Ctrl-Z The Ctrl-Z Button changed the face of humanity.
It created a trial-and-error mentality.
It encourages try-and-see.

“I’ll format this text like so in my business cards… Oh no! Too far to the left!!!
Ctrl-Z!!!!!!!!! :) Yay!”

These all work similarly: the Ctrl-Z button, having many lives for your character in a video game, going back to a prior saved Word document. Trial and error, multiple-trial and success.

Can there be any harm in the Ctrl-Z button? Research shows that there’s not much, if any, harm. There’s some evidence that teenagers are taking more risks these days (e.g., this pdf), which some attribute to the second-chance mentality, “Sure, I might get in trouble, but I’ll get a do-over.” Restart the game. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t get a second chance. But so far, there’s no direct evidence that a trial-and-error mentality is connected to crime or harm. In fact, sociologists recently reported that video games do not cause more aggression in teens.

On the other hand, there are a ton of great things about restarting. See what Dave Seah highlights about rebooting your day. Restarting is freshness. It’s counteracting what the Made-to-Stick Heath brothers call “The Curse of Knowledge,” knowing so much about your subject that you can’t step away and be objective. If you can trigger yourself to restart your day, then maybe you can cultivate that “beginner’s mind” that Jordan Silberman writes about here and Miriam Ufberg writes about here.

I love Ctrl-Z. I love trying, going back, retrying.
The most memorable way to learn is by making mistakes. :)

Positive Psychology has been in the news recently (full summary here at Positive Psychology News Daily).

  • EU citizens report themselves as 87% happy! From this Reuters news, the Eurobarometer survey asked social questions to nearly 27,000 people in the EU during Nov and Dec 06. While 87% of people on average considered themselves happy, Denmark led with 97% and Bulgaria (which joined the EU in January) was the lowest with 45%.
    FYI, Map of the EU here. FULL RESULTS of the Eurobarometer survey here.

    Conclusion? What’s the point then of happiness research – if it turns out people are pretty happy already? Depends – if you’re happy, do you still want to know how to get happier, more successful, and more productive? Or is generally happy the goal, and no higher? Maslow says self-actualization is one of the main needs of people – always becoming better at who we are. Is he right? I think so.

  • Scientific American writer calls for more historical-based research of happiness. I disagree. I don’t like historical research when your goal is to find out how a person feels or thinks. FYI, historical research consists of looking at old documents, diaries, newspaper clippings to try to evaluate the person’s mindset. A person could be very crotchety on the outside – sayings to friends, even diary – but could be wonderfully content and happy on the inside.

    I believe one of the VERY BEST THINGS ABOUT POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY is that it BELIEVES IN THE PERSON. Positive Psychology believes that a person knows best about himself or herself. There is no “objective measure” of happiness. In fact, the Ed Diener-created SWB (subjective well-being measure) is explicitly a measure of how the person believes he is.

    I do agree with the author that happiness can be time- and context-dependant. But I think the way to make positive psychology and happiness research more universal is not by going backwards, but by going forwards. George Vaillant has made a research life of studying the longitudinal Adult Grant Study. This is a study of people that were generally healthy people at ages 20, and what happens to them over their lives. He studies alcoholism, mature emotional defenses, happiness, success, and all because he had regular interviews and interesting follow-ups with the same people. (For more information, I recommend the immensely interesting read Aging Well.)

    Conclusion? We will get stronger and more interesting conclusions from positive psychology when we study it both in short-term studies and in logitudinal studies.

  • Dissertation of the Year is on Positive Psychology. Very interesting dissertation of the year. Kudos to Virigina Ambler! FULL TEXT of dissertation here, and summary here.

    Conclusions? 1) It’s a very interesting dissertation, and 2) while there so far only one Ph.D. program in Positive Psychology and only one Master’s program, there will likely be more universities offering both Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in the near future since there is an interest in further research in these fields.

Whether you are a villain or a good person is for you and you alone to decide: you are worth precisely what you want.
~ André Comte-Sponville

We talked earlier about how being good can be hard. And yet…. And yet…. At the same time as potentially being hard, being good can feel so right. As Will Smith says, “Think of yourself as two people, and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. … And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync with your own perception of goodness.”

White lies are bad for the soul.

White lies can harm your soul. Every time we take an action, we strengthen the neural pathways for that action. Why would you want to strengthen the neural pathways of deceit?

Alvin talks here about how showing yourself personal commitment can strengthen your emotional core. While lies can be like worms. One won’t phase you, and you can just brush it off your pant leg. But a whole bunch of them can … well, you get the picture.

Imagine a seesaw. “One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.” ~ Maimonides (from here. Related: this and this.)

Every time a person makes a white lie, a person’s inner scorekeeper says, “Huh?” We are people and we use some types of defense mechanisms, so our brains would need to give that “huh?” an answer. And the answer can be, “It’s ok that I white-lied – I need to / I was in rush / It doesn’t hurt anyone anyway.” Or the answer can be, “No, that’s wrong. I feel wrong about it, and I don’t want to feel wrong. I won’t white-lie next time.”

People are always doing things to be in sync with their beliefs about the goodness of themselves. Whether it’s rationalizing something away or belittling the importance of being good or just adopting an attitude of not-caring. And the simplest thing to do to be in sync with your own perception of goodness? The easiest thing to do is to be good.

How can you decide whether to white-lie or not?

You could decide very logically, “Is the worth of the white lie worth more than the harm of it?” Almost an economic approach. When has it been worth it to say to yourself, “No, I’m not a bad person?” Why would it ever be worth it to put yourself into a situation in which at the end of the situation, you have to reassure yourself that you actually weren’t being bad? …. If you have to reassure yourself (even it it takes a nanosecond and even if the thought is semi-automatic), then your mind already knew that you had done the wrong thing. Why would you ever take an action that embeds into your brain that you are ok with sometimes doing something that feels a little bit wrong?

Another way that you could decide whether to white-lie or not is that you could decide from a very principled stance, “Is that something I do?” Here’s where our earlier discussion of self-regulation and creating new habits resurfaces. Perhaps your self-regulation for yourself is that generally you do not white lie. It’s just not worth the thinking about it. It’s just not worth the questioning of your core principles. (I’d recommend putting the “generally” in there because on the extreme side if it’s a question of life-or-death vs. a white lie, of course you’d white-lie. An extreme position just makes it easier to fall later. I just had a talk with a friend about rarely using the words “always” and “never.”)

“Everyone tries to define this thing called Character. It’s not hard. Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.
~ Anonymous (from this set of quotes)

Welcome to February. Has your life changed since the New Year? Do you want it to?

What is the #1 habit you want to create right now? Do you want to eat healthier? Become more organized? Remember where you put your keys? Give up alcohol?

Here are some new results from Positive Psychology that could help you create new habits and break old behavior. Let’s look at the stories behind these new results to see whether they work for you.


Self-Regulation It turns out that one of the strongest things you can do for yourself to create a new habit is to exercise self-control in some area of your life. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and his colleagues sum up three studies of self-control in a pre-publication.

The posture study: if you ask college students to watch their posture for two weeks – simply to improve it whenever possible – and then have the students take a self-control activity test, those who had been asked to work on their posture improved their self-control. Moms and ballet teachers all over the world must be celebrating this news.

Self-Regulation as a Muscle Self-control is often referred to as “self-regulation,” and the fascinating thesis of Baumeister and colleagues is that self-regulation can act as a muscle! What are some things that we know about muscles? 1) Muscles can be trained to get stronger over time, and 2) If weak, a muscle can be easily fatigued.

Baumeister postulates that the same two ideas can be applied to self-regulation. If a person is tempted multiple times, “Have a drink…. Come on, have a drink…. Have just one drink,” then each time, it becomes harder to say no. On the other hand, if a person trains his self-regulation, then it becomes easier to say no to temptations. How can you train your self-regulation? Self-regulation is your personality process to exert control over your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Baumeister proposes an interesting result – if you do ANYTHING that requires self-regulation, then that makes it EASIER for you to have self-regulation in EVERYTHING.

Self-Regulation Improves Many Habits

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Baumeister reports on two studies – the exercise study and the money study. In the exercise study, students were taught a cardio and weights exercise regimen and were told to follow it closely for two months. At the end of two months, not only did their self-regulation increase under test circumstances (link how do scientists measure self-regulation?), but also the exercisers had less junk food, cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine. I know what you’re saying – those things are all related to getting healthier and exercising. True. But additionally, the students reported studying more, watching TV less, and doing more household chores like washing dishes. Why is it that if you start to exercise regularly, then that may result in you getting better grades or being a neater person?

Baumeister attributes it to a well-trained self-regulation muscle. In the money study, participants were asked to manage their finances for four months by following a specific system. Not only did the participants increase their average savings rate over four months from 8% to 38% of their income, but they also improved study habits and doing household chores and decreased cigarette use. Baumeister and colleagues use these results to say that self-regulation is not specific to one domain… being self-regulated in your money management leads to self-regulation in other areas. Does that mean that a person who develops great study habits may suddenly lose a lot of weight and become amazingly buff? Maybe, says Baumeister.

In the current issue of Health Psychology, Peter Hall of Ontario’s Waterloo University studies which part of the brain leads to good self-regulation. His answer is the strong executive function of the frontal lobes. Hall gives participants the Stroop test (try it here) in which the word GREEN may appear in red color. As one author describes, “to answer correctly you have to mentally override the impulse to read the word. The same effortful overriding—and the same underlying neuronal activity—is presumably needed to keep showing up at the gym, even when it hurts.”

STARTING Self-Regulation Today

What is something you can start doing today to put more self-regulation into your life? You can create more structure. Whether you decide that you will pre-pack your lunch so you don’t have something unhealthy at the local café. Or whether you schedule out exercise time for the remainder of the week. Or whether you clean your room. Or whether you decide to pay attention to posture. Or decide that you will open your email only every three hours – 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm – for no more than a half hour each time. Structure something concrete into your life. That’s the best way to develop self-regulation. Structure something simple into your life so it doesn’t turn everything in your life upside down but so that it does create some structure.

Start with a little bit of self-regulation – to get an effect across many habits.

This article is part of a series on creating new habits and behavior modification and originally appeared here.

Senia Maymin Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP works in the financial industry and consults to corporations about Positive Psychology. Senia is the Editor of Positive Psychology News Daily, and runs a blog about positive psychology at Senia.com. Senia’s bio.

Senia writes on the first of each month, and her past articles are here.

I’m getting married in the mornin’!
Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time!

~ My Fair Lady, Get Me to the Church on Time

How can you get to sleep on time? On your time. At the time you want to fall asleep? WebMD has 12 tips for better sleep. I completely agree with one of the tips:

Allow yourself one hour to unwind before bed. Brush your teeth one hour before getting into bed and wash your face slowly with warm water. Set the mood for relaxation before bed. This is not a time to be rushing about or planning the following days events. Do this earlier in the evening.

What can you do to relax as completely and as simply as you can before bed?
Can you
* Light a candle,
* Have some camomile tea,
* Brush your hair,
* Meditate,
* Breathe,
* Read some poetry?

What can you do to prep your body that it is about to go to bed? What cues can you give to your body (smell – light-fragrance candle, sight – darken the lights, touch – put on pajamas and night clothes, taste – brush your teeth, hear – put on classical music)? Or other cues? How can you give your body a clue that sleep is about to happen?

That is the single-best thing you can do for your body to get ready for sleep – to put it in the mood for sleep. I suggest getting ready for bed between 10 and 11pm. You need to be in bed by 10 or 11pm for optimal functioning, in my humble unscientific in this case, opinion.

And, yes, this will take longer than your usual routine, and yes, you’ll need to factor that time into your day, but it will pay off in healthy, full sleep.

One more tip: get ready for bed, get everything ready (including all these above cues), and then just get in bed and read. Read books for fun, not necessarily books for work or for homework. Marsha Norman says that if you’re a writer, you should read for four hours every day, and if anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them that you’re busy and you’re reading. And for those of us who are not writers, reading is so opening, so exhilirating, so freeing, so full – it is the ideal pre-bedtime activity. Reading takes us into different worlds. And by doing so absolutely prepares us for bed.


  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Create cues for sleep.
  • Go to bed 10-11pm.
  • Read in bed until you’re tired enough to fall asleep.

Note: I know these above won’t work for everybody. That’s why they’re my opinoons and my suggestions only.

I’ve learned two things in the past couple of decades:
1) Memorize important phone numbers.
2) To learn a new field – get the jargon down.

Jargon catapults you from a mailroom clerk to a business equal in any discussion. No wonder Liza Dolittle was hailed as a princess at the ball. She knew the customs and the jargon: “How nice of you to let me come.”

Imagine that you want to switch careers, for example, from Finance to Media. You might switch wht you’re reading: goodbye Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, hello Daily Variety and Cable & Broadcasting. You might start following weekend box office profits rather than the S&P500.

The jargon of a business, an industry, a group of people tells you so much about the people. Jargon crystalizes the concerns, major attitudes, expectations of a whole new world. Jargon is like the Cliffs’ Notes to a business.

On Wall Street, daily jargon includes matching people that bring “value added” to projects, giving the client everything “from soup to nuts”, looking at the big picture “at the end of the day,” and examining worst-case scenarios for “when the shit hits the fan.” The irony is the same phrases that sound cliche also make a lot of sense at the same time! Value added is one of the most important ideas in business. The best possible end-of-year review commends the employee for adding value to the firm.

An idea tediously pervasive in a culture is often surprisingly acute. Cliches often summarize the crux of an issue. The contradictions in “out of sight, out of mind” and “distance makes the heart grow fonder” underscore the conflict of having a close friend move far away.

Similarly, old wives’ tales are effective despite being common knowledge. The best way to cure a cold is still chicken soup, drinking liquids, and staying in bed.

Listening for the jargon in people’s speech is like picking up pieces of quantum speech, useful tidbits. Have you ever noticed that you speak differently to different people or to different groups of people? You just don’t use as many “like”s when making a presentation or speaking in front of a class.

Two people find a common wavelength to speak on. The wavelength may include common jargon, and jargon or mannerisms from each person. Jargon may get transmuted this way, like a telephone game, from person to person to person. Bits of quantum speech traveling the world.