The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

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The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Happiness Habit 3 - To Do Lists / Goal-setting

Happiness Habit No.3, in our Happiness Habits Experiment, is "Fun To Do Lists". Amongst our first cohort of participants who have signed up to the Happiness Habits research project, this has turned out to be the least popular Habit of the six they can pick from. (We ask participants to choose from one to six activities - the Happiness Habits - and carry them out daily for three weeks, after which we survey their responses.) No 3, "Fun To Do Lists", has been chosen by less than half as many participants as those who have chosen to "Smile" daily (No. 1) - the most popular Habit to date.

And yet writing down three fun or enjoyable goals a day, pursuing, achieving and ticking them off the list, may provide those who are doing it with a clearly increased level of satisfaction with life. Here's why:

Setting and achieving goals has a powerful influence on creating well-being in our daily lives. We now know that the steps involved in goal-directed activity – motivation, goal-seeking, successful outcome and feelings of pleasure – are wired into the brain's structure. All achievement starts with motivation. Motivation leads to a decision that triggers a behaviour aimed at satisfying the aim. Achieving the goal produces positive feelings because it releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, which reinforces the reward, and acetylcholine, which helps the brain “tune in” and embed memories of success. Positive memories then encourage you to repeat the process which caused the pleasure.

To achieve happiness, we should make certain that we are never
without an important goal”
Earl Nightingale, writer, broadcaster (1921-1989)

The brain’s automatic goal-seeking mechanism was first identified by Dr Maxwell Maltz in his classic self-help book, Psycho-Cybernetics. He recognised the importance of defining a goal in positive terms; of creating a specific description in words and visualising the outcome of the goal; and of constant, conscious repetition of these steps to activate the goal-seeking mechanism of our subconscious.

The Reticular Activating System, as it is called, is such a successful piece of brain circuitry that it is essential to feed it only goals you really want to achieve, because the wrong messages can become embedded in your subconscious if you frame them carelessly or in negative terms.

A well known 1953 Harvard University experiment identified ten percent of graduates who had set themselves some goals and four percent who had actually written down their goals. By 1973 the net worth of the four percent was double that of all the rest.

In the task of  "Fun To-Do Lists" for the Happiness Habits Experiment, we have combined goal-setting with elements of The Real Secret's first step, "Choose To Be Happy" - where scheduling regular fun into your life is another Habit. You cannot, by definition, achieve peak performance all the time and by taking a break from one kind of activity, you allow your brain time to process and work more efficiently when you come back to it. Fun breaks or pleasurable activities that give you opportunities to smile,laugh and relax are especially beneficial.
“The real joy of life is in its play. Play is anything we do for the joy and love of doing it, apart from any profit, compulsion, or sense of duty. It is the real joy of living.”
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918)

In The Real Secret Step 4, "Route Planning", we ask readers to write some of the most important words of their life: goals for the long term, the mid-term and the immediate future.  However ambitious your goal, you can make your way towards it with regular, incremental, achievable steps, using flexibility to adjust your aims to changing situations and The Real Secret Habits as a road map to achieve your most desired destinations.

We'll be publishing our report on The Happiness Habits Experiment in early April. Please do sign up if you're interested in taking part in our ongoing research project.

Post by Lucy

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