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Curious Reflections for the New Year

“I have 8000 questions,” I said to an old friend who I hadn’t seen in quite some time. “Shoot,” he replied. 

After countless hours and at least that many questions volleyed back and forth, many of them hard, tangential, deep, personal, whimsical, or out of left field, I felt as though we had both grown, in our understanding of each other as well as ourselves.

And I am reminded of two things that I think are incredibly relevant as New Year 2022 comes to head:  the importance of curiosity and the reflection questions we ask.

The Importance of Curiosity

There are different types of curiosity, but the one I want to focus on can be defined as an interest in learning, and I believe it’s a bit of a psychological superpower. It’s a great antidote to boredom. When you can harness curiosity In the face of the mundane, you may find that it’s not so dull after all. Think of children who are in awe of the smallest things. Their years have not led them to take things for granted or stifled their curiosity. Moreover. when we can tap into that curiosity and actively quest for knowledge, we activate the reward center of our brains. Those dopamine hits feel good and are naturally reinforcing for us.

Beyond the nueurochemicals, though, curiosity is an incredibly helpful stance to approach the world form. If we get curious about our own inner workings, we are going to learn more about how we tick and have a more accepting view of our idiosyncrasies. When we approach others with curiosity, we shed assumptions that might lead to miscommunication. We can let go of judgments, instead being open and, again, accepting, strengthening our bonds and collaborations.

Similarly, curiosity aids in acceptance of difficult circumstances. I’m not saying that it will turn an unpleasant situation into a desirable one, but it does change how we experience it. When we try to learn everything we can about the circumstances, it makes them easier to tolerate and cuts down on a lot of the extra mental baggage that increases our suffering. In sum, I believe that curiosity is a key to openness, acceptance, and a more rewarding life experience.

 

The Importance of the Questions We Ask

The questions we ask (or are asked) matter more than you may realize. The question itself shapes our responses. It’s not all about asking how well we have set goals and reached them. It’s all about reflecting on who we have become as people. The what and how it is asked directs our mind down a certain path of thinking. It influences what we notice and remember.

For example, a study way back in the 60’s involved tracking the eye movements of participants while they looked at a painting. The results distinctly showed that the question asked influenced the participants’ eye movements. That is, they honed in only on the parts of the painting relevant to answering the specific question they had been asked. Who knows what details they overlooked because their brains deemed them “not relevant for the task at hand [answering the question]”?

Coming from a different angle, there are tons of studies that show that questions influence the memories of eye witness testimony…sometimes quite dramatically. People recall events that didn’t actually happen or forget about important aspects until they’re asked point blank. 

Within my own arena, providing therapy, I’m keenly aware that the questions I ask shape the conversations we have. The questions are like directions, pointing us down one path or another, with some paths leading to nothing while others lead to break throughs. While I may be over-reaching a bit, I take all of this together to mean that the quality of questions we ask ourselves and others is critical.

 

End of the Year Reflections

As this year winds down, let’s take some time to reflect so that we can move forward with our eyes open, motivation high, and direction clearly illuminated. I encourage you to approach your reflections with an air of curiosity and to ask different questions. Rather than the common ‘How was this year?’ “What did I like or not like?” “What went well and what didn’t?” “What do I want to keep and what do I want to change?”, consider some of these:

  • In what way(s) have I grown as a person?
  • Who and/or what helped me grow?
  • What were the hardest moments of the year? What did I learn about myself through overcoming those challenges?
  • What were some of my biggest victories? What were some of my small, easy to overlook victories? What do these victories tell me about myself?
  • What allowed me to be successful?
  • Where or how did I get to display my strengths? What did I notice about those experiences and how they felt for me?
  • Which people in my life left me better after our interactions? Which left me feeling drained?
  • What did I complain most about? How might I make a change to remove that complaint from next year
  • What do my experiences over the past year tell me about my needs? Did I prioritize making sure my needs were met? How might I meet them going forward?
  • Where am I stuck in a rut?
  • What am I most proud of? Least proud of
  • When was I happiest? The most inspired? The closest to my ideal version of me
  • What question have I been avoiding asking myself? What decision or change have I been avoiding making? Why am I avoiding?
“The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why, when and how!’ They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.” 
– Sylvia Earle
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Design Your Way Through 2022

I don’t know about you, but I am FIRED up for a new year. You might be hitting yet another wall in the face of omicron and winter weather, or maybe you’re yelling “Heck, yeah, let’s do this!” right alongside me. 

Either way, Life Design is where it’s at. Stay with me for a minute.

I first encountered the concept of Life Design years ago when I read The Four Hour Work Week. This book isn’t for everyone, but for me, it was a paradigm-shifter. I felt like Neo swallowing the red pill. I saw life in a new way, and there’s no going back.

That sounds dramatic…and it was for me. It made me question a lot of the assumptions I had about the way life works and the way live. I realized I don’t have to follow the traditional work 9-5-Monday-through-Friday-complain-about-how-busy-and-stressed-I-am-until-65-then-retire model if I don’t want to, and that opened up doors, which ultimately led to co-founding Peak Mind.

Since that paradigm-shifting moment, I’ve delved much deeper into the blossoming field of Life Design, and it’s so rich, so applicable, even if you do want to follow the traditional work/life model. Life Design takes the framework of design thinking and applies it to your life. When we add in a heavy dose of Psychology, what we’re left with is a powerful set of mindsets and tools for curating a life experience that really works for you.

As we begin a new year, I say we let go of the typical resolutions and, instead, resolve to be good Life Designers. Over the next few weeks here at Peak Mind we’re going to focus on all things Life Design. To set the stage, here are 5 key principles you’ll want to start considering.

Key Principles of Life Design 

1. YOU are at the center for your own life…and only you.

Sure, you have other people who are important to you, who depend on you, and who you affect. Ultimately, though, it’s YOUR life, and they all have their own lives. You are the main character, and they are supporting roles.

2. Radical responsibility

This means taking 100% responsibility for 100% of the situations you are in. It doesn’t mean you’re at fault, but it does mean that it’s up to you to decide how you want to move forward. Take ownership.

3. If to no one else, be completely honest with yourself.

While this sounds simple, it’s not easy. It can be difficult to admit to ourselves when something isn’t really working or when we’re not really taking responsibility in our lives. To make a change, though, we have to acknowledge how things actually are. We need to be brutally honest.

4. You are always choosing.

While we may not always get to choose the options in front of us, we are continually choosing which path to take. As Life Designers, we know that we make a choice, take a step, then iterate. We choose one small step at a time, experimenting and recalibrating each step of the way.

5. Your life is a finite gift.

Time is a non-renewable resource. We get a limited amount – and we don’t even know what that amount is – so it’s important not to squander it.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?” 
– Mary Oliver

Our next live virtual workshop, Design Your Work Life, is coming up on January 18. We’ll be focusing on how you can get more fulfillment out of your current work without having to change anything about your actual job. There’s a heavy Life Design component along with some great Psych stuff. You can get a single ticket here, save when you enroll in our workshop series for the year, or get it free when you enroll in Ascend. 

Be sure to register for the FREE Best Year of Your Life Summit if you haven’t already. You won’t want to miss this amazing opportunity to learn from the best minds out there.

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How to Change Your Most Difficult Habits

The new year is slowly creeping up on us, and after the year we’ve all had, wow can we use a fresh start! Just like every year, now is a good time to change habits and pivot your life in the direction you want it. 

New Years brings with it a number of predictable things: anticipation, excitement….and new years’ resolutions.

The most common new years’ resolutions tend to involve habit change. Eating better, not drinking as much, quitting smoking, exercise, you name it. Habit change is front and center to new years’ resolutions, and we’re here to help.

Habit change is one topic I’m personally passionate about because so much of our physical and mental behavior is driven by habits. Change your habits, change your life.

(Habit change is such an important topic to us that it’s a bonus module in the Ascend program!)

The Problem

The problem is that most people miss one simple step in the habit change process, making it significantly more likely they’ll fail in changing their habits.

In this post, you’ll learn what that step is and how you can avoid skipping over it to set yourself up for much more success in the new year.

What is a habit?

We think we know good habits and we think we know how to break bad habits, but the truth is building habits takes time. You must create a habit loop. To fully understand the power of habit of this oftentimes missing step, you first need to understand the anatomy of a habit.

Habits have 3 components: 

  • A cue
  • The behavior itself
  • And a reward

Over time, our minds learn that certain behaviors (e.g., smoking) will get us a reward (e.g., reduction in anxiety). Furthermore, they learn to associate certain cues with the absence of the reward (e.g., getting in your car).

A fundamental thing you need to understand about your mind is that it’s a problem-solving machine. Habits are one major way it solves problems.

Your mind recognizes that you’re missing out on or lacking a reward, and it attempts to get you that reward by doing the behavior that’s reliably gotten you the reward in the past.

The behavior itself (smoking) isn’t the reward. The behavior is what we do to get the reward (reduction in anxiety).

Here’s the thing, the cue is what tells your mind that you’re missing out on a reward.

Without the cue, the whole equation falls apart and your habit disappears.

Find your cues

Most people have no idea what the cues of their habit are. They set the new years’ resolution to stop smoking and immediately try to grit their way through it.

And they fail.

My initial piece of advice for people trying to stop a ‘bad habit’ is always the same: spend time at the beginning learning your cues.

Don’t skip this step. 

Before you dive in and attempt to use willpower to change your habit, set yourself up for success by learning and understanding the cues that make you want to do the behavior in the first place.

Maybe you are trying to break a habit like social media scrolling. By setting smart goals that are measurable you will be able to find out if you are stuck in a loop cue, which habits stick, and what habit forming behavior you need to break. This is something that is measurable. You can move the app you are most addicted to, and then notice how often your thumb unknowingly drifts to that part of your screen when you open your phone. Change your loop cue, break your habit! 

How to find your cues

Before you begin trying to change your habit, spend a few weeks paying attention to what the cues of that habit are.

Cues come in a variety of forms, but here are some of the most common:

  • Time – I always get the urge to smoke first thing in the morning
  • Location – I always get the urge to smoke when I get in my car
  • Preceding event – I always get the urge to smoke after I’ve eaten a meal
  • Emotional state – I always get the urge to smoke when I’m bored / anxious / etc.
  • Other people – I always get the urge to smoke when I’m around my friend who also smokes

Spend some time in ‘personal ethnography,’ which is just a fancy way of saying, observe your own behavior and urges and attempt to diagnose what cues might be present that signaled your mind that you’re missing out on a reward.

The more you do this, the more you’ll see common cues pop up.

The more clearly you understand your own cues, the more ready you’ll be to anticipate and work through the urge to engage in the bad habit the next time it arises.

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”
 – James Clear