was thinking about it and I realized asking Rudy's question would do it. If we asked that question of ourselves several times a day, our behavior would look to others as if we were impressively and inspiringly committed to our goal.

I've been asking Rudy's question, and it has changed me. The question makes me more committed and more motivated.

This question calls to mind more than just work, because there is always more work you can do. But have you set your goal? Have you written it down? Have you envisioned it clearly and repeatedly? Have you communicated your goal to people who can help you? Have you put out all the effort you can? Have you maintained a great attitude while working toward your goal? Are you been getting enough sleep and eating right and exercising? Have you done all you can to accomplish your goal?

Let Rudy's question provoke you and motivate you every day. Use it to raise your mood. One of the most reliable ways to stay in a great mood is to live in a continuous state of purposefulness and accomplishment. Rudy's question can get you there.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot


Rat Race: The Movie

>> Saturday

The little 46-second video below illustrates perfectly one of the chapters of Self-Help Stuff That Works called We've Been Duped. It represents the human tendency to become greedy, to want more than we have, and to feel unhappy about what we "lack."

What do you think you lack? What do you feel would make you happy if you attained it? Do you sometimes feel you're pushing yourself mindlessly toward your goal, like a frantic rat in a race for the cheese, never really satisfied no matter what you accomplish?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not into navel-gazing. I think it's important to have goals. A person with a goal can be much happier than a person with no goals. But pursuing goals can also make you miserable. It all depends on how you do it.

For a goal to improve your mood, it needs to be something you want rather than something you feel you should do. And you need to refresh your desire for the goal periodically. Since goals take awhile to achieve, it is easy for your clear and sincere desire for the goal to deteriorate into a dead feeling of urgently going through the motions but never getting there, and of always looking to some future attainment to make you happy.

It is completely natural to start out feeling enthusiastic about a new goal but then over time find yourself postponing your happiness in the present and in a sense, trading it for the promise of a happy time in the future. It is natural to make yourself miserable to be happy.

How can you avoid getting caught in the rat race? The first and most important thing you can do is catch yourself losing your happiness, and then reminding yourself you don't need much to be happy. (Read more about that here.)

You'll have to remind yourself again and again throughout your life. Many times in your life you will "come to." You'll wake up and realize you've been "running on automatic," just going through the motions, driving yourself to accomplish one thing after another all day long, feeling you "must" do all those things, without ever even thinking or remembering that a long time ago you actually wanted to. You don't feel alive any more.

When you notice you don't feel alive, remind yourself you don't have to achieve any particular goal to be happy. You can even give up on the goal if you like. You don't have to accomplish it. (Read more about that here.) These are things you have to remind yourself of, because although you might know this right now, you will forget. You might even forget by tomorrow, and feel unhappy.

Another great way to prevent yourself from the misery of your own built-in (and perfectly natural) greediness is to use the comparison principle. Change what you're comparing your own life to.

If you keep comparing your situation to something better, you'll be unsatisfied and driven to run the rat race until you drop. If you compare your situation to something worse, it makes you feel better, puts you in a better mood, relaxes you, and makes you feel more content.

You can re-compare your life to anything you want any time you want, and it will always change the way you feel. The comparison technique will never wear out.

Anyway, ponder these imponderables while you watch the video: Rat Race.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


Self-Generated Ecstasy

>> Monday

Nia is a way of exercising that combines movements from three healing arts (like yoga), three martial arts (like Aikido), and three forms of dance (like jazz dance). The music and movements are unique, and the end result is deep fun. Here's a ten minute video about it:

Nia Video

The important thing for our mood-raising purposes here is that this is a pleasure-based exercise. It generates pleasure during the exercise, as well as having the normal improved mood for a day or two afterwards. It is more moodraising than normal exercise, partly because of the psychological impact of the movements, and partly because of the unusual amount of motion variety.

Most adults suffer from motion variety deprivation. The range of motion and the variety of motions we normally use throughout the day is unnaturally limited. Even doing normal exercise, like a treadmill or indoor bike, is a limited, repetitive movement.

Over time, a lack of motion variety produces pain in the body (read more about this concept in the book, Pain Free). One hour of Nia will give you more motion variety than you've probably had in a year! I'm serious.

You can learn Nia at home, or you can take a local class. Given how few people know about Nia, it is surprising how ubiquitous the classes are. There are probably Nia classes near where you live. If not, or if you'd rather dance in the privacy of your home, here are some Nia DVDs:

The Nia Technique: Global Unity
Nia Unplugged
Nia Opal

You can find Nia classes in your area with the Nia Finder.

Adam Khan is the author of See Her Smile and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.


A Day of Ease

>> Saturday

In the old days, people used to have "nervous breakdowns." For awhile, they were out of commission. They couldn't function at their jobs or in their relationships. Back then the remedy was simply rest, quiet, and relaxation. They took a break from work, from chores, even from normal human relationships.

They just laid around and sometimes got up to eat or to go sit outside and listen to the birds chirping.

Imagine what it would be like to do that, and how slowly and leisurely you would move when you walked down the hall to get some food. You would have all the time in the world. There would be no need or desire to move at anything over half-speed, like you had completely stepped out of the rat race and none of it meant anything to you any more.

The assignment I have for you, in our quest to raise our moods, is to spend one of your next days off moving like a person who had a nervous breakdown back in the 1950s. And do this for a whole day.

Move slowly. Try not to be efficient about anything. Flagrantly waste time. Deliberately be as unhurried as you possibly can.

Watch very little or no TV that day. Television programs and advertisements make you mentally move quickly. And don't get on your computer. But if you want to do something physical, like mow the lawn or do the dishes, go right ahead, but only if you're doing it just to have something to do. Do not do it to "be productive," or because you feel you should. Don't do anything that day you feel you "should" do.

Let's call this exercise "a Day of Ease." The experience is so restorative, so peaceful, and so elevating, I think you'll be pleasantly astonished. The process is also illuminating.

Why? Because our perpetual efficiency is driven by a kind of greed — trying to cram as much in as we can — but perpetual greed wears on you and brings you down. The never-waste-a-moment mentality has become a deeply-ingrained habit of more more more — and it is so universal, most of the time we don't even notice that's the state we're living our lives in.

The Day of Ease exercise is a break from the pressure of this grinding greed. You've got to try it! Believe it or not, it's kind of hard to do. You'll keep forgetting. You'll find yourself walking quickly or being efficient with your time. This driven hurry is compulsive, and to that degree it is unhealthy.

When you are deliberate in an area you're normally compulsive, you have an opening to gain some freedom. You have choice. Like eating after fasting, you'll find you have a much better appreciation of what you're doing after taking a break from it.

You don't need a nervous breakdown to get a Day of Ease. Those days are over. In the 21st century you can relax just because it's healthy.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.


The Quickest Way To Feel Better

>> Wednesday

Sometimes we need reminding more than we need new information. The method I'm about to tell you is something you already know. But I'll bet you don't use it nearly as often as you could. It works almost every time and it only takes a few seconds. You don't even have to stop what you're doing.

The method is to take a deep breath. If you're tense, it will help you relax and feel better. If you're angry it will help you calm down and feel better. If you already feel fine, a deep breath will make you feel better too.

Here's something you might not know about deep breaths: When you get tense, you tend to take more shallow breaths, and your breathing tends to be higher in the chest. And that kind of breathing tends to make you feel more tense, so it can become a vicious cycle.

Of course, the cycle can be broken any time by deliberately taking slower, deeper breaths, and bringing that air down lower toward your abdomen. Your abdomen should move out when you take a deep breath. This helps bring new oxygen into the lower parts of your lungs. It will make you feel better, and it's better for your health too.

Try to remember this simple practice. Do it often. It makes you feel better almost every time, you have it with you wherever you need it, and it will never wear out. While we're thinking about it, why not take a deep breath right now?

More on deep breaths:

Deep Breathing is Good For Your Health

Using Your Muscles to Relax

Beyond Deep Breaths: Slow Your Body And Mind Quickly

Adam Khan is the author of See Her Smile and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.


What Is Bringing You Down Right Now?

>> Saturday

Think of something bringing you down today. Just pick one thing interfering with you being in a great mood right now. If you're feeling great today, think of something that put you in a bad mood several times in the past.

Just pick one thing. Do this now... You have time (this is a short article).

Okay, now see if you can think of one thing you believe about it. What do you think is true about it?

Now ask yourself throughout the day today, "Am I SURE that's true?"

For example, John has a pain in his knee and it is bringing him down today. He believes it's a sign he's getting old. So he spends the day asking himself, "Am I SURE it is a sign I'm getting old?"

Try this today. It's a simple technique. You can do it while doing other things, so it doesn't need to take much of your time.

It is possible asking yourself if you're SURE it's true will make you feel uncertain about your belief. This is a good thing. The uncertainty will make you feel better. You might be surprised by that, but part of what's bringing you down is a negative assumption you're making, and when you put that assumption into question, the depressing effect of the assumption is eased and lightened, so you feel better.

Even if you think you're sure about your assumption to begin with, keep wondering, "Am I really sure that's true?"

Just wonder. Don't try to think positive. Don't try to make yourself believe something. Just wonder about it in a curious, interested way. I think you'll be surprised at how effective this very gentle technique is at improving your mood.

Learn more about this technique: Antivirus For Your Mind


Doing Less More Often Gets More Done

Making progress is good for your mood. In the following article, Klassy Evans, the editor of Self-Help Stuff That Works, explains a way of thinking that can help you make progress:

I USED TO NEGLECT my fingernails. I would garden and fix and repair things and move boxes of books for our business, and all these activities damaged my nails. But I ignored it. My nails got fairly well mangled. Then I tried to make up for lost time by giving too hard of an effort, which left and my cuticles red, and made ridges on my nails.

It was like I was angry at them. I attacked them. I pushed them back too hard in my impatience and they tore a tiny bit. Or I pulled off little pieces of dried skin and sometimes it took a piece of good skin with it, so I got little red hangnails. In other words, when they finally looked so bad I just had to give myself a manicure, I overdid it. I tried to fix the damage from my own neglect. But not in a gentle way.

I lived my life that way, too.

One morning I was looking at my nails, and I thought about something my dear friend, Bonnie, had told me. She'd always had beautiful cuticles. One day I asked her how she did it. She said she didn’t do anything. They just grew that way. Her nails are smooth. Her cuticles soft and even. Hmmmm. When I let my nails go, they don’t look like that, so I pressed her a bit more. Then she said, "I really don't do anything to my nails except gently push the cuticles back." I think the key word here is gentle.

Another woman I know (she’s a manicurist) told me the best cuticles she sees are on women who push back their cuticles when they’re done with the dishes.

So, I got my fingertips wet. Then I got out an old soft cotton napkin and very gently cleaned my nails, just a little bit. It was so gentle it seemed like I was being a pansy. But it worked pretty well. They looked surprisingly better when I was done.

Gentle action had gotten less done, but it was a pleasant process and I had obviously done nothing to harm them.

It felt odd to baby myself like that. It felt sort of silly. I’m used to the more masculine approach to life I got from my dad: Do what needs to be done and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it. I’ve been “getting my nails done” like a battle. But I learned to take care of my nails more like a farmer caring for the land.

Battles are often necessary, but they're temporary and harsh. It's not a good way to take care of a body that seems to need daily care. My cuticles and nails are much better off when I do a tiny bit of gentle care each day rather than an intense hour of care to make up for the week or two of neglect.

To accomplish things, both kinds of action are necessary. I think traditionally, men tend to accomplish great things with intense effort; women tend to accomplish great things with constant, gentle pressure. You can’t raise a child or raise a crop by infrequent, intense efforts, just like you can’t work out only one day a week. The body needs to move, but an all-out effort for six hours on a Saturday won't work. Your body wants daily exertion. It wants — and needs — regular movement.

I had taken on my dad's attitude. He was kind of proud of how much he could take. My neglected nails were a way of saying: "See how busy I am, how hard I’m working? I’m not some silly girlie-girl, always worrying about her nails."

This is true for me in so many ways. Is it true for you too? Are you too tough with yourself? Too harsh? Awhile ago I was thinking that I often try to take on too much because I know I’m capable of doing that much, even though I may not be up to it at the moment. This is like going to the gym to lift weights and knowing I’m capable of doing sixty pounds on some machine, but right now I can only do about 30. The way to build a muscle is often trying to do a bit more than you feel you can, but sometimes it's not a good idea to force yourself to do 60, even though the body has done it in the past or could do it in the future. It's best to do what I can do. Even if that seems really “light weight.”

This "male" take on life — that you must give it your all — has its place. But it also causes unnecessary harm if applied to things that grow (like children, crops, muscles, and even habits). Gentle, steady, regular efforts are not weak. A small plant can break through a concrete driveway just by gently pressing upward day after day after day, a little on a little.

This lesson is universal. Would you have more power in your life — and less pain and damage — if you were a little less harsh and forceful with yourself and more gentle?

By doing less more often, would you accomplish more? What if you did what little you can every day you can? What if you didn't worry about how hard you worked out, but focused instead on how regularly you worked out?

It's worth a look. Doing less more often can get more done.



"Frequently, success is what people settle for when they can't think of something noble enough to be worth failing at."

- Laurence Shames


Constructive Purposes Are The Key To Good Moods

>> Friday

"Morita therapists emphasize that it is important to find suitable constructive purposes and hold to them, thus guiding behavior in a positive direction. The other side of that coin is that all behavior, positive or negative, is purposeful. Whatever you do there is an aim to it, a goal toward which the behavior is directed. The goal may be destructive or constructive or mixed. For example, the shy person may avoid social gatherings in order to prevent the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that he feels in such situations. In a sense Morita guidance asks the client to select constructive purposes and positive ways of achieving them instead of the already purposeful, but destructive behavior. Finding the purpose behind destructive behavior can be a useful undertaking because sometimes the original purpose can also be fulfilled in a positive way."

- David Reynolds
founder of Constructive Living
leading Western authority on Morita and
Naikan therapies, the two most popular
forms of therapy in Japan


The Impact of Purpose on Your Mood

>> Monday

When Albert Einstein turned seventy, he retired. He figured he'd reached his goals, he assumed he'd expended his usefulness to the world, and he retired. He didn't set any new goals. He was thinking it was time to relax and rest after a long and productive life.

But what happened to Einstein after he retired is the same thing that happens to anyone who loses his sense of purpose. Einstein became depressed and listless. He stopped taking his dog for walks. He lost his energy. He was no longer looking forward to getting up in the morning.

A sense of purpose has a huge impact on your everyday mood.

After he'd had enough of this, Einstein decided he might still have something to contribute to the world. He decided to do two things:

1. develop a plan to control the destructive use of atomic power
2. to discover peacetime uses for atomic power

He came alive! The luster was back. He took his dog for walks again. Why? Because he had a sense of purpose.

And as a result of his decisions and his efforts to make those goals a reality, medical and electrical uses for atomic power were found. He gave speeches and helped stir up interest in a worldwide police force that eventually culminated in the founding of the United Nations.

Mind you, this was all accomplished after the age of seventy, after he had decided he had nothing else to accomplish. "Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind," wrote Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, "as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye."

It is physically and psychologically healthy for a human being to have a strong sense of purpose. The state of mind you have when you're absorbed in the accomplishment of a purpose is called "flow," which is an engaged, pleasant state of focus.

Those who have learned to develop a sense of purpose and who have learned to become engrossed in the achievement of purposes are the most likely to be happy and healthy. This has been shown in scientific studies and you've seen it in your everyday observations.

Happy people are purposeful people because the most reliable self-created source of happiness is taking action along a strongly-held purpose.

Flow has been the subject of quite a bit of research. For example, swimmers who experienced flow while training made the most progress by the end of the training. In other words, experiencing frequent flow allowed them to develop their abilities faster.

Another study accentuated those findings. It found that of all the things that influence how successful someone becomes in their sport or skill — in whatever field — the most influential factor was how much flow they experienced while doing it. In other words, the amount of absorption they had was the best predictor of who would develop their talent the most.

A sense of purpose brings out the best in people. In his book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys, Michael Collins wrote about the enthusiasm of the people in the Apollo space program in 1964. "…the goal was clearly and starkly defined," wrote Collins. "Had not President Kennedy said before the end of the decade?"

They had a clear goal that the people at NASA were excited about. The moon! The impossible goal! The goal they said could never be done! People showed up early, worked hard, and stayed late.

As Collins put it, "People knew that each day was one day closer to putting man on the moon…"

This is the electrifying power of a strong sense of purpose. You want to get into a good mood? Get a strong sense of purpose.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the principle researchers into flow, says we usually see work as a necessary evil, and we feel leisure is what we want: time on our hands. Free time. Time with nothing to do. We long for it. And yet, he says, "free time is more difficult to enjoy than work."

Or as Jerome K. Jerome put it, "It is impossible to enjoy idling unless there is plenty of work to do."

Work provides clear goals more often than leisure and a clear goal is the first and most important requirement of flow.

If you want to experience flow, you must have a purpose. Work provides a purpose. It provides something to become absorbed in, so it provides opportunities for flow.

To get flow from leisure, you have to provide the purpose. Many people don't know that, which means many people don't get much enjoyment from their coveted leisure; it isn't satisfying like they wish it would be. Some even suffer during leisure.

Sandor Ferenczi, a psychoanalyst in the early 1900's discovered that anxiety and depression occurred more often on Sundays than any other day of the week. Since that time, many observers have noticed that vacations and retirement also tend to produce anxiety and depression, just as they apparently did for Einstein.

When we're not on the job — when we're not given a clear purpose — many of us are feel adrift and don't know what's missing. Clearly, a large percentage of people don't have a strong sense of purpose for their off hours, and it's a shame. Purpose is king.

A purpose to sink your teeth into gives your mind a healthy, productive focus and prevents it from drifting into negativity. Without goals, wrote Csikszentmihalyi, "the mind begins to wander, and more often than not it will focus on unresolvable problems that cause anxiety."

But you can avoid that and send your mood into a new stratosphere with a clear goal and a strong sense of purpose.

Read more about the impact of purpose on your mood.

Find out what you can do if you hit setbacks on the way to your goal and it brings you down.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.



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