A Fresh Take on Creative Work, Productivity, Behavior, and Habits

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    This is a newsletter I always read, without exception. It's consistently fascinating!

    — Kelly M.

    Gather ’round kids, Mr. Greggy is going to share a quick story.

    (“Mr. Greggy” is what my 2nd grade class used to call me when I was substitute teaching back in college, I miss em’!)

    Last week, I published what was undoubtedly one of my most controversial articles ever on the dangers of supernormal stimuli. Nearly 100,000 people viewed the post in 24 hours, and I got dozens of positive emails from readers who really enjoyed it. Needless to say, that was great.

    But with any sort of popularity comes ample criticism, and this article was no exception:

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    Supernormal Stimuli

    A wise man rules his passions, a fool obeys them.

    —Publius Syrus

    Given the rapid pace of technology, one has to wonder whether or not our brains (and bodies) have been able to keep up with all the new “stimulation” that is available.

    Some research suggests that a few of the things we enjoy today would be classified as supernormal stimuli, a term evolutionary biologists use to describe any stimulus that elicits a response stronger than the stimulus for which it evolved, even if it is artificial—in other words, are sources of “super” stimulation like junk food and porn more likely to hook us into bad habits?

    It is certainly a very muddy topic, but it’s a question that I believe deserves investigating.

    After all, we’ve become increasingly surrounded by stimulation that wasn’t available even a few years ago, so are my mind and body really ready for Flavor Blasted Goldfish™ and never ending social media updates?

    Before we get into the research, let’s summarize the concept a bit more clearly: what exactly is a supernormal stimulus?

    The brilliant comic below will explain the basics, and will take you less than 2 minutes to read.

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    Changing Habits

    There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

    —Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

    Most of us would like to think that our habits follow our intentions.

    The truth is that one of the mind’s chief functions is to spot and utilize patterns as shortcuts, in order to process the multitude of information we observe each day.

    We are more reliant on environmental triggers than we’d like to think.

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    How to Be Happy

    It seems a grandiose notion to define happiness with research, doesn’t it?

    Fear not, that’s not what I’ll be addressing here—instead, I simply feel that research is a great place to start when observing the patterns of happy people.

    By looking at proven ways that have increased happiness for many people, we can begin with a gameplan to change or evaluate our own lives.

    As Bruce Lee would say:

    Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.

    Below I’d like to go over some of my favorite studies on happiness in an attempt to showcase some things that might be useful to you!

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    How to Be More Productive

    In today’s busy world, we seem to be obsessed with the idea of “productivity” and “work hacks”.

    It’s easy to see why: being able to get more done allows us to get ahead in life, and even gives us more time to do the things we love outside of work.

    The problem we run into, however, is that it is easy to get motivated, but hard to stay disciplined.

    This is because most of us look at productivity in the wrong way: it’s not about signing up for the latest task management tool (which, admit it, you’ll use for a week and soon abandon) or chaining yourself to your desk, it’s about understanding the science behind how your brain works, and using it to your advantage.

    Today, we’ll look at what science has unveiled about the human brain and productive work, and you’ll learn how to tackle the biggest pitfalls that sabotage your ability to get things done.

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