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Measure your life

04 March 2013

If you’re wondering: why is that woman in the confessional, again? The answer is I’m changing my attitude about this Year of the Snake from one of defeat to one of challenge and opportunity – and to do that I have to ‘own my own behaviour’ as we used to say in the 1980s. 


Back in April 2010, I wrote about “happiness”, where I referenced the Positive Psychology course run by Tal Ben-Shahar at Harvard, and his book, Happier, published through McGraw-Hill. It’s still, according to Harvard, an immensely popular course with the students, and has spawned an industry for Tal Ben-Shahar, as well as countless others who boarded the ‘Happiness’ bandwagon for whatever reason.


This year, on the look out for ways to defuse the Snake, I came across Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project


Rubin’s project is not new. Harper published her book, in which she chronicled the project from start to finish, at the end of 2009. (The book remained on the bestseller list for more than a year.) Rubin is a one-time lawyer and now a writer (which is what she always wanted to be), and to begin the project she says she test-drove “the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy — from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah.” She then applied a strategy to her life based on what she was able to reduce that information down to and distil from it.


Her hard work ended in a blog, books, a livelihood, and happiness… and it is so clearly and gently packaged, that it made it very easy for me to pick it up and start my own project.


And, it is just that: “My Project”. 


For the project to work I set aside time and thought every day to do certain things that will build positive habits in my life. 


The point with trying to change what is going on in your life – to sort out what makes you happy and what should bring you long-lasting happiness – is you have to work at it. You have to sit down and think and read, or watch or listen to what others have said, or you yourself know, and you have to do something constructive with that information and knowledge.


Outlined in various ways by people such as Rubin and also, Jane McGonigal, who has put together her ideas in “The Science of Happiness” and who has an app you can download to play called SuperBetter, the 4 basic habits we all need to build and strengthen to achieve (and develop) our potential happiness are the following:


1. You need to do something positive around your mental resilience.

2. You need to do something positive around your physical resilience.

3. You need to do something positive around your relationships.

4. You need to do things where you feel you have achieved in a positive, constructive way and/or they just make you feel happier for having done them.


Nothing comes from doing nothing.


(At this very moment as if to confirm I’m not the only one out there looking for answers this year, into my inbox pops an email from a group offering a 4-day NLP seminar, promising to teach attendees how to create real and long lasting wealth in all areas of life.)


The simple thing is to begin with: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely goals around each of the 4 habits listed above.


SPECIFIC: set and define what you want to achieve. "I want to save more" is too broad; your objective needs to be more specific. I want to save $50 per week for 1 year to put toward my child's education and I want it to earn interest and be difficult to access. By setting a specific goal and defining exactly what you want to achieve you will have a much greater chance of accomplishing it. 


MEASURABLE will help you know when you're making progress and whether you're on the right track. It also motivates you to take action. "$50 x 52 = $2600 + interest by for example February 2014."


ACHIEVABLE and REALISTIC: If you set unachievable or unrealistic goals it could discourage you from taking action. For me, saving "$50 per week into a term deposit for 1 year to earn interest and be difficult to access" is both achievable and realistic.


Have a TIMELINE or deadline, this will dramatically enhance your focus and motivation: "per week for a year." 


Finally, HBR sends me interesting articles, including pieces from its archive that are still sought after and top the list of what people most want to download and read. From July-August 2010 this piece “How Will You Measure Your Life?: Don’t reserve your best business thinking for your career,” by Clayton M. Christensen, is worth a look.


I liked this bit from the author, Clayton Christensen:

“Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people… Think about the metric by which your life will be judged (choose the right yardstick for you), and make a resolution to live every day by it so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”