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latest articles

5 Things I Do to Increase Willpower and Make Smart Choices

You’re sitting at work when the phone rings. You’ve been waiting for this call. You don’t know what the person on the other side will say, but you know there’s a big opportunity on the line—one that could change your life, skyrocket your career, improve your family.

But there’s also a risk involved. If you say yes, it could go wrong, even if the odds are slim.

Now, a question: What’s the best time of day to make this decision?

Funny question, right? Why would it matter? There’s a great opportunity. Just a slight risk. Won’t you make the right choice regardless when you’re asked? Most research says no.

In reality, you’re faced with all kinds of decisions daily:

  • What time should I get out of bed?
  • How much should I save for retirement?
  • When should I feed the cat?
  • Do my toes look funny?
  • Should I get married?
  • So on and so forth…

Individually, these questions aren’t hard to answer—even the deeper, more involved ones can be simple to decide. But, together, the sum is greater than the parts. If you ask yourself all these questions at the same time, you’ll melt down. It’ll be a terrible, draining day.

You’d experience, as the experts call it, decision fatigue—the inability to make a smart, rational choice after having to make others before it. [1]

But you’re a leader, aren’t you? You want to be, at least. You have lots of decisions to make each day, and how you decide them will have a big impact not just on your life, but the lives around you. People are counting on you to make good choices. Are you making the best ones possible on the decisions that matter?

The bad news is you probably aren’t—at least not all the time. But the good news is you can do something about it—and quickly—to fix the problem.

By the time you finish reading this, you’ll have already fundamentally improved your ability to make smart decisions about life’s biggest choices.


The Habit Ladder: How To Make A New Routine Stick

When one good habit triggers another, the speed of success doubles.

I can hardly remember what my mornings look like these days. It’s taken years and much trial and error, but I have a routine now that needs no thought to be completed. Each action, all morning long, is pre-scripted, memorized, and controlled by habit.

I wake up and put my running clothes on. A 5-mile run leads to a shower, breakfast, and then my most important task of the day.

The same thing happens, like clockwork, every… single… day.

What I—and many others, perhaps yourself—have constructed is what I like to call a habit ladder—an automatic system that quickly transforms you from a heap of unconsciousness to a productive human being.

A morning routine is just one example of a habit ladder, though. The same concept can be applied across every aspect of your life to make the important actions you want to take quick and painless. And the trick isn’t so much in what you do, but the order you do them in.


2018 Introvert Career Outlook Survey

Recently, I asked a small subset of Riskology readers to take a short survey about “how things are going at work.”

The goal was to get a general overview of how introverts are feeling about their jobs and where things are headed for them.

Personality in the workplace continues to grow as a topic of interest, and understanding introversion / extraversion has been a big driver of that interest.

The U.S. economy has also been on a steady increase with shrinking unemployment numbers.

At the same time, a recent series by NPR reports that soon almost half of the U.S. workforce will be contract workers. That’s an enormous shift to a very different landscape from what we’re used to.

So how are introverts actually feeling? Do they consider themselves adequately compensated compared to their peers? Do they feel like their careers are improving and they have opportunities to grow?


The Psychology Of Touch: Persuade Anyone With Just Your Hand

Every day, you’re faced with a list of requests—often from strangers:

  • Will you register to vote?
  • Would you like to add a drink to your order?
  • Help us save the whales?
  • Watch my stuff while I use the restroom?
  • Can I have your phone number?

As I walk around Portland, I can confidently say I face all but one of these questions every day. I’ll let you guess which one that is…

The requests are annoying but easy to avoid. I’ve gotten skilled at just saying, “No, I don’t want to.” If the requester looks particularly eager, I might pretend I’m on my phone as I walk by.

Somehow, though, I still find myself saying yes to various requests once in a while.

Think about the last time this happened to you. You said yes to a request you’d normally say no to. What was different about that interaction? What did the other person do to persuade you?

Chances are, you don’t remember. The interaction didn’t seem different from any other. That’s because what they did differently was hardly noticeable—it didn’t even register. Based on an enormous body of psychological research on behavior and compliance, though, I can make a pretty good guess at what it was:

They touched you.

It was nothing invasive or aggressive; you would have remembered that. One or two light touches completely changed your view of the person asking you for [insert random / annoying request here]. It briefly altered your brain’s chemistry and made you think, “Hey, why not?”

If you’ve ever found it hard to get someone to help you with a simple request (*cough* spouse, kids, co-works, business associates, etc.), take note. This trick is so simple, you can master it in less than 10 minutes. And the results could be life-changing—better jobs, more money, stronger relationships, more success, etc. Continue…

The Art of Doing Nothing: A Procrastinator’s Manifesto

The Risk: In general, we think of procrastination as inherently bad when, in fact, it can be quite constructive.

The Reward: By embracing “active” procrastination, you can actually become just as productive and happy as those who don’t procrastinate at all.

It was two weeks until the marathon and I still didn’t have my ticket to Greece. Then it was two days, and I still hadn’t replaced my shoes. Then it was two hours and my bag wasn’t packed.

Despite all this I found a ticket, quit worrying about shoes, packed my bag without forgetting a thing, and had a great trip.

This article was created in much the same way, hurriedly put together at the 11th hour and published just before the deadline. Yet it’s done and I think it’s quite good, too.

Throughout life, there seems to be a number of things that fit into one of two categories:

  1. Everyone says it’s good but, in fact, it’s quite bad.
  2. Everyone says it’s bad but, in fact, it can be quite good.

Procrastination fits squarely into the second category. As a society, we’ve come to loathe it and we dedicate an incredible amount of time and money learning how to beat it. A quick search on Amazon for “procrastination” yields 1,546 results. As far as I can tell, none of them are about how to procrastinate more.

Procrastination has been our enemy for ages and, through thousands of years of battle, we’ve yet to defeat it.

But what if we’re waging war in the wrong place? What if procrastination is actually our ally instead of our enemy? I think that may actually be the case, and I’m not the only one who thinks it.

The Truth About Procrastination

If procrastination is such a bad thing, then why do we love it so much? And why is it that, as a society, we despise it, but at the personal level, we don’t think it’s all that bad.

Don’t believe me? I polled all my friends on Twitter with a very simple question:

“Is procrastination always a bad thing?”

Apart from the few who responded with smart-ass comments like, “I’ll let you know tomorrow,” the answers were surprisingly negative, and most people embraced procrastination:

Granted, Twitter—an excellent procrastination aid—may not be the best source for unbiased answers, but these are the responses of real people just like you and me.

By the way, if you’d like to be a part of my highly unscientific studies in the future, be sure to connect with me on Twitter & Facebook.

From a more credible source, consider a recent study at Columbia University that found procrastinating students often experience just as much personal satisfaction, have the same amount of internal motivation, and get just as much done as students who don’t wait to finish their work. Basically the opposite of what was expected.

How could it be?

Well, the findings of the study weren’t as cut and dry as “procrastinators are just as good as non-procrastinators, na na na boo boo.” What the researchers actually found was there are two different types of procrastination—active and passive. Which one you have a penchant for is surprisingly responsible for how satisfied you’ll be with your life and your work.

The Art of Doing Nothing

The major difference between active and passive procrastinators are that the active put things off to pursue other things that they see as equally important but more urgent and, when finally forced to act, actually come through and give a solid performance just before the clock expires.

Passive procrastinators, however, put things off without a sense of prioritization and, when faced with the reality that they must either come through or experience failure, often choose the latter.

Active procrastinators win the game at the buzzer while passive procrastinators never even make it to the court.

When I look back at examples from my life, the “active procrastinator” title seems to fit me perfectly.

  • In school, every project was handed in at the last minute, but I graduated with honors.
  • When I wrestled, almost every match I won went to overtime.
  • At my old job our winning bids were always handed in just before the deadline and projects were always finished on the last day of the schedule.

Even now, doing work that fascinates me, I tend to work on a last-minute schedule. I spend my days doing things that need to be done immediately because I’ve pushed them off for other important things that also needed to be done immediately.

I like it this way, and the pressure doesn’t bother me. For an active procrastinator, the stress that comes from a shortened schedule is more like fuel for the productivity fire than an extinguisher.

The active procrastinator understands and embraces Parkinson’s Law…

Parkinson’s Law: A Procrastinator’s Best Friend

A few years ago, I was tired with my job and decided I wanted to quit. I gave myself six months to get everything in order, and then I’d hand in my resignation letter. Two months later I was laid off, and I hadn’t even started the process of getting my plan together. After getting fired, I sat down each day for 30 days and, at the end, I’d started a new business. Here I am almost two years later still alive, still happy, and still going.

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This is the theory behind Parkinson’s Law, and it guides the principles of a competent procrastinator. If you give yourself 2 months to finish a project, you’ll complete it in exactly 2 months. If you give yourself 2 weeks, you’ll find a way to finish it in 2 weeks.

However much time you decide to give yourself to complete a task, that’s exactly how much time you’ll need to complete it. This is because, when given a hard date to complete something, you’re actually quite good at estimating what you’ll be able to accomplish, and you adjust accordingly.

If you have a day job, consider how you react when someone assigns you a project due in a month. If you’re not the procrastinating type, you probably scale down a few other things and start right away. But if you are, then you probably make a reminder in your calendar for a week or so before it’s due and forget all about it. Then, when the time comes, you spend a few days in hyper-productivity mode before kicking back and waiting for the next one.

This is Parkinson’s Law in action. It was originally used to explain why the British Government kept getting bigger even as its overseas colonies continued to dwindle, but it applies just the same to everyday life.

The active procrastinator understands that if he wants to get something done faster, all he really needs to do is give himself less time to do it.

Of course, when it comes to procrastinating on personal and meaningful things, there are two major snags in the system that keep the unhappy, passive procrastinator from getting it together:

  1. Accountability, and
  2. Pacing

How to Punish Yourself into Becoming an Active Procrastinator

Even though everyone seems to know that procrastination isn’t necessarily bad, most still tend to have some ill feelings for it. Look at the results I gathered when I asked the same people on Twitter (and now on Facebook as well) if they felt that, on any given day, they got “enough” done:

Just because you know that procrastination can be good obviously doesn’t mean you harness it skillfully…

If you’re an active procrastinator by nature, then getting started and getting finished when the time comes isn’t a big issue. The problem, of course, is that most of us aren’t. I don’t believe I am, but I do think I learned relatively early how to deal with it.

Where procrastination really becomes a problem is when you know what you want to do, but it’s either:

  1. Too big to wait until the last second, or
  2. You can’t find the motivation to get started.

The solutions to these problems are simple, but they’re rarely easy to carry out. The two greatest tools that the accomplished procrastinator has in his toolkit to address them are:

  1. Milestones: the points along an endeavor that signal significant progress
  2. Deadlines: the things that actually force you to reach the milestones

The reason these are simple is because everyone already knows what they are and creating them doesn’t take much explanation. The reason they’re difficult is because sticking to them becomes very problematic when any kind of resistance gets in your way.

The only way I’ve found to accomplish something substantial is to break it into smaller, unsubstantial pieces. Having many little milestones makes it easier to get started because there’s nothing overwhelming or confusing about something small. When you can see that one milestone has been completed, it’s a confidence booster for completing the next one.

A visual confirmation of your progress is highly underrated, especially once you’re more than half-finished.

The more difficult barrier to maneuver around is the deadline—easy to set but damn hard to stick to.

When you’re trying to become an active procrastinator and finish something personal, deadlines are hard to maintain because they aren’t real—no one’s holding your feet to the fire. This is where accountability comes into play. You need someone and/or something to keep you on the right track.

Unfortunately, just telling someone about your deadline isn’t enough. Most research suggests that talking about your goals may actually be detrimental to real progress because most people associate discussion with real progress (which, of course, it isn’t).

So, you need something more. You need a real consequence, something punitive. And the best consequences are automatic—they punish you automatically if you don’t follow through.

Any time I plan to run a marathon, the first thing I do is pay my entry fee—usually around $100. This is money I will automatically lose (or be upset that I spent) if I don’t train for it, buy my plane ticket, and get to the start line. I’m frugal, so $100 is surprisingly motivating to me. This is one way to harness the sunk cost fallacy.

How much would you need to lose to take real, decisive action?

The more confident you become, the less you need an external motivator like this, but “training wheels” are helpful in the beginning.

The Final Word

Though it may sound like a joke, procrastination really is a tool—one that can be used for good or for…laziness. The key to successful procrastination is in its implementation: you have to be strategic with your lousing about. And the truth is that healthy procrastinating often doesn’t include much idleness because you put things off in order to do other important things.

Corbett Barr made a short video that does a good job of explaining the difference between effective and destructive procrastination. It’s worth the few minutes it takes to watch it.

And don’t forget that habit change can be tricky. Going from passive to active procrastination isn’t always smooth sailing, and the times you’re most likely to fail will be in the beginning when you’re just getting started and then again just before it becomes an ingrained habit.

When things get difficult, you’ll be tempted to stop and do something distracting. Giving in is easy if you don’t have any help, but with plug-ins like Stay Focused for Chrome or Leech Block for Firefox, you can block yourself from the websites you run to when things get tough.

Offline, you can create back-up activities—things you can do without feeling guilty—if you need to take a break from what you’re working on now.

There are a million more things you can do, but most of all, just enjoy your procrastination—it’s good for you.


How Adventure Makes You Smarter, Stronger, & More Attractive (Video)

You embrace the idea of risk, adventure, and leading a life filled with meaning. You can probably even point to moments in your own life where stepping out of your comfort zone changed you for the better.

But did you know there’s real science and psychology behind taking smart risks, and it can explain just how living adventurously makes you smarter, stronger, and… wait for it… more attractive? (Yes, really!)

I had the honor of taking the stage in front of 700 brilliant minds at the 2014 TEDx Concordia event (now TEDx Mt. Hood—way better name!) to explain how it’s not just possible to use adventure to improve your life, but practically guaranteed. I opened the day filled with 13 speakers

Watch the presentation below: Continue…

Habit Interruption: How I Taught Myself To Stop Peeing In A Broken Toilet

A few days ago I was having a problem with my toilet; it was leaking water all over the floor. I had to do something or my apartment was going to flood!

So, I turned off the water to the toilet and emptied the tank. Next step? Fix it! But, it was going to be a while before I had time for that.

“No problem,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just use the bathroom upstairs until I can get mine fixed.

What happened next, though, was very surprising, and it illustrated for me an important piece of the habit creation puzzle and what you need to do to break a bad one.

Here’s what happened… Continue…

Growth Mindset: The Science of Achieving Your Potential

Do you have a growth mindset? Do you even know what a growth mindset is? Maybe you do. But until recently, I didn’t.

And when I went on a little journey to learn more about it (and how to get one o’ them fancy mindsets for myself), what I learned kind of blew my mind… set.

To get you started on your own journey to a growth mindset—which, according to the scientists basically unlocks your full potential as a human—I’ll ask you a question:

When I say Michael Jordan, what comes to mind first?

  • Speed?
  • Agility?
  • Power?
  • Raw talent?

You might expect any of those answers. But what about hard work? Did that make your list? And if so, how far down?

When the typical sports fan watches clips of Jordan and sees his career stats, they picture the talent he had to possess to achieve that.

But what does Jordan think about Jordan’s career? If you listen, you’ll hear him say it many times: incredibly hard work is what made him the legacy he is today.

From the outside, his talent looks effortless. But from the inside, apparently, it looks the opposite. Continue…

I Could Never Remember Names. Now, I Can Never Forget Them

So you’re at a party with a friend and you don’t know anyone there. He’s introducing you to new people every few minutes and while you wish you were having fun, instead, you’re stressing out because you’ve already forgotten the names of the three people you met just three minutes ago.

Or maybe you’re at an important business function—with your boss or on your own. You’re trying to make a great impression on some people who could make or break your career. You’ve met a few of them, but now you’re starting to sweat—little beads of nervousness popping up on your forehead—because you just forgot the name of the gal who offered to introduce you to someone you’ve needed to meet forever.

What’s in a name?

Nothing and everything all at once. A name is, for the most part, meaningless. Someone’s name tells you nothing about them, and gives you no concrete facts to judge or remember them by. That guy you met yesterday could just as easily be named, “Sunday Stranger #5″ as he could be Jerry or Arnold.

In this way, a name is nothing. And if you’re bad at remembering them, it’s probably what you tell yourself to ease pressure when you have to meet new people—”I don’t need to remember names. As long as I’m genuine and nice, people will accept that.”

But you know you’re wrong. You know a name is, in fact, everything because you remember how it feels when someone you thought you made a connection with forgets yours. Continue…

The Curse of Knowledge

If you can’t explain everything someone needs to know in one sentence, then your explanation is too long.

When you have an important message inside of you, then you also want to spread it. The problem is the more you learn about something, the harder it is to explain it to someone else in a way they’ll care about.

This is the Curse of Knowledge.

How to Lose Friends and Bore People

Once you know something, you tend to think it’s more important than it actually is. All of a sudden, you can’t just give someone a general understanding without also giving all the excruciating details they don’t care about yet.

Years ago, I lost more friends than I made by trying to be a guitar instructor. I learned to play when I was young, and when I got to high school (surprise, surprise), a lot of my friends wanted to learn to play, too.

And why would you hire a teacher when your friend could do it for you?

So, I tried.

I’d set up a meeting. We’d get out a couple of guitars, and I’d start to explain everything about them. I’d tell them about the different parts of the guitar, what they’re made of, why they sound the way they do.

And once that was all done, then it was time to start explaining the notes and how to tune the thing, how to read music, and on and on.

Meanwhile, eyes would glaze over and roll to the backs of heads.

After a few hours, it was time to play the thing, but that didn’t matter anymore. No one wanted me to teach guitar after that lecture session.

They’d be frustrated about listening to something they didn’t care about for hours, and I’d be annoyed they didn’t want to learn anymore.

Why was this happening?

Because they wanted to play the damn thing, not learn how to make it.

I had years of experience playing guitar at this point, and I was trying to explain everything I knew about it in the first session, before giving anyone the chance to actually try it and enjoy it.

Looking back, that’s not how I got interested in the guitar. I didn’t care about anything besides rocking out. All I wanted to know was how to play the damn thing so I could impress some girls.

Eventually, I fell in love with the instrument and ended up learning all the other details.

What if I’d just taught people the way they wanted to learn instead of trying to force details down their throats long before they cared about them? What if I’d taught them the same way I’d been taught?

The Truly Great Create Simplicity from Complexity

Southwest Airlines is a great company. For decades, they’ve been one of the cheapest ways to safely get around The U.S. by plane. I know that if I need to fly somewhere, I’d better be sure to check Southwest because they’ll probably have the lowest fare.

Why is that?

There’s a lot of thought and complexity that goes into making sure that Southwest actually is the lowest fare available, but it stems from one simple core:

Southwest is THE low-fare airline.

That’s the decision Herb Kelleher (the longest standing CEO) made years ago. It’s a very simple statement, but also a very powerful one.

Herb never had to explain to anyone at Southwest how the company does its accounting or show anyone fancy graphs or spreadsheets, he simply said, “Southwest is going to be THE low-fare airline.”

That simple statement informs every decision every single day at Southwest all the way from the CEO’s office down to the baggage handlers.

A lot has to happen to keep Southwest competitive, but only one little thing needs to be remembered in order for everyone who works there to make good choices for the company.

If it doesn’t somehow make it cheaper to fly on Southwest Airlines, it’s not a good decision. Period. End of story.

Now, what if when I was teaching my friends how to play guitar, I’d just shut up about all the details and showed them how to play a chord?

Maybe I’d have more friends! And maybe they’d even be great guitar players!

The One Sentence Solution

How do you play the guitar? You strum a chord and make it sound good. Then repeat.

To introduce someone to a new idea, one sentence is about as much time as you get to make it stick.

And what’s more important when you’re just starting something new—to learn everything all at once or to be intrigued enough to keep learning for a lifetime?

If you have something important to say, then you need a way to explain it to someone new in just one sentence.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my partner and I start our new business project, BrewPony.

What’s the one-sentence description? BrewPony is THE easiest coffee subscription service.

There are lots of things I’d love to say about it. It’s an exciting business and there are many details. But the only thing anyone needs to know is that it’s the easiest coffee subscription service available. End of story.

If you want to spread your idea, I’d encourage you to think of something similar.

What do you want to tell the world? And how can you do it in just one sentence?

Side note: A big thanks to Made to Stick, an excellent book about spreading good ideas that informed much of this essay.

Image by: choconancy1