Optimize Positive Psychology

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Positive Psychology 101

How to Tap into the Science of Optimizing + Actualizing

I LOVE the science of flourishing. In this class, we have fun exploring my absolute favorite Big Ideas from my absolute favorite psychologists. Life-changing stuff. The psychologists: Maslow + Frankl + Csikszentmihalyi + Seligman + Dweck + Baumeister + Ben-Shahr + Oettingen + Segar + McGonigal. The Ideas: Actualizer + Choice + Flow + Virtues + Mindsets + Willpower + Optimalist + WOOP + Why + Stress.

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Motivation and Personality

Abraham Maslow tells us, "What one can be, one must be!" (OMG I love that.) He was a 20th century humanistic psychologist who came up with the hierarchy of needs and studied the most exceptional people of his era. In this Note, we'll explore some of the Big Ideas on how we can be all that we're destined to be and look at some of the characteristics of those self-actualizing human beings who're rockin' it.

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Man's Search For Meaning

An Introduction to Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of the holocaust and describes his Logotherapy in this classic book. In the Note, we'll explore the fact that our attitudes determine our happiness and that *no one* can ever take away the freedom for us to choose our response to any given situation. We'll also look at the importance of having a mission in life and that as we serve something bigger than ourselves, our happiness and success will follow.

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A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being

Martin Seligman is one of the founding fathers of the Positive Psychology movement and this is the third Note we’ve done on one of his books. (Check out the Notes on his other classics: Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness for more science of happiness goodness.) In this Note, we’ll explore his shift from Authentic Happiness Theory to Well-Being Theory as we wrap our brains around PERMA, his model of well-being that consists of Positive emotions + Engagement + Relationships + Meaning + Achievement. Good times.

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Rethinking Positive Thinking

Inside the New Science of Motivation

Gabriel Oettingen is one of the world’s leading researchers in “The New Science of Motivation.” The basic idea of the book is captured in a clever image on the cover: Rose colored glasses with one lens cracked. Oettingen walks us thru the compelling research that demonstrates the power of seeing both the positive AND the challenges. When we contrast our wishes with the obstacles to their attainment we, almost magically, catalyze an extraordinarily higher level of performance.

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The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Angela Duckworth is the world’s leading authority on the science of grit. In fact, she pioneered the field and, as Daniel Gilbert says on the cover: “Psychologists have spent decades searching for the secret of success, but Duckworth is the one who found it.” In this Note, we explore the two facets of grit (hint: passion + perseverance, why they’re important and how to cultivate them.


The Joy of Movement

How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage

I’m a big fan of Kelly McGonigal and her ability to help us apply scientific wisdom to our lives. We’ve covered two of her earlier books: The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress. So... When I got this book, knew I’d enjoy it. But, I didn’t anticipate JUST how much I’d love it. We have some great Notes on Movement (Spark, Spartan Up and No Sweat among my favorites), but Kelly’s book will be our new go-to for the science of WHY exercise/movement is so essential to our well-being. It’s PHENOMENAL. Reading about the SCIENCE behind stories of transformation (and how, as per the sub-title of her book: “Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage”) also made me that much more clear on the power of what we’re doing with all of our work and the importance of focusing so much on Energy (especially with our Mastery and Coach programs). Big Ideas we explore include: Hope Molecules (and how to create them), persistence highs (and how to create them), collective effervescence (and why it's so awesome), how we endure (hint: TOGETHER!), and OMMS!!! (Obstacles (literally!) Make Me Stronger!).

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What Doesn't Kill Us

The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth

Stephen Joseph is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of posttraumatic growth. He is also a professor and therapist. He started his career studying posttraumatic stress. In the process, he saw that many people experienced significant growth as a result of the stress they endured--at which point, he started developing his ideas on posttraumatic growth. Fast-forward a few decades and here we are. the title is a play on Nietzsche’s famous dictum: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” While the sub-title perfectly captures the focus of the book: “The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth.” Big Ideas we explore include: Eudaimonic Treadmills (note: there aren't any!), posttraumatic growth (and how to use stress as the engine for growth), the shattered vase (taking the pieces and making an antifragile mosaic), harvesting hope (the 1 + 2 + 3s for trauma survivors).

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Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Anders Ericsson is the world’s leading scientist studying expert performance—looking at how, precisely, the people who are the best in the world at what they do became the best. In this Note, we take a quick look at The Gift that we all have that’s the key to our potential greatness, HOW to go about tapping into the benefits of that gift via a certain type of practice (forget naive practice and go for purposeful + deliberate!), the fact that there is no such thing as a “10,000 Hour Rule,” and why we should be called Homo Exercens rather than Homo Sapiens. :)

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Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

Amy Cuddy is awesome. Her TED talk is the 2nd most popular ever. This book is just as good. Learn the science of cultivating your personal power to bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges. Big Ideas we explore: self-affirmation theory, priming + nudges, the magic of expanding your body to increase your power, iHunch (how’s yours?), and the boldest you.

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Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment

Tal Ben-Shahar is one of my favorite teachers. He taught one of the most popular classes in Harvard's history and this book captures the essence of his class on Positive Psychology—sharing the best of what we scientifically know about how to create happier, more fulfilled lives. We'll explore how important it is to have goals AND be in the moment (and the perils of *just* being in the moment) along with mucho más goodness.


Gratitude Works!

A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity

I’m grateful for Robert Emmons. He’s dedicated the last three decades of his life to understanding the science of how to boost our well-being. In the process, he’s conducted ground-breaking research on the power of gratitude. In fact, he’s basically THE researcher we have to thank for understanding *just* how powerful gratitude journaling is. (He's also served as editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.) I consider myself a reasonably grateful guy but this book has opened my eyes to JUST how powerful gratitude is. And, to just how important it is to DELIBERATELY PRACTICE it. Big Ideas we explore include: How to give yourself a 25% (!!!) boost in happiness, the top gratitude practices, the #1 obstacle to gratitude (and its remedy), and using challenges for grateful fuel!

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Future Visions

The Unpublished Papers of Abraham Maslow

As you know if you’ve been following along, I love Abraham Maslow and feel a deep kinship to him and his work. We have featured two of the books he published during his lifetime: Toward a Psychology of Being and Motivation and Personality. Although this book has only ONE review on Amazon and I could only buy a used copy of it, I knew I’d love it. And, although I had already been deeply influenced by Maslow and his thinking, there was something about reading his unpublished essays and journal thoughts that made me feel that much more connected to this great man. Big Ideas we explore include Maslow’s thoughts on the “eupsychian ideal” (aka: the “eudaemonic ideal”!), the psychology of happiness (eudaimonology!!), Stoic philosophy (Maslow was a fan), vicious cultural influences (Maslow was NOT a fan!), and the Jonah Complex (ANSWER YOUR HEROIC CALL, already!!).


Happy Together

Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts

Suzie and James Pawelski are two of the world's leading positive psychologists. James cofounded the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania with Martin Seligman while Suzie is a graduate of the program and a leading freelance writer and consultant. Together they've written an incredible book on "Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts." I’ve been waiting for a very long time for the book that would make me say: “READ THIS BOOK if you want to figure out how to integrate Ancient Wisdom + Modern Science + Practical Tools to Optimize your relationship.” And, well, THIS book is it. I HIGHLY recommend it. In fact, it's not only my #1 Love book recommendation, it's also cracked the Top 10 all-time greatest list. Big Ideas we explore include The Relationship Gym (hit it!), Aristotelian Lovers (the REAL Soul Mates), SNAP (James geniuses x2), Know Thy... (self and thy partner!), and Love Is an Action Verb (let's commit to flourishing together TODAY!).

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The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert

Want to make your relationship work? Then you’d be wise to turn toward the world’s leading researcher on the science of what makes love work: John Gottman. This book has sold over 1 million copies and it’s easy to see why. Big Ideas we explore: How Gottman can predict divorce with 91% accuracy (in < 15 minutes), a quick look at the 7 principles, the power of cherishing your partner, turning toward (and not being a tech rat), how to solve the solvable problems and starting “I love you” with the “I.”

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The How of Happiness

A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

People often ask me what *one* book I would recommend they read. I never had an answer I felt good about until I read this book. It's amazing. The most comprehensive and readable look at what we *scientifically know* works to boost our happiness—from gratitude and exercise to optimism and kindness. (btw: The other #1 book I'd recommend? The PhilosophersNotes workbook. How can you beat 1,000 Big Ideas from 100 great books packed into 600 pages? ;)

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The Upside of Stress

Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

If you’ve ever had stress in your life (hah!) and wondered how to deal with it more optimally, I think you’ll love this. McGonigal tells us that how we THINK about stress plays a huge role in its affect on us and walks us thru the science behind it. Rather than try to get rid of stress (good luck with that!), we’re much better off shifting our mindsets to embrace and use the stress wisely!

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The Happiness Hypothesis

Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Wonder where happiness comes from? So does Jonathan Haidt, one of the world’s leading positive psychologists and Professor at the University of Virginia. In this phenomenal book, Haidt looks at ancient wisdom and modern wisdom as he tests some happiness hypotheses and comes up with his ultimate hypothesis. In this Note, we’ll check out the dynamic between you and your elephant, the magic pill that is meditation, and the mojo of virtue.

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The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow. It's all about the science of optimal human experience. In this Note, we'll explore what the flow state is (hint: get fully engaged in an activity that matches your skills with your challenge) and we’ll look at some other Big Ideas on controlling the contents of our consciousness to get out of anxiety and boredom as we create more flow experiences in our lives. (Plus, you'll even learn how to pronounce "Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.")

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The Myths of Happiness

What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does

Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of the world’s leading positive psychology researchers. Her award-winning and very well-funded research is on “the possibility of permanently increasing happiness.” <— How cool is that? This book focuses on, you guessed it, the myths of happiness—those things we *think* will make us happy (or devastated) but don’t. The book has over 700 (!) scholarly references. I always love connecting ancient wisdom and fun self-help with SOLID research so this book was a great treat. Big Ideas: hedonic adaptation, #1 way to boost optimism (kinda surprising), the ultradian dip, affluenza virus, frequency > intensity and how to set goals.

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The Psychology of Hope

You Can Get There from Here

Rick Snyder was the founder of research into the science of hope. And, he was one of the pioneers of the positive psychology movement. In fact, he literally wrote the textbook on “Positive Psychology.” Big Ideas we explore include the three components of hope (goals + willpower + way power), the portrait of a high-hope person, how to create the right goals, remembering you WILL face obstacles, the power of multiple pathways and being a time traveler making a difference.


Making Hope Happen

Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others

Did you know there's a science of hope? Yep. And Shane Lopez is the world's leading researchig studying the science of hope. This book is an inspiring look at the nuts and bolts of cultivating hope. Big Ideas we explore include differentiating hope from fantastizing and dwelling, the three keys to hope (goals + agency + pathways) , futurecasting, sirens, when/where plans and why hope is so important for leadership.

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Constructive Living

Outgrow Shyness, Depression, Fear, Stress, Grief, Chronic Pain. Achieve the Goal of Constructive Living - To Do Everything Well

Dan Millman (author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and other great books) introduced me to this book as he's been deeply influenced by David Reynolds' integration of Zen Buddhism and Western Psychotherapy. In this Note, we'll explore some Big Ideas on how to live with greater self-mastery by more effectively relating to our emotions and consistently asking ourselves: "Now what needs to be done?!"

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The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Creativity with a capital C—the type of Creativity that changes the world. How can we go about cultivating it in our lives? That’s what this book is all about. Our guide is the legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Big Ideas we explore include defining true Creativity, focusing our attention and being willing to be kinda weird, the one personality trait all Creators have in common (hint: complexity!), creating rhythms and the nine elements of flow and how to tap into it!

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The As If Principle

The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life

William James once said: “If you want a quality, act as if you already have it.” In this book, Richard Wiseman, Britain’s official professor in “the Public Understanding of Psychology” walks us through the astonishing array of research that proves what he calls the “As If Principle.” Big Ideas we explore include an exploration of the fact that feelings follow behavior, how to make yourself happy, the paradox of rewards, and how to create a new you.

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How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier

Robert Emmons is one of the world's leading experts on the science of gratitude and this book is packed with the whys and hows of getting our gratitude on. In this Note, we'll explore Big Ideas on how we can boost our happiness by 25% by simply keeping a daily gratitude journal, how to get our relationships flourishing, the importance of seeing challenges as opportunities for growth and more goodness.

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Authentic Happiness

Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment

Martin Seligman is essentially the father of the Positive Psychology movement and in this Note we explore how important it is for us to use our Signature Strengths consistently throughout our day-to-day lives. We've got tips on how to discover our Strengths and how to move from a job to a career to a calling as we live a life of meaning and purpose. Good times.

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Learned Optimism

How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

Did you know you can learn optimism? Yep. And, unfortunately, we can also learn helplessness. Whether we're helpless or optimistic is one of the biggest predictors of whether we're emotionally happy/healthy or depressed/unhealthy so this is BIG. In this Note, we'll explore some great Ideas on how to get our optimism on by creating more empowering explanations of what's happening in our lives.

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The Courage Quotient

How Science Can Make You Braver

Robert Biswas-Diener is known as the “Indiana Jones of positive psychology.” As per his bio, “his research has taken him to such far-flung places as Greenland, India, Kenya and Israel.” And, important note: “He is afraid of quicksand and snakes.” :) Robert is also the son of one of the leading positive psychology researchers: Ed Diener. We covered a book they wrote together called Happiness. This is basically the ONLY book on science of courage. It's fantastic. Big Ideas we explore include defining the numerator and denominator of our Courage Quotient (hint: Increase your "willingness to act" and "ability to control fear"), courage's two flavors (general + personal), courage blindness (and how to heal it), the power of playing our roles well (choose a courageous one!), being willing to fail and playing to win.

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The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Got problems with your soul? These days, you’d see a psychotherapist. But, back in the day, it was the philosopher who’d help you optimize—they were the preferred physician of the soul. This book is about the philosophical roots of modern psychotherapy. Specifically, it outlines the connection between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Stoicism. Big Ideas we explore include being a warrior of the mind vs. a librarian of the mind, your highest human purpose, getting on good terms with your inner daimon, practicing the reserve clause and modeling your ideal sage.

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The Power of Ideals

The Real Story of Moral Choice

William Damon and Anne Colby are two of the world’s leading researchers in the field of moral psychology. They’re both Professors at Stanford and have been married for 30+ years. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that challenges the “new science of morality”’s view that morality is essentially biologically and socially determined. Damon and Colby argue that we all have the power to cultivate our more noble, moral possibilities. Big Ideas we explore include a quick look at our moral exemplars, moral agency, and the three virtues we want to cultivate: Truth + Humility + Faith.

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The Marshmallow Test

Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

The Marshmallow Test. It was Walter Mischel and his team who (50 years ago!) first started testing whether kids could wait 20 minutes to get two marshmallows (or other attractive treats) or if they’d give in and eat the one marshmallow in front of them. Their ability to delay gratification (or not!) led to shocking correlations related to how they fared on all kinds of measures years + decades later—from SAT performance to body mass index. Here’s the guide on how to develop your self-control.

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The Power of Character Strengths

Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality

Ryan Niemiec and Robert McGrath are two of the leading figures in the positive psychology movement and, more specifically, within the organization called the VIA Institute on Character. (VIA is short for “Virtues in Action.”) The organization has played a leading role in the study of virtue as it applies to flourishing. It was created by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson who worked with over 50 scientists to create a deeper understanding of the power of character strengths. They also created the VIA Inventory of Strengths test that has been taken by millions of people from around the world. Ryan is the Education Director of the VIA Institute while Robert is the Senior Scientist. This book is “An Official Guide from the VIA Institute on Character” that helps us “Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality.” Big Ideas we explore include a quick look at the VIA origin story, the 24 character strengths (you know the Top 5?), finding balance (underuse vs. overuse vs. optimal use!) and the Top 2: Hope + Zest!

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Character Strengths Matter

How to Live a Full Life (Positive Psychology News)

This is a great introduction to the science of why character strengths matter along with some practical tools on how to go about using those strengths in service to our families and communities so we can experience a deeper sense of joyful flourishing. In this book, Shannon Polly and Kathryn Britton walk us through each of the 24 character strengths identified by the VIA Institute on Character that was created by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. In our Note, we take a quick look at all 24 virtues and explore some practical ways to apply them to our lives TODAY.

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The Pursuit of Perfect

How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life

It's time to quit being a perfectionist and start being an optimalist. And Tal Ben-Shahar, the former Harvard (Positive Psych) Professor shares why we should care, and how we can look to our ideals as guiding stars rather than distant shores. If you, like me, have perfectionist tendencies, you'll love the book and you'll love the Note as we explore some Big Ideas on how to embrace the constraints of life as we get our inner-optimalist on!

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The Power of Agency

The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms

Agency. It’s one of my favorite words and psychological concepts (and a cornerstone of our Optimize Coach program). So, when I saw this book I immediately got it and read it and here we are. Paul Napper and Anthony Rao are leading consultants and clinicians (who have both held academic positions at Harvard Medical School). In their great book, they define agency as “the ability to act as an effective agent for yourself—reflecting, making creative choices, and constructing a meaningful life.” Then they provide practical, scientifically-grounded wisdom on, as per the sub-title of the book: “The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms.” In this Note, we take a quick look at the 7 principles and shine a spotlight on the first 3 with a focus on how we can Optimize our agency TODAY!!

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Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility

Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard and one of the world's leading reseachers who has been exploring what she calls the "psychology of possibility" for over three decades. This book is packed with amazing research stories and wisdom to bring more mindfulness to our lives and tap into our latent potential.

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Ed Diener is the world’s leading researcher on the science of happiness and his son, Robert Biswas-Diener is known as the “Indiana Jones of psychology” because of his data collection adventures around the world. (Love that. :) In their great book, Happiness, they give us a comprehensive look at what we KNOW creates happiness. In this Note, we’ll have some fun figuring out how we can become psychological billionaires as we master the happiness equation, become loving and caring angels, and take AIM at happiness.

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Emotional Intelligence

The Groundbreaking Book That Redefines What it Means to be Smart

One of the classics of Positive Psychology, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence established the fact that IQ doesn't account for why some of us succeed and function well and others don't. In this Note, we'll explore some (really) Big Ideas on how to scientifically get our emotional intelligence on—from the power of delaying gratification to how worrying can act as self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Why We Do What We Do

Understanding Self-Motivation

Edward L. Deci is one of the world’s leading researchers on human motivation and this book is *packed* with scientific wisdom—exploring what we know about the power of intrinsic motivation (vs. extrinsic motivation), the importance of autonomy (vs. being controlled) and the need for authenticity (vs. alienation). Hint: If you want happiness, focus on relationships, personal growth and making a contribution; don’t go after fame, wealth and beauty.

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Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (Essays in Social Psychology)

Carol Dweck is one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of motivation. This book is a collection of brief essays on various aspects of “self-theories.” It’s essentially a bridge between her extensive academic research studies and her popular book Mindset. It’s amazing. Big Ideas we explore include the two frameworks (entity vs. incremental) and their two goals (performance vs. learning), attributional retraining (aka learning the best way to respond to failure!), and moving from contingent self-worth to wholehearted self-esteem.

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The New Psychology of Success

Carol Dweck, Ph.D is a Stanford Professor and one of the world’s leading authorities on the science of motivation. She tells us that our “mindset”—how we see the world—determines a *huge* part of our overall happiness and well-being and achievement. In this Note, we’ll explore the difference between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset” and some Big Ideas on why we want to learn how to live from a growth mindset. And, of course, how to do it!

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Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Willpower. It’s ESSENTIAL to optimizing our lives. In fact, in their *great* book, Willpower, Roy Baumeister (one of the world’s leading scientific researchers on self-control) and John Tierney (science writer for the New York Times) tell us that “Improving willpower is the surest way to a better life.” In this Note, we’ll learn how to eat our way to willpower (seriously), how to exercise our self-control muscles, why “precommitment” is so important and how to win the willpower game with bright lines and a great offense. :)

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The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Willpower. It’s huge. The Willpower Instinct by award-winning Stanford Professor Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a GREAT book based on “The Science of Willpower” class Kelly teaches through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies program. It’s *packed* with super practical Big Ideas on the newest scientific insights about self-control to explain how we can “break old habits and create healthy habits, conquer procrastination, find our focus, and manage stress.” In this Note, we’ll check out the #1 way to build willpower (it’s not what you’d guess), how to give ourselves willpower boosts throughout the day and other stress-relief strategies that rock.

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The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less

Barry Schwartz tells us that some choice is obviously good but too much choice can actually stress us out! The book is packed with powerful wisdom—much of it counterintuitive. In the Note, we'll explore the difference between being a “Maximizer” vs. a “Satisficer” and why we want to shift from always needing the “absolute best” to being happy with “good enough” as we develop our gratitude and quit comparing ourselves to other peeps. Powerful.

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A Guide to Rational Living

Albert Ellis has been recognized as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century (#2, in fact, right ahead of Freud and behind Carl Rogers). Ellis was, essentially, the founder of the modern cognitive behavioral movement and in this Note we’ll have fun exploring some Big Ideas on how to get our minds right—from understanding the roots of neurosis, the ABC’s of suffering, and the importance of action, you’ll feel inspired and empowered by the end!

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Toward a Psychology of Being

Abraham Maslow sits in the great-grandfather slot in my spiritual family tree and is kinda the great-grandfather of the modern Positive Psychology movement. We profiled the 19 characteristics of his self-actualizing individual in our Note on Motivation & Personality in Volume I and in this Note we take a look at the essence of creativity and the fact that we all have capacities that’re clamoring to be used!

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The Upward Spiral

Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

Alex Korb is a neuroscientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Go Bruins!) He’s also a great writer. As per the sub-title, the book is all about “Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.” It’s REALLY good. Inspiring. Scientifically grounded. Simple. Practical. <- A winning formula for a great book! Big Ideas we explore include the power of exercising your brain (which is the #1 tip, btw), setting goals (and making decisions), developing positive habits (via repetition, repetition, repetition), biofeedback (and how to take advantage of it), and the power of others (rely on it!).

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I Can If I Want To

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Behavior, Change Your Life

This is a fantastic, old school psychology classic. Written in 1975, Albert Ellis (see Notes on A Guide to Rational Living) says it’s “One of the best self help books ever written.” Lazarus and Fay walk us through 20 of the most common mistakes that can ruin our lives and, of course, how to correct them. Big Ideas include myths about change, the 2 things we need to do to change, and optimizing our locus of control.

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Getting Grit

The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose

Caroline Miller is an executive coach who has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from the University of Pennsylvania where she studied with Martin Seligman and his colleagues, including Angela Duckworth who pioneered the science of grit. In fact, Angela says: “I don’t know anybody who has thought more than Caroline Miller about how to apply the scientific research on grit and achievement to our own lives.” Big Ideas we explore include the definition of authentic grit, how to get your grit on (it starts with a dream!), the importance of happiness (it comes first), why risk-taking is so important and how to persevere by struggling well.

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Pursuing the Good Life

100 Reflections on Positive Psychology

Christopher Peterson was an award-winning professor at the University of Michigan. He was also one of the founders of the positive psychology movement. He worked closely with Martin Seligman to create one of my favorite surveys: the VIA (Virtues-in-Action) Survey of Character Strengths. This book is essentially a collection of 100 blog posts Chris created for his popular blog on Psychology Today. Big Ideas we explore include: good hope and bad hope, how to truly matter, how to avoid a sub-optimal epitaph and the keys to flourishing relationships.

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Positive Psychology and the Body

The Somatopsychic Side to Flourishing

"Positive Psychology and the Body." Unfortunately, those two subjects are rarely connected--which is why I was so excited to get this book when I saw the title. It's actually a *textbook* not a normal book. It provides an overview of research on a range of subjects including: “Positive Psychophysiology,” “Positive Neuroscience,” “Positive Sexuality” and “Positive Nutrition.” Big Ideas we explore include a quick look at Martin Seligman's PERMA approach to eudaimonic (vis-a-vis hedonic) happiness, your nervous system (flip the switch!), longevity and positive emotion (some astonishing stats), diet and wellbeing/depression (sugar begone!), and physical activity (science says: it does a body good!).

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The Happiness Trap

How to Stop Struggling and Start Living

ACT. That’s where it’s at. This is our second Note on Russ Harris and his great introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. (Check out the Notes on The Confidence Gap as well.) In this book, Russ walks us through how we get caught in the happiness trap and, more importantly, how to free ourselves. We’ll take a quick look at the myths of happiness, the six principles of ACT, how to deal with emotional quicksand, how NOT to visualize (and what to do instead), and writing down your values (<— science says that’s wise).

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The Telomere Effect

A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer

Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of telemorase—“the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage.” Elissa Epel is one of the world’s leading health psychology researchers. Together, they have created a great book that walks us through the best of what we know about telomeres, why they’re so important and what we can do to Optimize them. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about telomeres, THIS is the book to read. Big Ideas we explore include why telomeres are the secret sauce to aging well, the fact that your cells are listening to your thoughts (#1 tip? Shift from a threat response to a challenge response!), how to mind your telomeres (move from negative thinking to resilient thinking), how to eat, move, sleep your way to happy telomeres, and a challenging question: What will YOUR cellular legacy be?

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The Happiness Track

How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success

Emma Seppälä is the science director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also has a popular blog called Fulfillment Daily. In this great little book, she walks us through the latest scientific research on everything from resilience, willpower and compassion to positive stress, creativity, and mindfulness. Big Ideas we explore include how to find fulfillment (hint: it’s in this moment—right now!), how to skillfully surf stress waves, the most powerful lever to optimize your mind (hint: your breath), how to succeed in failure Jack Ma style, and the science of compassion.

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong

Eric Barker is the creator of the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, which “presents science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life.” This is a REALLY engaging, well-written, compelling book. Eric takes us on a fun adventure through the science of what *really* works. And, as the sub-title suggests: How most of what you *think* works, is either a LOT more nuanced than you may have been led to believe or is just plain wrong. Big Ideas we explore include why valedictorians don’t typically top the success charts, how to get more willpower, why managing your energy is so key, the power of mentors (and how to get one), and the #1 thing to remember for success.

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Rethinking Depression

How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning

This is a great book. In Rethinking Depression, Eric Maisel presents an incredibly persuasive case for how medicalized we’ve made the normal human emotions of sadness, anxiety and other unfun feelings (and how dangerous that is) while giving us an existential handbook on how to deal with life’s challenges by creating an authentic life packed with meaning. In this Note, we check out the fact that unhappiness happens while learning how to create our “existential ideal” as we make meaning in our lives! (And, therefore, a *lot* more happiness.)

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The Winner Effect

The Neuroscience of Success and Failure

Ian Robertson is one of the world’s preeminent neuropsychologists. He’s both a clinical psychologist AND a neuroscientist—which is a rare combination. In this book, he walks us through “The Neuroscience of Success and Failure.” It's a fascinating reading. Big Ideas we explore include (Genetic Fatalism (the curse of), Goldilocks Goals (and how to get our goals juuuuuuust right), The Winner Effect (fish, mice, Mike Tyson and you), Oscar Winners (plus their cookie jars and highlight reels), and True Winners (the noble use of power).

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The Relaxation Revolution

Did you know you can alter your gene’s expression through mind body practices like meditation? Yep. And Harvard MD Herbert Benson has the remarkable scientific data to prove it. In this Note, we’ll learn more about his “Relaxation Response” (think: opposite of “Fight-or-Flight Response”), why you should care about it and how to rock it.

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The Relaxation Response

The classic mind/body approach that has helped millions conquer the harmful effects of stress.

Originally published in 1975, this is an old-school classic on the science of meditation. Herbert Benson, MD, has been a Professor at Harvard Medical School and a leading figure in the mind/body movement for decades. Benson was the first to scientifically establish the significant positive effects of meditation. He called it the “Relaxation Response.” Big Ideas we explore: Fight-or-flight vs. Relaxation responses, how to elicit the relaxation response, the placebo effect (is powerful!), and the power of focus.

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The Courage to Be Disliked

The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

This is a book about Alfred Adler's approach to psychology. Adler was a contemporary of Freud and Jung. Although not as widely known these days, he was one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. As per the sub-title, the book was originally a “Japanese phenomenon.” It was written by Ichiro Kishimi (an authority on Adlerian psychology who translated a couple of Alfred Adler’s books into Japanese) and Fumitake Koga (an award-winning professional writer). Big Ideas we explore include the primary difference between Freud and Adler (hint: etiology vs. teleology), the importance of "separating tasks" (aka: stay out of other people's business and don't let them in yours), the ticket to freedom (hint: the courage to be disliked), the center of the world (<- is not you), and Adler's guiding star (happiness defined as contribution!).

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The Narcissism Epidemic

Newsflash: We're in the midst of a narcissism epidemic. Oh, wait, you probably already knew that! In this great book, Twenge and Campbell, two research psychologists, let us know what's up and how to deal with it. In this Note, we'll look at what narcissism is (think: overconfidence, vanity, materialism and entitlement), the five causes of narcissism, and touch on some Big Ideas on how we can deal with it—personally and culturally. Intense and powerful wisdom.

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How We Can Reach Our Goals

How’d you like the scientific low-down on how to effectively set goals and succeed? Well, Heidi Grant Halvorson, the young Positive Psychology superstar, gives you the goods in this awesome book. You might be surprised by what you learn. It’s not all about vision boards and visualization (obviously). In the Note, we’ll explore all kinds of Big Ideas, including the fact that we need to have a specific, difficult (but attainable) goal we believe we can achieve AND awareness of all the challenges that stand in our way. Powerful stuff.

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Happy for No Reason

7 Steps to Being Happy From the Inside Out

Marci Shimoff created Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and integrates great stories about happy people with scientifically established ways to boost our happiness in her great book. In the Note, we'll explore the fact that we all have a happiness set point that's genetically determined and dive into a bunch of Big Ideas about what we can do raise our happiness levels.

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Noble Purpose

The Joy of Living a Meaningful Life

William Damon is one of the world’s leading scientists studying human development and the psychology of morality. In this book, he gives us a guide to discovering and creating our noble purpose. Big Ideas we explore include making a distinction between noble and heroic, the ultimate purpose formula, 9 tips on how to cultivate your noble purpose, the one phrase your advisor should whisper in your ears when you’ve achieved ultimate success, and how to create true, sustainable happiness.

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The Path to Purpose

How Young People Find Their Calling in Life

This book is a scientific look at Purpose by one of the world’s leading developmental psychologists—a powerful look at how to cultivate purpose in our children (and, for that matter, ourselves) and why it’s so important. Big Ideas we explore include a definition of what it means to be purposeful (and a look at the alternatives), the #1 thing that gets in the way of discovering and creating purpose, 9 key things parents can do to help their kids with purpose, why entrepreneurial spirit is so important and a four-word mantra to reduce timidity and build courage and confidence.

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The Gifted Adult

A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen is one of the world's leading authorities on gifted adults and this book is packed with wisdom on how "everyday geniuses®" can rock it. We'll explore how to develop our evolutionary IQ as we work hard, silence the (inner and outer) critics and learn how to bounce back as we become co-creators in liberating our everyday genius.

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Broadcasting Happiness

The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change

In this book, Michelle Gielan takes her background in broadcast journalism (as a CBS News anchor) and combines it with her background in positive psychology to show us how we are ALL broadcasters. Big Ideas we explore include the 3 key factors that account for 75% of success (!), power leads and how to use them, rational optimism vs. irrational optimism, fact-checking your story to find fueling facts that catalyze rather than paralyze and how/when to H.A.L.T.!

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The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field

Nathaniel Branden is easily one of the most articulate human beings I've read and is one of the world's leading experts on self-esteem. This book rocks and in the Note we'll explore the six pillars of self-esteem—from the practice of living consciously, accepting ourselves and taking responsibility to practicing self-assertiveness, living purposefully and having personal integrity. This is one of my favorite books and Notes that I think you'll love.

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The Happiness Equation

Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything

Neil Pasricha is a fascinating guy. A Harvard MBA and director of leadership development for Walmart who gave one of the most popular TED talks ever and published The Book of Awesome which sold 1m+ copies. This book is a fun, quick-read packed with great Ideas. We cover: The Big 7 ways science says we can boost our happiness, waking up with an Icky Guy (the good kind), how to add an hour to your day, a great question to tap into your purpose and wisdom from the greatest physicist ever (hint: create momentum).

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No Sweat

How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness

Dr. Michelle Segar is the world’s leading authority on what motivates people to choose and maintain healthy behaviors. As you’d imagine, Dr. Segar has some *really* powerful ideas on, as the sub-title suggests, “How the simple science of motivation can bring you a lifetime of fitness.” Big Ideas we explore include the importance of meaning, moving exercise from a chore to a gift and embracing a learning mindset.

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The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Daniel Goleman is a former New York Times science writer and author of the uber-bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. In Focus, we look at the underlying neuroscience of attention. We need to start by realizing that the strength (or weakness) of our attention is at the core of E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. we do. Everything! Which is why Goleman calls it “the hidden driver of excellence.” Big Ideas we explore include rumination vs. reflection, the three foci of willpower, smart practice and hitting the mental gym.

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Stick with It

A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life-for Good

Sean Young has a Ph.D. in psychology and a master’s in health services from Stanford. He’s now a professor at UCLA’s medical school and the Executive Director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology, plus the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior. In this book, he shares his research on how to effectively change our behaviors and challenges some of the prevailing ideas about how to go about changing our lives with an emphasis on the seven “psychological forces” that drive the show and that form the acronym SCIENCE: Stepladders + Community + Important + Easy + Neurohacks + Captivating + Engrained. In our Note, we take a quick look at all that goodness.

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How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Play! Stuart Brown, one of the world's leading play researchers, tells us that it's more important than you may think. We'll take a quick look at why it's so important, why you don't want to be a sea squirt and how to make your life one big sand box while infusing more joy into your life.

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Choose the Life You Want

The Mindful Way to Happiness

Tal Ben-Shahar is one of the most popular professors in Harvard’s history and does a great job of integrating the rigor of the science of happiness with the fun of self-help. Drawing on the latest psychological research, this book walks us through 101 choices we make throughout our lives. Big Ideas include finding happiness boosters, joining the failure hall of fame, focusing on your strengths and cocreating your reality.

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Positive Addiction

Glasser's got an awesome, straightforward style of writing and in this Note we'll explore the psychology of strength and weakness and how easy it is to develop negative addictions as a way to shield ourselves from the pain of our weakness and poor choices. Once we've checked that out, we'll look at how we can develop our strength by rockin' positive addictions (things like running, yoga, meditation) in our lives!

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Attention and the Focused Life

Attention. If you want to optimize your life, this is the place to start. Winifred Gallagher gives us a beautiful target: rapt attention that leads us to live the focused life. Gallagher is a behavioral science writer who, five years before writing this book, received a cancer diagnosis that dramatically shifted the way she saw the world. That experience inspired her to understand the neuroscientific underpinnings of how attention works—which led to this book. Big Ideas we explore include: Attention 101, how to get it, the paradox of choice, grit + focus, focusing on virtue, how to be happier and waking up!

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The Procrastination Equation

How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done

Did you know there’s an equation for Procrastination? Yep. Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation. Thank you, Piers Steel. In this great book, Piers (a leading researcher on the science of motivation/procrastination) walks us thru the power of that equation. Big Ideas we explore include: Mental Contrasting (and why it beats creative visualization), goal setting (3 scientific keys) and how to add a month of productivity to your year.

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#6 WOOP! There It Is

The Science of Making Your Dreams a Reality
Gabriele Oettingen is a world-class researcher who has spent her career studying the science of making your dreams come to life. In her book
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#50 Perfectionist vs. Optimalist

Which Are You?

Speaking of perfectionism, let’s look at the essence of Tal Ben-Shahar’s great book The Pursuit of Perfect. Tal is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists.

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#111 Self-Efficacy

The Science of Confidence
Albert Bandura is one of the most respected psychologists in the world. He studies the science of self-efficacy. Also known as: The science
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#141 Put Your Virtues in Action

How to Flex Your Flourishing Muscles
All ancient wisdom teachers tell us that if we want to live with a deep, abiding sense of true happiness, we need to live with virtue.
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#161 Self-Affirmation Theory

The Science of Affirmations that Actually Work
In our last +1, we chatted about Amy Cuddy’s research into the bidirectionality of our feelings and behaviors as we looked at the
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#165 Flow

What It Is & How to Get in It
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the world’s leading researchers studying the science of well-being. He co-founded the Positive
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#232 Thanks! Thanks! And Thanks!

Three Ways to Give Thanks Today
For everyone in the US celebrating today: Happy Thanksgiving!! For everyone else: Happy Day of Thanks!! 😃 Let’s celebrate by recapping
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#235 Regret, Science Of

And the Wisdom of Mark Twain’s Trade Winds
Mark Twain tells us that twenty years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than by the things we did do. So,
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#247 Aristotle’s Virtuous Mean

Versus the Vices of Excess + Deficiency
In our last +1, we talked about Seneca’s take on flexibility. Quick recap: Too much flexibility and you’re fickle. Too little and

#280 How to Flourish

Science Says: PERMA
Martin Seligman is basically the Godfather of the Positive Psychology movement. He’s written a number of seminal books on the science of

#281 How to Learn Optimism

Enter: The 3 P’s: Permanence + Pervasiveness + Personalization
In our last +1, we talked about Martin Seligman and the science of flourishing. Quick recap: It’s all about PERMA: Positive Emotion +

#292 The Happiness Archetype

vs. Rat Racer + Hedonist + Nihilist
Tal Ben-Shahar tells us that there are four different archetypes. The Rat Racer. The Hedonist. The Nihilist. And The Happy Person. The Rat

#325 The Psychology of Hope

Goals + Willpower + Waypower
Rick Snyder was the founder of research into the science of hope. And, he was one of the pioneers of the positive psychology movement. In
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#351 Psychological Billionaires

The Science of How to Become One
Continuing our abundance theme, let’s talk about WHY we may be trying to make money and create wealth. There’s only one reason. It’s
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#364 Ink Blobs & Emptiness

What Do You See When You Look at That Blob of Ink that Is Life?
Today we’re going to talk about ink blobs and emptiness. First: Have you ever heard of Rorschach tests? Basically, psychologists can sneak
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#401 Love 2.0 (vs. Love 1.0)

Ready to Upgrade Today?
Barbara Fredrickson is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists. She wrote a book called Love 2.0 in which she challenges us to
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#406 The Inverted U

And You, Rats, Caffeine, Etc.
In our last +1, we talked about the often-dreaded U that represents “The Lag” between your effort and your desired outcome. (Of course,
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#416 The Paradox of Choice

Maximizer vs. Satisficer <- Which Are You?
You may have noticed that we live in a world with near infinite choice on nearly everything. You may think that being able to choose from
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#444 Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Want to be Psychologically Stable? Focus Here.
A couple +1s ago we talked about the two Goddesses of wealth. Deepak Chopra’s advice? Focus on the Goddess of Knowledge and the Goddess of
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#445 Sentence Completions

If I Brought 5% More Awareness to…
Nathaniel Branden was a fascinating guy. As a teenager he wrote a fan letter to Ayn Rand—which she ignored. Then he wrote another letter a
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#549 Social Comparison Is Toxic

<- Science Says
In our last +1, we talked about the fact the John Wooden and Vince Lombardi paid very little attention to what their competitors were doing.
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#494 Science of Daydreaming

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Did you know there’s actually a science of daydreaming? It’s true. Thank you, awesome researchers. Technically, they describe it as
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#683 1,000-Mile Swims

Maslow Says: Get to Work!
In our last +1, we talked about Abraham Maslow’s intense wisdom regarding the fact that every (!) single (!) thing we do “registers”
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#928 Got Hormesis?

And The Inverted U - Part Deux
In our last +1, we talked about Aristotle’s virtuous mean (again!) and reminded ourselves (yet again!) that “both excessive and
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#945 Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.
As we’ve discussed, a mantra is literally “a tool of the mind.” By repeating a mantra over and over and over again (spiritual teachers
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#707 The Audience Effect

Science Says: Eyeballs Optimize
Concluding our quick tour through How to Walk on Fire (aka How Bad Do You Want It?), let’s talk about one more “coping strategy” for
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#946 Thought Alchemy

How to Change One Thought for Another
In our last +1, we talked about my new go-to mantra: “Thank you.” You try it out yet? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank
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#959 Science Says: Words Matter

A Lot More Than You May Think
In our last +1, we talked about a few of my favorite “Pro” tips to Prosper as we looked forward at our 5-Year view (Prospectus!), moved
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#961 Placebo vs. Nocebo

“I Shall Be Pleasing” vs. “I Shall Cause Harm”
In our last couple +1s, we’ve been spending time with renowned psychologist Ellen Langer talking about the power of words and the power of
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#997 Eudaimonology

The Study of a Good Soul
Somehow we’re approaching Optimize +1 #1,000 and we have yet to discuss one of my favorite Ideas and the very first thing we teach our
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#1004 The Cardinal Virtues

Of Stoicism + Science + Optimize
The other day we chatted about my recent staycation with my Stoic friends. (btw: Laughing as I type this but you know what I do when I’m
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#1032 The Big 2 Virtues

Can You Guess What They Are?
Not too long ago, we talked about the four cardinal virtues of ancient Stoicism then connected those virtues to the six core virtues of the
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#1068 Science Says: Gratitude Works

In our last +1, we talked about the power of gratitude. We soaked up some science-wisdom from Robert Emmons, the leading researcher on
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#1075 What Went Well? (And Why?!)

Proven Way to Pump up the ‘Ol Gratitude Muscles
Gratitude. Yes, we’ve been chatting about it quite a bit recently. That’s deliberate. You know how we recently established the

#1076 Gratitude Letters

Write One Lately? (Science Says…)
Wrapping up our foray into the science of gratitude, let’s chat about one more INCREDIBLY powerful way to boost our gratitude and,
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#1106 Fall Down Seven Times

Get Up Eight (OMMS!)
In our last few +1s, we’ve been spending some time with world-class fear wolf-tamer, Mark Divine as we explore wisdom from his new book
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#1132 The Courage Quotient

How’s Yours?
Robert Biswas-Diener is known as the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology. As per his bio, “his research has taken him to such far-flung
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#1161 Want to Live Long?

Nuns + Crazy Stats
As we’ve discussed (many times!), I love integrating Ancient Wisdom + Modern Science to help us Optimize our lives and give the world all
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#1162 Optimism’s Longevity Power

→ NOT Smoking Two Packs a Day
In our last +1, we talked about some nuns and crazy stats. Recall: Nuns check in for service. They created “entry statements.” Average
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#1163 “The Most Robust Strategy”

To Cultivate Optimism Is…
In our last +1, we talked about some (more) crazy stats on the power of Optimism. We have those long-lived nuns and Martin Seligman telling
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#1164 "The Tyranny of Positive Thinking”

And How to Avoid It
In our last few +1s, we’ve been Optimizing our Optimism. After hanging out with some long-lived nuns, we spent some time with Marin
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#1167 What Doesn’t Kill Us

The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth
In our last couple +1s, we talked about the fact that there are no eudaimonic treadmills and that a eudaimonic orientation is correlated
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#1175 Sugar & Depression

Some Crazy (And Crazy-Making!) Stats
Continuing our brief tour through Kate Hefferon’s textbook on Positive Psychology and the Body, let’s flip open to the chapter on
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#1255 The Jonah Complex

Quit Running from Your Destiny
Scott Barry Kaufman is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists. We featured one of his earlier books called Wired to Create. So,
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#1278 Maslow on Glumness and Grimness

When It’s Actually a Good Sign
Abraham Maslow is one of my absolute favorite teachers and thinkers and heroes. Of course, he was one of the 20th century’s greatest