Why Poor Leaders Are Valuable

Thomas Edison famously replied when asked whether his repeated failures (ten thousand plus) at creating a working light bulb frustrated him: “No, I just discovered 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When someone demonstrates poor leadership, he or she is showing you one way not to make your light bulb.

My father gave me similar advice while I was attending Navy Officer Candidate School after I had complained about some of the leadership traits of my peers and senior candidates in charge of us:

Correct in yourself what you do not like in others.

This single phrase helped me see people’s weaknesses or inabilities not as a chance to point out their blemishes but to look inward and see what I could change about myself.

When people miss this lesson, it’s a wasted opportunity. You may never be able to change the person above you, but you do have the power to create a better work environment for those under you.

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How to Keep Believing in Yourself

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I stood there catching my breath. Thoughts were gushing in my mind. “You don’t even believe in me,” I sighed to my best friend. “No one does.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, it dawned on me. This was a metaphorical mirror — a projection of my own reality. I’d hit a wall. Exhausted physically and emotionally from working 100-hour weeks, it was now as clear as day: I had lost my way in believing in me.

This wasn’t about others, it was about my own relationship with myself.

Usually fueled by a quiet confidence, I’d become worn down, paralysed from making decisions as big as the best way to issue company stock right down to the minutiae of which Instagram filter to use. I was plagued with self-doubt. Which was the best way forward? What are all the possible outcomes? Are things succeeding or failing? Who can and will help me?

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Build Brick by Brick

John Heywood was an English playwright who lived hundreds of years ago.

Today, Heywood is known for his poems, proverbs, and plays. But more than any one work, it’s his phrases that have made him famous. For example, here are some popular sayings that have been attributed to Heywood:

“Out of sight out of mind.”
“Better late than never.”
“The more the merrier.”
“Many hands make light work.”

There is one phrase from Heywood that is particularly interesting when it comes to building better habits:

“Rome was not built in one day.”

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How Long It Really Takes to Form a New Habit, Backed by Science

Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients. When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take patients about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation.

These experiences prompted Maltz to think about his own adjustment period to changes and new behaviors, and he noticed that it also took himself about 21 days to form a new habit. Maltz wrote about these experiences and said, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

In 1960, Maltz published that quote and his other thoughts on behavior change in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. The book went on to become an blockbuster hit, selling more than 30 million copies.

And that’s when the problem started.

You see, in the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz’s story — like a very long game of “Telephone” — people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

That’s how society started spreading the common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (or 30 days or some other magic number). It’s remarkable how often these timelines are quoted as statistical facts. Dangerous lesson: If enough people say something enough times, then everyone else starts to believe it.

It makes sense why the “21 Days” Myth would spread. It’s easy to understand. The time frame is short enough to be inspiring, but long enough to be believable. And who wouldn’t like the idea of changing your life in just three weeks?

The problem is that Maltz was simply observing what was going on around him and wasn’t making a statement of fact. Furthermore, he made sure to say that this was the minimum amount of time needed to adapt to a new change.

So what’s the real answer? How long does it actually take to form a new habit? Is there any science to back this up? And what does all of this mean for you and me?

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Treat Yourself Like a Role Model

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In December I completed my first 200-hour yoga instructor certification. With New Year’s resolutions in full gear and Q1 initiatives in motion, I’m often reminded of an idea I explored during my certification and has guided me since, in both my personal life and in all of my work at Zirtual.

The idea is simple yet stunningly important: You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Our society has an intense quest for productivity and endless improvement. We look at our past with a dissecting eye and zoom in on what we didn’t accomplish. We set goals and record what we did, day in and day out.

But how do we use this data? Is it to celebrate each accomplishment? Hardly! We usually use what we have done to highlight what we haven’t, and everything starts to center around what’s next. “Tomorrow I’ll get through this,” we say. Or “next quarter I’m finally going to tackle that.”

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How to Do a Time and Motion Study to Make Real Change

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“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said the great management thinker Socrates.

Every day, people say that they’ll change. At the beginning of every year, millions make resolutions. Most do this without data, hypotheses or any idea of what they’re going to do differently. And they wonder why nothing really changes.

Intention without information is powerless. To misquote great management thinker, Albert Einstein, doing the same thing and hoping for a different result is the definition of inefficiency.

This is where the personal time and motion study can help. In summary, it goes like this:

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3 Surprising Reasons Why You Need to Rediscover Slow Growth

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We all have goals that we’d like to reach. And, if we had the choice, we would prefer to reach them sooner rather than later.

There’s nothing wrong with achieving a goal quickly, but the insatiable desire to enjoy results now — with little regard for the process — is hurting our health, our happiness, and our lives in general.

When we continuously glorify the end result (earn more money, find love, win the Super Bowl), it becomes dangerously easy to think that the goal is what validates us and not the struggle of the process.

If you want to fulfill your potential and become better, then you need to rediscover the power of slow growth. Here’s why:

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How to Keep Fighting in the Face of Failure

Guest columnist James Chin is a professional poker player who has previously written about flow, having the courage to change, and the truth about success. In this post, he examines how best to dust yourself off and try again.

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The feeling of failure sucks.

Failure demotivates and saps the energy of even the most confident of people, especially if they’re not receiving some sort of positive feedback from their day.

It’s an old relationship cliche that you should never go to bed upset with your significant other. Waking up upset the next day just serves to reinforce negative feelings you have between each other. Use this advice in your relationship to yourself.

I’ve come up with a way to make sure I don’t get too down and can bounce back sooner than later. It’s simple:  take time to create that positive feedback. You’ll be much more likely to wake up the next day motivated and ready to be productive and tackle whatever life may throw at you.  Here’s how:

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Do the Painful Things First

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Before I became an entrepreneur, I went to business school. While studying for my MBA, there was one lesson I learned which has proved to be useful over and over again in my life.

I was sitting in a marketing class, and we were discussing ways to design a wonderful customer experience. The goal is not merely to provide decent service but to delight the customer. Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create a delightful experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process.

Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time. That means it’s better for the annoying parts of a purchase to happen early in the experience. Furthermore, we don’t enjoy it when painful experiences are drawn out or repeated.

Here are some examples:

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Understanding How to Function at Your Best: defining positive psychology

Here at iDoneThis, we often talk about how principles of positive psychology can be used to improve our well-being and happiness at work. We wanted to go back to basics and get an expert to explain what positive psychology is and how it can help you live your life better. So we spoke with Dr. Stephen Schueller about defining positive psychology and what progress and timing have to do with living a good life.

imageDr. Schueller is a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and member of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, where he works on developing internet and mobile interventions in behavioral and mental health service delivery. (This is the first installment of our interview. Head here for the second, 5 Reasons You Don’t Do What Really Makes You Happy).

Initially I think I misunderstood positive psychology as being all about positive thinking and positive emotions — and that’s really not what it’s about.

That’s definitely true. One of the things I really try to differentiate positive psychology from is this positive thinking movement, things like reading The Secret — where you think it, you’ll get it, or think positively and your life will be better. That’s not what positive psychology is about at all.

Lots of research shows that experiencing positive emotions is very beneficial, but that’s not really the point in positive psychology. Positive psychology is a movement focusing on trying to understand what optimal functioning means.

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