How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Take on challenges. Set yourself goals, including short- medium- and long-term objectives. Think about what you want to achieve in life and then plan your way there in steps you can tick off a list.
Make sure the challenges you take on are achievable, so do not try to jump over the moon. Also make sure your challenges challenge you and are not too easy.
Dive into your challenges and always do your best. Get lost in the action, focusing on the doing and not just 'being happy'.
Believe in yourself and your goals. Enjoy the journey as well as the achievement at the end.
One of the basic ways we get happy is by meeting our goals, as opposed to the frustration and anger we feel when we do not. Setting goals and meeting them might hence seem an easy route to happiness. The problem is that goals which are too easy are not that rewarding. Our brains want us to improve and grow and make us happy only when we deserve it.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses the term 'flow' for the state we get into when we are engaged in something enjoyable, where time seems to fly by. He also describes an 'autotelic personality' (auto=self, telos=goal) as someone who sets themselves challenging, but achievable, goals.
An important part of finding flow is letting go of the self. When you are immersed in doing something, you lose track of your sense of identity. This can be particularly scary for those who are very self-focused and, paradoxically, the selfish often have difficulty finding happiness.
There is also a curious 'work-play' paradox, where people at work are dreaming of holidays, yet sitting on the beach is quickly boring. Asked about when they were happiest, many people will describe times at work when they achieved significant goals.
Another critical reason for seeking challenge is to keep the brain active and learning. After the age of about 25, the brain literally becomes increasingly set in its ways, such that learning and thinking about new things becomes harder as existing neural pathways deepen. This is why the personality of many people remains unchanged during adulthood. Unless, that is, they keep taking on challenges, which takes a lot of practice, repetition and persistence to bed in the new thinking.
Swart et al (2015) note that, depending on the complexity of the activity, it can take around four months or more for a new brain map to be created in the motor cortex. Change not only needs challenge, it needs energetic challenge. Depending on your thinking processes, this can seem a brilliant opportunity or not worth the bother. They also note that this is easier if your body is in good shape and fed well. It takes good hydration, nutrients, exercise and rest to help unlearn ineffective patterns and to develop and embed new ones.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper and Row
Swart, T., Chisholm, K. and Brown, P. (2015). Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage, Palgrave Macmillan