How to Make a Change that Sticks

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In the Mirror Series: How Seeing Ourselves More Clearly Can Make the World a Better Place

Part 1: Misery Thermostat

Have you ever noticed that when you are actually trying to gain or lose weight, your body always seems to drift back to a set point, like a thermostat?

In "The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat," Stephan J. Guyenet Ph.D. reveals why this happens and how we can overcome this tendency in order to finally lose weight and keep it off.

This got me thinking about how people, myself included, also have a Misery thermostat. You might alternatively call it a Happiness thermostat.

Think about a person you know that no matter what, is always at the same, miserable level. Good weather or bad, good fortune or bad luck, they always gravitate to a certain level of misery. Take a moment and look in the mirror and you may notice that you do the same thing. Whether our set point is high or low, we always gravitate back to it regardless of life's events.

So if this is true, are we just stuck, Joe? Like our weight, is there anything we can do to move the set point permanently?

Great question!

To change your Misery thermostat, find the joy in your misery and fill it in a different way.

What this means is you must first determine what goal being miserable serves in your life. Once you figure that out, you can replace the misery-related activities with more positive activities, but always in service of the same goal.

For example, let's say a person has a miserable attitude towards school. They place low expectations on how they do in school because they don't want to compete directly with their older sibling, who has always been exceptional in school. So they learn to dislike school and and check out of the competition.

What goal does this serve? The goal is to not be hurt by lack of their parent's approval or love.

So by being miserable in school and not trying they hope to avoid any comparison with their older (in their mind, better) sibling which might negatively affect their parent's love for them.

Once this dynamic is understood, they can then replace the dislike of school with other, more positive activities that serve the same goal of positive attention from their parents. As long as the ultimate goal was their parent’s approval, no amount of other remedies related to making school better or changing schools will matter.

There isn't a single answer here, but instead the person might be instead get more involved in a hobby or interest of their parents, find a specific part of school that they can excel at, or they could even face the competition and do their best with the realization that their value is not determined by the attention of other's, including their parents.

Your Move: What things have you done to move your Misery Thermostat? What do you plan to do?

How to Instantly Lose Connection with Someone


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This information is for all the concerned, well-meaning friends, coworkers, family members and educators out there. You are a good person and you want the best for those you care about.

Let me give you what may seem like an obvious warning, but is something we all forget from time to time. I’m an offender, too.

The best way to instantly lose connection with someone is to judge them.

I’m not saying you roll over and accept whatever anyone does. And I’m definitely not advocating you forgo your discernment - defined as “keenness of insight and judgment.”

What I’m saying is if you want the best for someone, if you want to influence them in positive way, you must be connected to them. And when you are connected and they trust you, you can help them and they will be open to the full benefits of your discernment.

However, all bets are off when you judge them morally, intellectually, or emotionally. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about whether you want to be effective in helping this person or not. And if it’s more important for you to be right than helpful, do you know why that is and might that be helpful to your own development to understand?

See what I tried to model there? I didn’t say, if you are more concerned about being right than helpful, you need to take a good look at yourself and see why you are so self-righteous.

So provide your feedback and be open and honest, but leave the judgment out of it if you want your excellent advice to have the best chance of finding a friendly home.

The Most Powerful Connection Secret

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I can teach you lots of principles of connection. In fact, I’m writing on a book that covers universal principles of connection (e.g., vulnerability), why they matter, and how to deploy them. I can also teach you tactics that can help you connect in specific situations. Tactics are more situation-specific than principles so they may work better in some situations and worse in others.

I think universal principles and tactics are helpful to understand. And I’m a big fan of learning and applying these to improve yourself. Did I mention I almost never met a self-help book I didn’t like? However, there is a problem that even a self-improvement junkie like myself has with the whole process. It’s hard work to learn and internalize these new concepts. And when the pressure is on, more likely to revert to the knee-jerk reactions that got me to the place I am instead of remembering Tactic 2.5a that will take me where I want to go.

I feel quality connections with others is one of the most important things in the world to a human being. Got lots of money and can travel the world, but have no one to share it with? Have great health care and the best doctors, but no one to visit you in the hospital? Totally financially independent, but no one comes to you for friendship, only for hand-outs? Have great news, but no one to tell it to who will truly be happy for you?

Recently I was thinking about connection as a skill versus connection as a human ability that we all have, but that becomes corrupted or limited over time. Do we really need to be retaught connection? Is it possible that there is some shortcut that cuts to the essence of what we were all born knowing what to do?

As it turns out, there is a super simple way to increase your connection with almost anybody immediately. You won’t need to take a class, memorize a formula, or give me any money. It’s hiding in plain sight and we can all do it, we just choose not to. Or maybe we’ve forgotten how to over the years of being told we are an individual, being trained to be value independence and self-sufficiency, and being raised on a steady diet of competition and exceptionalism.

The secret to connection is to eliminate the distinction between yourself and others.

That’s it.

Allow me to explain. I don’t mean to lose yourself and to become what others are or want you to be. That’s a recipe for disaster. We’re talking about connection and not dissolving into some primordial soup.

Think about any recent argument you had or difficulty you had connection with someone.

What were the things running through your head before, during and after the encounter?

Why is (s)he being so unreasonable?

Why can’t they see why this is important to me?

How dare they think that they can do this to me?

They must be pretty delusional if they think I will stand for this?

What do you notice about all of the these thoughts? They all accentuate how you and other other person are separate players with different, conflicting agendas. And it is difficult to connect when you are heading in different directions. What if we changed this perspective. What if we started to see ourselves and others more like linked pieces of a machine? Like two gears working together.

Notice how this changes the questions above.

What are the different things we need and how can we reasonably help each other get what we need?

How can I help him/her understand how important this is to us?

Why is this happening right now and what can we do to make it better?

They must have a good reason to be doing this even though they must realize it is hurtful to us.

So if you are committed to making better connections, all you have to do is remember to do one, simple thing. Start to look at yourself and others as pieces together instead of separate parts. Approach each interaction with this mindset and you will be amazed at how easily you will start to connect with others. No lists, no worksheets, no role plays. Just a simple, but powerful perspective shift to break the chains that have been holding you back from connection all your adult life. Good luck!