TED Talk: How to Make Stress Your Friend

In 2013, psychologist Kelly McGonigal Phd. gave one of the most viewed TED Talks of all-time where she reviews her book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good For You and How to Get Good at It. Today, Ignitia reviews the keys points from this landmark TED Talk now viewed over 17 million times.

Changing Our Perception of Stress

Kelly begins her talk by confessing to the audience that she is a health psychologist and her mission is to help people be happier and healthier, but fears something she’s been teaching for the past ten years is doing more harm than good. For years Kelly's been telling people that stress makes them sick. She was telling them stress increases the risk of everything from the common cold, to cardiovascular disease. Kelly says this approach is counterproductive because it turns stress into the enemy. According to Kelly, she’s changed her mind about stress,and she thinks it will benefit us greatly if we change ours too.

Some Truly Amazing Findings

From here Kelly, introduces us to a study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States over eight years. According to the study, those people who reported experiencing a lot of stress over the past year had a 43% increased risk of dying. However, this statistic was only true for those who believed stress was harmful to their health. Amazingly, those who reported having a lot of stress but DID NOT view stress as harmful to their health had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study. According to research, over the eight years of the study an estimated 182,000 Americans died as a result of their belief that stress was bad for their health. According to Kelly, if that statistic is true it would make believing that stress is bad for you the 15th leading cause of death in the United States - ahead of HIV, skin cancer, and even homicide.

Harvard Proves the Point

This study caused Kelly to ask the question, ‘Can changing the way we think about stress make us healthier?’ According to Kelly, the science was stating that it could. According to Kelly, when you change your mind about stress you can also change your body’s response to stress. To prove this point, Kelly has the audience count backward from 996 in increments of 7, out loud, as fast as they can, while she harasses them. Under these stressful circumstance Kelly explains the typical response may be to feel some anxiety, to feel your hands go clammy, and to feel our hearts race, and to perhaps perspire.

In a study conducted at Harvard which placed participants under similar stress, the participants were instructed to view these physical symptoms of stress as their body’s naturally reaction in preparing to meet the challenge. According to Kelly, when participants were told to view their physical responses to stress - such as a pounding heart or fast breathing - as the body preparing itself to take action. Kelly explains that the participants who were instructed to view their physical stress as helpful experienced a physical response where, even though their hearts were beating faster, the arteries of their hearts remained relax as opposed to constricted. Fascinatingly, this relaxed stated is physically very similar to a person who is experiencing joy.

Making Stress Healthy

According to Kelly, these findings changed her goals as a health psychologist. According to Kelly, her goals are no longer to help her patients get rid of stress but instead to make her patients, ‘Better at stress’. Kelly encourages those with a high level of stress to view the onset of such stress as their body rising to meet the challenge. According to Kelly, when we view stress in this way our bodies believe us and our stress responses become healthier.

Stress Releases Oxytocin

To further emphasize the benefits of these ideas, Kelly offers one more finding - stress makes you social. According to Kelly, when we are in a stressful situation our pituitary glands pump out as much oxytocin as adrenaline. According to Kelly, oxytocin fine tunes our brain’s social instincts, it primes us to do things that strengthen close relationships, and it makes us crave physical contact as well as enhancing our empathy and support of those we care about. As such, when oxytocin is released due to a stress response, it is the biological driver for us to express how we feel to another. According to Kelly, this makes us biologically programmed to crave people who help and support us when we are stressed.

How Human Connection Can Strengthen the Heart

According to Kelly, one of the main roles of oxytocin is also to protect our cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. In fact, oxytocin even binds with receptors in the heart to heal stress induced damage. All of these benefits are enhanced when we reach out to others as well, both when we are under stress, and when we reach out to help those who are under stress themselves. According to Kelly, this means our bodies have a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.

A Study Showing Caring for Others Helps Us Live Longer

Kelly ends her talk by describing one more study. This study was conducted by the University of Buffalo and tracked 1,000 people between the ages of 85 and 93 years old. The study started by asking the participants how much stress they’d experienced over the past year. They then also asked the participants how much time they spent helping others. Over the next five years, the study then tracked who died. What the study found was that every major life stress - such as financial ruin - increased the risk of dying by 30%. However, those who spent time caring for others saw a 0% increase in the chance of dying from a major life stresses. Once again, the study showed that caring creates resilience.

To conclude, Kelly reiterates the point that how we think and act can transform how we respond to stress. According to Kelly, when we think of stress as our friend, we are saying we can trust ourselves to handle life’s challenges. And we are reminded that we don’t have to face those challenges alone.


A Harvard Study: The Science of Happiness


In one of the most viewed TED Talks of all-time Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert reviewed the key points from his international bestseller Stumbling on Happiness and  tackled the science behind what makes us happy. Today, Ignitia reviews these findings. 

The Role of Our Pre-Frontal Cortex

Dr. Gilbert begins by stating that over the past 2 million years the human brain has nearly tripled in mass. According to Dr. Gilbert, when brains triple in size they also gain new structures. One of the reasons our brains got so big is because we gained a whole new portion of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex.  According to Dr. Gilbert, one of the most important things the pre-frontal cortex does is to act as an ‘experience simulator'. Dr. Gilbert says this feature of our brains allows us to have experiences in our minds before we try them out in real-life. This is a feature none of our ancient ancestors had, and put us at the forefront of the animal kingdom. To emphasize the effect of this brain function, Dr. Gilbert suggests Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t have a liver-and-onions flavor of ice cream because we can imagine what that would taste like and say ‘yuck’ ahead of time.

Misunderstanding What Makes Us Happy: Impact Bias

When it comes to predicting future happiness in terms of this function, Dr. Gilbert invited the audience to imagine which future they might be happier with: winning over $300 million in the lottery or becoming a paraplegic. Obviously the entire audience laughed at the suggestion, however, surprisingly Dr. Gilbert’s findings suggest that one year after their newfound fortunes, both lottery winners and paraplegics were equally happy with their lives.

Such finds suggests that we may not understand as much as we think we will about what really makes us happy. The cause of such misrepresentation is what Dr. Gilbert calls the ‘impact bias’. An impact bias is the tendency for people to overestimate the effect and outcome will have on our future condition. According to Dr. Gilbert, in study after study, major occurrences in people’s lives - such as losing or winning an election, losing or gaining a romantic partner, losing or ganging a desired job - have far less impact on our long-term happiness than most people suspect.

Our Psychological Immune System

According to Dr. Gilbert’s finding, if a major life trauma happened more than three months ago, it has essentially no impact on a person’s happiness whatsoever. According to Dr. Gilbert, this is because happiness can be synthesized. We all have what Dr. Gilbert calls a ‘psychological immune system’. According to Dr. Gilbert, this is system of cognitive processes that helps us change our views of the world so that we can feel better about the situation in which we find ourselves. We synthesize happiness, and yet we think happiness is a thing to be found.

In order to back up this assertion, Dr. Gilbert offers three examples of individuals who have terrible situations yet, in spite of it all, claim to be extraordinary happy. These individuals included a man who missed out on investing in McDonald’s, a man who was falsely imprisoned for 37 years, and Pete Best, the man who was kicked out of the Beatles before the band gained popularity. Even in this situation, Pete Best said he was happier now than if he would have been in the Beatles.

Synthetic Happiness Vs. Natural Happiness

According to Dr. Gilbert however, when we hear of such cases where people claim to be even happier for having had misfortune befall them we tend to roll our eyes and doubt the sincerity of their statement. In our society we tend to have a belief that synthetic happiness is inferior to natural happiness. According to Dr. Gilbert, natural happiness is what we get when we get what we want; synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we want.

According to Dr. Gilbert, in our society we have the belief that synthetic happiness is the inferior kind. However, Dr. Gilbert asserts that synthetic happiness is every bit as real as the happiness we stumble-upon when we do get everything we want.

A Case-Study by Claude Monet

In order to demonstrate this, Dr. Gilbert presents an experimental paradigm used to demonstrate the synthesis of happiness for those Dr. Gilbert calls ‘regular folks’. In order to illustrate this, Dr. Gilbert points to a historic study in which participants were asked to rank six Monet prints from most-to-least preferred. After ranking the prints, the participants were then given the choice to take either their 3rd or 4th most liked print home. Obviously all participants chose their 3rd most liked print. However, when participants were asked to re-rank the prints sometime later, in almost all cases, the print they owned was then ranked higher than it's original order, while the one they passed on was ranked even lower than originally stated. This bias toward synthesized happiness has been repeated time-and-time again for over the past fifty years.

Proof Synthetic Happiness is Real Happiness

To take this case even further however, Dr. Gilbert and his colleagues tested this same study in the hospital with a control group of amnesiacs. When Dr. Gilbert and his colleagues returned to ask the patients to re-order the prints - even though the amnesiacs could not recall which of the prints they currently owned - they still preferred to the poster they owned to the same margins of the control patients, even though they had no idea they actually owned it.  According to Dr. Gilbert, this means they truly changed their ‘affective, hedonic, aesthetic reactions to that poster.’ In other words, they weren’t just saying they liked it because they owned it - they didn’t even know they own it.

The Role of Choice in Happiness

According to Dr. Gilbert, ‘freedom, the ability to make-up your and change your mind, is the friend of natural happiness. This is because it allows you to choose among all those delicious futures and find the one you might most enjoy.’ However, according to Dr. Gilbert, this same freedom to choose, this ability to make-up and change your mind, is the enemy of synthetic happiness. Meaning, the psychological immune system works best when we are totally without choice. In other words, when we have no choice in a given situation, we find a way to be happy with the outcome we are given.

A Harvard Study in Support of These Findings

According to Dr. Gilbert, people don’t know this about themselves, and not knowing this can work to our supreme disadvantage. In support of this assertion, Dr. Gilbert sites a study he conducted at Harvard where he created a black-and-white photography course and invited students to learn how to use a camera. He then asked them to take 12 pictures of their favorite things from around Harvard, then asked them to choose their top-two favorites. From these two, Dr. Gilbert then asked the students which of the two final prints they’d like to give-up to the department as evidence of the class project.

According to Dr. Gilbert, half of the students were then told if they changed their minds about the picture at any time in the next four days, they could swap the one picture out for the other. However, the other half of the students were told they had to make a final decision right there on the spot because the other picture would be sent immediately to England.

From there, the student from each group were asked to predict how much they thought they were going to like their choice. The results found that the students who had the ability to reverse their decision thought they would like their selection only slightly more than the students who were not given the ability to change there mind. However, the actual findings found that the people who were stuck with their decision liked their choice very much. Conversely, those who had the opportunity to change their mind were found not to like the picture they chose as much at all. According to Dr. Gilbert, this is because ‘The irreversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.’

In order to complete the Harvard study, Dr. Gilbert then brought in a whole new group of Harvard students and told them ahead of time they could either choose to be in the group where they would be stuck with the picture, or in the group which would have the ability to change its mind. What Dr. Gilbert’s study found was that 66% of students said they preferred to be in the study where they would have the chance to change their mind. In other words, 66% of the students choose to be in the group that would ultimately lead to them being deeply dissatisfied in their choice.

We Don't Understand What Makes Us Happy

According to Dr. Gilbert, this is because most people do not understand the conditions under which synthetic happiness is readily achieved. To illustrate this point, Dr. Gilbert quotes the great economist Adam Smith in saying, ‘The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seem to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another… Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others; but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardor which drives us to violate the rules, either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquility of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by the remorse for the horror of our own injustice.’’

In other words, we should obviously have preferences that will lead us into one future over another, however when pursuing those preferences cause us undo injustice or hardship, we are at risk. According to Dr. Gilbert, when our ambition is bounded, it leads us to working joyfully. However, when our ambition is unbounded, it may lead us to lie, cheat, steal, or hurt others in order to attain what we believe to be our desired outcome. Likewise according to Dr. Gilbert, when our fears are bounded, we are prudent, cautious, and thoughtful. However, when our fears are unbounded and overblown, we may become reckless and cowardly.

A Final Word of Advice

Thus, according to Dr. Gilbert, the lesson he wants to leave us with, based on his data, is that, “Our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.” That commodity being, happiness. 




Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance


In 2013, University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth Phd. received The MacArthur Genius Award. In that same year, she gave a TED Talk where she reviewed the keys points from her New York Times bestselling work, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Today, Ignitia reviews her key points. 

IQ Does Not Determine Success

Professor Duckworth began her talk by explaining how at 27 years old she left her very demanding job to teach. What professor Duckworth says she was surprised to find out about her students was how IQ did not determine their success. When professor Duckworth notices some students with lower IQ’s were doing well, and others with higher IQ’s were not doing as well, she began to wonder why.

According to professor Duckworth, she was firmly convinced every one of her students could succeed but that to teach effectively she’d have to take an approach to learning from a motivational and psychological perspective. Professor Duckworth knew in education it is easy to measure IQ. However, professor Duckworth wanted to know the answer to the question: What if doing well in school, and in life, depends on much more than our ability to learn quickly and easily?

Taking it to the Field

To answer this question, professor Duckworth left the classroom and started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings. In every one of her studies she asked herself the question: who is successful here, and why? This question took professor Duckworth to West Point Naval Academy, The National Spelling Bee, and even to schools in very bad neighborhoods.

The Single Greatest Predictor of Success: Grit

According to professor Duckworth, in all of these differing contexts, one single characteristic emerged as the single greatest predictor of success: Grit. According to professor Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, and day out, not just for the week. Not just for the month. But for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.” According to professor Duckworth, Grit is living life like a marathon, not a sprint.

As a case study, professor Duckworth says she then had a class of Chicago high school seniors take a Grit questionnaire then waited for a year to see who graduated. According to professor Duckworth, even when measured against factors like family income, standardized test scores, and even how safe the kids felt while they were at school, what she found was that the greatest indicator of those students who would go on to graduate was grit.

To professor Duckworth's surprise, very few people are ever taught grit. They are never taught work ethic, or how to be motivated for the long run. According to professor Duckworth, one of the best ways to build grit in people is something called a ‘growth mindset’. According to professor Duckworth, growth mindset is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed and that it can change with effort.

The Need for New Ways to Learn Grit

According to professor Duckworth, when children learn about the brain, and how it can change and grow when they learn, they are much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t feel failure is a permanent condition. According to professor Duckworth, this is a great tool to built grit, but it is insufficient. According to professor Duckworth, there are not enough models for success in this field just yet. We need to develop more. But it won’t be easy. It will take a lot of hard work, and dedication, over a long period of time. So in other words, in order to develop new models of what it takes to become more gritty, it is going to take a lot of grit.






The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom


In his classic book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz imparts traditional Toltec wisdom about the four agreements we must make with ourselves in order to live our best lives. Below is a review of those four agreements.

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word

According to Mr. Ruiz, the first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. This means speaking only truth. And never spreading gossip. This also means expressing only self-love. Mr. Ruiz begins this chapter by emphasizing the power of words. Words have the ultimate power to create, and also the power destroy. To emphasize this example, Mr. Ruiz references the beginning of the Bible where it says that by simply speaking, God created all existence.

By being impeccable with one’s words, Mr. Ruiz states that we will express only love. According to Mr. Ruiz, there are only two main forces in the universe: fear and love. Our words should be used only to express love. Which in turn is truth. White magic. In other words, what Mr. Ruiz calls God.

Conversely, Mr. Ruiz illustrates that our words also have the power to destroy. When we gossip, when we tell another person they are ugly, they will hate us and in turn that will not be good for our own wellbeing. Thus, Mr. Ruiz states that the first, and most important agreement we can make with ourselves is to be impeccable with our words. According to Mr. Ruiz, if we can do this, we will begin to foster an attitude of self-love that will permeate our entire being. 

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

According to Mr. Ruiz, anything anyone thinks is merely a reflection of their own belief system. As such, what others think has nothing to do with you. If someone gossips about you or talks poorly about you, they are sending you 'emotional poison'. However, if you don’t take it personally and you don’t have to take-in this emotional poison. If you don't you will not be effected by it. 

Not taking things personally also applies to compliments however. Everyone is viewing the world through his or her own lens. As such, whether or not someone is pleased or dissatisfied with you is none of your concern. It is more a reflection of the world they are living in at that current moment. If you make the agreement with yourself not to take things personally you will realize the only opinion that truly matters is your own. If you know deep down that you are a wonderful person, you won’t need anyone else to tell you that. And when someone tries to tell you the contrary, if you do not take anything personally you will not be effected by their attempt.

According to Mr. Ruiz, if you make the agreement with yourself to not take anything personally and you are impeccable with your words, you will break 75% of the tiny other agreements that hold you back. If you truly do not take anything personally, you can walk around the world with your heart open, giving  yourself freely and openly without fear of anyone hurting you because you will be immune.

The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions

According to Mr. Ruiz, all the sadness and trauma we have ever experienced in our lives was rooted in the fact that we made assumptions and took things personally. This is a profound statement, but if you think about it there is some validity to it. According to Mr. Ruiz, when we make assumptions, we are making things up from thin air in our minds. These conclusion are often wrong. Often times making assumptions in our relationships can lead to all kinds of problems as well. When we assume the other person understands exactly what we are thinking, this can lead to us not asking for what we want, and in turn can cause us disappointment and strife.

According to Mr. Ruiz, the biggest assumption we make is that everyone else sees the world in the same way in which we do. The only way we can realize the actual way others view the world is by asking them. But asking makes us vulnerable. Especially when others ask questions of us. However, if we are to have relationships with others based on understanding, we have to be willing and open to one another.

According to Mr. Ruiz, when it comes to love it is far better to find a person who is exactly the way you want them to be rather than to try to change them. Likewise, if a person wants you to change, they don’t really love you in this moment as much as they could. You must find a person who loves you exactly as you are. As such, we need to be 100% honest with others about who we are in order for them to decide to take us 100% as we are, or not. Likewise, we would also hope someone else would be 100% honest with us about who they are so we can accurately judge whether or not they are the right person for us. In order to find this out we must have the courage to ask questions.

Without making assumptions, our words can become impeccable because we have clear information and can speak only truly. By clearly stating what you want, and having another person clearly state what they want, you can have an emotionally honest conversation which leads to true understanding and lasting peace. 

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best

Finally, according to Mr. Ruiz, the last of the four agreements is to always do our best. According to Mr. Ruiz, we are ever-changing. As such, our best in any given situation is aways changing too. Doing our best means doing our best in our present state and current situation. It does not mean doing the best we ever have. Rather, it means doing our very best with the state we are currently inhabiting. Sometimes are best will be very high-quality, other times it will not be as much. 

Doing our best means taking action. When we are doing our best we take action simply because we love what we are doing. When at the end of the day you can look back and say to yourself that you did your best, your self-critic will be shut down and you can set yourself free. We do our best because we want to do what we are doing. When you are doing our best simply for the sake of it, we will do our best work. 

According to Mr. Ruiz, God is 'Life in action'. So, according to Mr. Ruiz, the best way to say ‘I love you, God’, is to live your life doing your best. And the best way to say ‘Thank you, God’, is by letting go of the past, and living in the present moment.

According to Mr. Ruiz, the first three agreements only work if you do your best. It’s not possible to never misuse your words, to never take things personally, or to never make assumptions, but if you do your best, over time each of these tendencies will improve. Like anything you wish to master, it takes repetition. Thus, if we are constantly trying our best to achieve the four agreements, we will improve. And if we do our best long enough, we will perhaps one day achieve mastery.

To Sum It All Up

According to Mr. Ruiz, if you can master these four agreements and live them daily, you are going to be 100% in control of your life. It is then your charge to transcend this world of suffering. According to Mr. Ruiz, the four agreements is a way to do this. Simply try every day to get through the entire day without breaking any of the four agreements. If you do, that's alright, just try harder the next day. And if you do that, over time, you will see your life improve dramatically! 

The Power of Gratitude


More and more today, we hear about the importance and power of gratitude. But does it really matter? And what roles does gratitude and thankfulness play in both business our daily lives? On this Thanksgiving, Ignitia takes the time to examine the roles gratitude and thankfulness play in our lives. 

Why Showing Gratitude Benefits Those Who Receive It

It’s no secret gratitude improves our relationships. It's also no secret one of the greatest human needs is the need to feel appreciated. And nowhere does this applies more than at work. When we feel as though we are being truly appreciated and celebrated for our work we are more likely to work even harder and engage more fully in our given tasks.  This is just human nature. Thus, expressing gratitude empowers those around us. And makes for a healthy more fulfilling workplace. 

Why Showing Gratitude Benefits Those Who Give It

Conversely, showing gratitude benefits the person giving the gratitude as well. By taking time to notice the efforts by others for which we are truly grateful, we become more aware of the people around us supporting and affirming us. By so doing, we see just how many others around us are buying-into what we are do, believe in our mission, and rely on our efforts for their livelihood and well-being. These are quite empowering realizations. 

Does Gratitude Really Attract Gifts?

By now you've heard of the power of attraction. But, is there anything to it? Whether or not you believe in the practice of 'putting what you want out to the universe', there is no doubt that on an interpersonal level, gratitude matters a great deal. As an example, have you ever given someone a gift and had them become incredibly excited for the present? It is a great feeling. When a person reacts with so much genuine gratitude for what we've done for them, our natural response is to want to give them more. This too works as a whole in life. If we are extremely grateful for the gifts life has given us, life will in turn may only want to give us more.

What Oprah and Ariana Huffington Have to Say

According to a recent article, the first thing Oprah says every morning is, ‘Thank you’.  She says this before she’s even fully awake. According to Oprah, she’s not thankful for the wild success she’s had in life, rather she believes being truly grateful is what allowed her to have such success. Oprah is grateful just to be alive, to be present, and just to have the body she does. We don't only need to be grateful for the big gifts we've been given. According to a recent interview, Ariana Huffington states she both begins and ends each day by naming three things she's grateful for. And she says it doesn’t have to be anything big. “It can be the cafe latte you had or a couple of moments with a dear friend, or a song... What we focus on, what we put our attention on really determines how we feel about that particular day or our life in general.”

What Tony Robbins and Jack Dorsey Have to Say

At the end of every day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asks himself three questions, “What truth did I discover? Who did I hep? What am I grateful for?”. In answering these questions, Mr. Dorsey says he's able to maintain a steady state that allows him to be more effective. Being grateful also reduces negativity. According to legendary self-help guru Tony Robbins, “You can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. You can’t be fearful and grateful at the same time…. so if you want to conquer those [emotions], maybe it's time to train your nervous system to go into gratitude more naturally.”

By making practicing gratitude a part of our daily live and routine, we will be more appreciative of those around us and all the opportunities in our lives. The more we can embodies these attitudes, the happier and healthier we will be.

How to Improve Productivity at Work



Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37signals, a company which specializes in developing productivity tools. In 2010, Mr. Fried gave a TEDx Talk in which he reviewed the key points from his New York Times bestselling book, Rework. Below is a summary of Mr. Fried’s talk.

Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

Mr. Fried opens his talk by stating he is going to talk about why people can’t seem to get work done at work. According to Mr. Fried, often when people are asked where they go to get something done they will answer by saying a certain room in their house, a certain mode of transportation like a train or a plane, or a certain time of day such as very early in the morning. However, what they almost never answer by saying is ‘the offie’. According to Mr. Fried, companies are spending lots of money on offices and are requiring their employees to go to it, yet, there is very little working getting done there.

What happens instead, according to Mr. Fried, is that employees are trading their work days for work moments. According to Mr. Fried, at the office we are able to do work, but only in certain spurts. This is because we are constantly being pulled off our work by our co-workers and bosses. This is a real problem because, according to Mr. Fried, especially with creative people,  what is required to get something done are long stretches of uninterrupted time. Such period of long uninterrupted time in an office are very rare and as a result, Mr. Fried suggests many people, when they really need to buckle-down and do some work, will opt instead to work from home, a private co-working space, or opt to go into the office early or on weekends when they are much less likely to be interrupted.

To make a comparison, Mr. Fried suggested the situation of being constantly interrupted is like being interrupted during sleep. According to Mr. Fried, sleep and work are very closely related. This is because both sleep and work are phase-based, or stage-based events. According to Mr. Fried, there are five phases of sleep and in order to get to the really deep and meaningful later phases, you must transition through the earlier phases uninterrupted. However, when you are interrupted, you return to the earlier phases and when you are constantly interrupted, you never transition to the later, more meaningful phases. According to Mr. Fried, no one would expect anyone to sleep well if they were constantly being interrupted all night. Why then  would anyone be expected to work well if they were constantly being interrupted all day at the office?

Often times, managers are apprehensive about allowing employees to work at home because they are afraid there are too many distractions. However, these distractions at home are what Mr. Fried calls ‘voluntary distractions.’ According to Mr. Fried however, many of the distractions that occur in the office are what he calls ‘involuntary distractions’. According to Mr. Fried, distractions at work like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are not the problem. These are ‘modern-day smoke breaks’. According to Mr. Fried, the real problems are the managers and the meetings. As Mr. Fried points out, all of the places where people say they get the most work done, like their home or on a plane, do not have managers and meetings.

According to Mr. Fried, managers’ jobs are to interrupt people. The top way they do this is by calling meetings. When meetings are called, all work stops. Meetings are where we talk about things we should do later, and meetings often lead to other meetings. Also, according to Mr. Fried, meetings are expensive. If a one hour meeting has ten people attending it, that is ten hours of company time the meeting has cost the company. And often times, when a meeting is scheduled for an hour or a half-hour, this entire time will be used instead of merely using the time required which may be much shorter.

In order to make the office a better place to work, Mr. Fried has several suggestions. First, Mr. Fried suggests that for one day a month, office implement a no-talking policy. For one day a month, no employee is allowed to talk to another employee. According to Mr. Fried, people actually get work done when no one is talking to them, and no one is bothering them. According to Mr. Fried, four hours of uninterrupted time is the most productive gift you can give to someone at work. Mr. Fried suggests this day would be so successful, the policy would likely go from a once-a-month occurrence, to a once-a-week occurrence. The second suggestions Mr. Fried makes is to switch from active communication and collaboration (face-to-face talking, tapping people on the shoulder, etc.) to more passive models of communication such as email and instant messaging. According to Mr. Fried, this will allow these things to become distractions at a time of our own choosing. The last suggestion Mr. Fried has is to cancel all meetings. According to Mr. Fried, if the next meeting you have scheduled was suddenly canceled, what you will find is that everything will go on. And everything will be fine. All of the decisions and discussions that were assumed needed to be had in a meeting, will naturally occur regardless, on their own.

According to Mr. Fried, if managers adopt these suggestions and back-off their employees just a bit, he believes it will pay off for them in the end.




What the Longest Study on Happiness Ever Reveals


Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger is the director of the longest study on happiness in history. It was conducted by Harvard, and lasted over 75-years. In a recent TED Talk, Mr. Waldinger reviewed the key findings from this historic study.

What Keeps Us Healthy and Happy?

To begin with Mr. Waldinger poses the question: 'What keeps us healthy and happy a we go through life?' Or, to put it another, Mr. Waldinger asks: 'If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and energy?' According to Mr. Waldinger, in a recent study which asked millennials what their major life goals were, over 80% of them answered that it was to get rich. Another 50% answered that a major life goal was to become famous. To determine whether or not achieving these things matter toward happiness, Mr. Waldinger says it’d be necessary to study people’s entire lives. From the time they were teenagers all the way into old age.

The Longest Study of Adult Life Ever Done

Fortunately, such a study has been done. The study was called the Harvard Study of Adult Development and it’s goal was to observe people for an entire lifetime in order to determine what really keeps people happy and healthy throughout life. For 75 years, Harvard tracked the lives of 724 men. Year-after-year, the study asked these men about their work, their home lives, and their health, all the while not knowing how their life stories would turn out.

A One-of-A-Kind Study

According to Mr. Waldinger, studies like this are exceedingly rare. Often such studies end within a decade because either funding dries up, participants leave, or any number of other things goes wrong. However, Mr. Waldinger states that through a combination of luck, and the persistence of several generations of researches, this study has survived. According to Mr. Waldinger, as of 2015 sixty of the men are still alive, most in their 90’s, and still participating in the study. The researchers are also now beginning the interview the more than 2,000 children these men have had as well.

According to Mr. Waldinger, since 1938, the study has tracked two groups of men. The first group started at Harvard as sophomores and the second group was a group of boys from one of Boston’s poorest neighborhood. Over their lives, the participants in this study entered an extremely varied number of careers. Some experienced abject failure, some success, and one even became President of the United States.

Every two years, the researchers called up these men and asked if they could send them another set of questions about their lives. These were not simple questionnaires however. According to Mr. Walinger, they also interviewed these men in person, got their medical records, scanned their brains, interviewed them with their wives talking about their deepest concerns, and every other measure of involvement the researchers deemed fit.

The Clearest Message From the Study

So, what are the lessons such in-depth studying has derived from observing these hundreds of lives? According to Mr. Waldinger, the most important lessons have nothing to do with wealth or fame, or working harder and harder. ‘The clearest message we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

The 3 Big Lessons About Relationships Learned

According to Mr. Walinger, this study has shed light on three big lessons on relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. According to Mr. Walinger, “It turns out people who are more socially connected, to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.” According to Mr. Walinger, lonely people are less happy, see an earlier decline in health in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives. Perhaps the saddest fact however is that at any given time more than 1-in-5 Americans report being lonely.

According to Mr. Walinger, you can be lonely in a crowd, and lonely in a marriage as well. So, the second biggest finding was that the number of friends and committed relationships people have don’t matter, it’s the quality of those close relationships that matter. Living in high-conflict relationships turns out to be extremely bad for our health. Warm and happy relationships were very good for people’s health. According to Mr. Walinger, when looking back at these men when they were at age 50, the ones who reported being the happiest and the healthiest in their 80s were the ones who were most satisfied with their relationships at age 50. According to Mr. Walinger, good relationships seemed to buffer people from the slings and arrows of getting old. “Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.”

The third big lesson this study revealed was that good relationships also protect our brains. According to Mr. Walinger, those who are in a relationship where they feel protected and feel like they can count on their partner when they're in their 80s have memories that stay sharper longer. Those in less happy relationships experience earlier mental decline. This doesn’t mean the good couples didn’t fight, just that they knew they could count on the other person when the going really got tough.

What Truly Brings Us Happiness

According to Mr. Walinger, these findings - that good close relationships are good for our health and well-being - is nothing new. Why then, does everyone not take this advice? Because, good relationships are tough to maintain. It takes a lot of work, effort, and understanding. It is a life-long endeavor. According to Mr. Walinger, those who were happiest in retirement were whose who had actively worked to replace their co-workers with new playmates. According to Mr. Walinger, just like the millennials in the recent study, most of the men in this study felt when they were just starting out that what would make them happy was fame, fortune, and success. However, according to Mr. Walinger, over-and-over what this study has shown is that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, and with community. According to Mr. Walinger, it is far better to reach out and maintain the relationships we have than it is to not pick up the phone or to hold a grudge.

In closing, Mr. Walinger ends by quoting Mark Twain who, more than a century ago, in looking back on his own life said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” According to Mr. Walinger, “The good life is built with good relationships.”



A Lesson in Motivation from Arnold Schwarzenegger

By any measure, Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most successful people of all-time. From being named Mr. Universe, to becoming one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, Arnold is a master of achieving what he sets out to accomplish.  In a recent interview Arnold laid out what it takes for him to be successful.

Get Clear on Your Goals

For Arnold, it all begins with a goal. A vision of what you want to do. For Arnold, he envisioned himself as the greatest body builder of all-time. He envisioned himself up on the stage. And envisioned himself lifting the trophy over-and-over-and-over again. Arnold recommends we sit down, take our time, and start to think about why do we want to achieve our goals.

Envision Your Success

According to Arnold, once you become clear on what it is you want it's a good idea to post pictures of what success looks like around your house as a daily reminder to help you stay clear on your vision. According to Arnold, seeing these constant reminders of what you want will help you stay on track. When Arnold was chasing his dream of becoming Mr. Universe, he was constantly smiling. He said this was because he knew every curl he did and every weight he lifted got him one step closer to the goal he was chasing. That attitude kept him excited, and kept him going.

A Lesson in Motivation

Just after Arnold had won Mr. Olympia in 1975, film director Bob Rafelson approached Arnold about a starring role in the film, Stay Hungry. The only catch was Arnold needed to weigh 210 pounds. At the time, Arnold was weighing well over 245 pounds. But he wanted the role, so for the next few months, Arnold did everything he could to lose the weight and the day before they started filming, he weighed-in at 209 pounds. The entire time he was working out, Arnold says he visualized exactly what he wanted to look like.

Success Starts Small

According to Arnold, when he started into the world of weight lifting as a kid, he did not have very much confidence. It was not until he won his first little trophy for doing the best ‘clean and jerk’ lift that he began to believe in himself a bit. From there he won another little trophy. And his confidence built. This continued until Arnold was the most successful bodybuilder in the world.

According to Arnold, this approach of using little victories to add confidence until he ultimately achieved his biggest goals was the same approach he used all throughout his life.

The Importance of Deadlines

For Arnold, it was always important to have a deadline. Knowing he needed to be in top shape by a certain deadline always helped to streamline and sharpen Arnold’s effort. Arnold says he would never allow a deadline to arrive without knowing he did his best to be in the best shape he could be for his deadline. Having such deadline motivates one to keep on track, and lessens the chances of allowing your efforts and attention to drift aimlessly. It is this focus on achieving a specific goal by a specific date that has helped Arnold achieve so much.

How to Find the Time

According to Arnold, of the 24 hours in a day, there is more than enough time to prepare for the goals you want to achieve. For Arnold, this is especially true if what you want to achieve is learning something new, or reshaping your body. Finding one hour a day in which to devote toward these goals is totally doable, if you are dedicated to your goal. If you want to do something, you will make the time for it. Get up an hour earlier. And don’t waste a minute. For Arnold, there are no excuses. If you think you need eight hours, according to Arnold all you need to do is, ‘Just sleep a little faster.’


Is this the Actual Equation for Success?

Recently, Northeastern University physics professor and Harvard Medical School appointee, Albert-Lazlo Barabasi developed what he claims to be an equation for success: S=Qr.

The Equation for Success: S=Qr

According to the professor Barabasi, S (success) equals r (the potential value of a given idea) multiplied by Q (the person’s ability to execute on the idea). Thus, success equals the potential value of an idea times the ability of a person to execute on that idea: S=Qr

The Two Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business Venture

According to professor Barabasi’s research, when considering any new business venture there are two key questions we should ask ourselves: 1.) What is the potential value of this idea?, and 2.) Can I make this idea work? Thus, when evaluating the value of any new business idea, we should first consider how much this idea could be worth if it reached its full potential, and then consider our honest ability to bring the idea to this full potential. If after evaluating our new business idea in such terms we remain confident of the venture's chances for success, perhaps then we may deem the idea worth pursuing.

The 'Q-factor'

As such, a brilliant idea alone is not enough. We must also be able to pull it off. According to professor Barabasi, this ability to execute in a given field is known as someone’s ‘Q-factor'. A Q-factor is a combination of a person’s innate talent and skill. According to professor Barabasi, "If an individual with a low Q-factor comes across a great idea with a huge r value, the impact will still be mediocre, as the resulting product--or Qr--is diminished by the small Q-factor. Fantastic idea, poor execution." The converse is also true. According to professor Barabasi, "Think Apple's first handheld Newton, with its inept handwriting recognition. The reverse also happens: A creative person with a high Q-factor can put out multiple weak or mediocre--or low r—products.” It is only in the instances where a brilliant idea and the right person with the ability to make it happen merge where true success is found. The greater the idea and the greater the ability to execute to that idea, the greater the success.

What This Means for Our Careers

According to professor Barabasi’s research, our Q-factor remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Meaning, if we are not finding success in a given field, perhaps we’d be better served to switch careers and find a field where our talents may be more aligned. According to professor Barabasi, "If our Q-factor isn't resonating with our job, we should consider if we've pinned our hopes on the wrong career path." On the other hand however, professor Barabasi’s research seems to indicate it is possible to find success at any point on our career path, if only we are only on the right path. Thus, in a final word of affirmation, professor Barabasi suggests in order to find success we must merely find what we are good at, and keep trying.

You can read the full excerpt of professor Barabasi's work here.

How Squarespace Built a Great Startup


Squarespace is the New York City-based startup that allows clients to easily build their own beautiful websites. Founded in 2003, Squarespace has now grown into one of the hottest startups in NYC.

Squarespace Started in a College Dorm Room

Squarespace was founded by Anthony Casalena in his dorm room at the University of Maryland. The original tool was a way to allow Anthony to easily build his own website. After sharing the tool with his friends and family, Anthony was soon able to raise $30,000 to start the company. For the next four years, Casalena was the only employee at the company. By 2007, the company was generating $1 million in annual revenue. 

From Small Beginnings to a $1.7 Billion Valuation

By 2010, Squarespace had raised $38.5 million in Series A funding and had grown to 30 employees. Four years later, the company closed a second round of Series B funding worth another $40 million. The following year in 2015, the company had reached $100 million in annual revenue and had grown to over 550 employees. Then last year in 2017, Squarespace secured an additional $200 million in secondary market funding in a round that saw the company valued at $1.7 billion.

Simplicity is Key

By simply dragging-and-dropping content into pre-arranged templates, Squarespace allows users to easily make their own beautifully designed websites. For more ambitious users, Squarespeace also allows them to create templates which can then be sold to other users who want to purchase the design. Templates come with tutorials on how to optimize for SEO and even include how-to setup guides for e-commerce. As of 2016, the company was hosting more than 1 million pages.

Expanding and Earning Kudos

Since its founding, Squarespace has grown to over 830 employees. The company has also grown from its NYC-based roots to also having offices in Portland, Oregon and Dublin, Ireland as well. As a vote of confidence, Squarespace also hosts its own website on the platform. Since 2012, the company has been voted one of Crain’s Best Places to Work in NYC and last year was named one of Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces for Parents.

Furthering the Market Share

As of 2016, the company has also started selling domain names. This put the company on an even more head-on trajectory with rivals like GoDaddy. But Squarespace has fared well. Since then, the company has managed to embrace the e-commerce trend and has also found ways to fully integrate both PayPal and Stripe in order to make online transactions across the platform more seamless.

Today, more-and-more Squarespace is making its presence in the web-hosting industry felt. Few would have guessed the company would ever come so far after starting in that university dorm room all those years ago.