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When Good Intentions Go Bad: Guest Post by Tess Pajaron

Photo courtesy of Rupert Ganzer

“It’s not a big deal if I do it just this one time…”

Everyone has said a version of this to himself or herself from time to time. We allow ourselves to give in to base pleasures and immediate gratification even though we know in the long run we’re going to feel bad about ourselves. We all know that we do this, but few have really taken the time to think about what it means and how it applies to them in their everyday lives.

Three examples that just about everyone can understand involve cheating – with your budget, your diet, and on your significant other. Who hasn’t decided to splurge on that new Blu-Ray player by putting it on a credit card, and then curse themselves later when it comes time to pay? Or been too tempted by the free jelly doughnuts at work to avoid them and stick with your diet? Heck, some people make a resolution to get fit by working out more, but just never pull themselves away from the computer.

And if you’re congratulating yourself for not cheating on your spouse…good job, but the mechanism by which we make that bad choice and the others described above is the same. If you can’t control yourself in one area, the likelihood that you might slip up in another goes up.

But why do we do it? What is this mechanism that allows us to do things that we know are bad for us and often just plain foolish? Psychologists say that much of it comes down to stress, fear, and memory.

As humans, we are hardwired to actively seek out paths that will keep us from making choices we regret. It is a motivation that comes both from outside social pressures and internal forces. Unfortunately, sometimes the stress of the situation and our own fears about getting it wrong can actually lead us to making poor choices.

But of course, choosing poorly and later regretting those decisions makes things worse because it raises the stakes (and the corresponding stress) the next time the situation comes up. And this is literally true – stressful decisions are known to cause greater activity in the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial orbitofrontal regions of the brain. In layman’s terms, the areas that control our emotional memories get all riled up and confuse us when we’re trying to make good decisions.

You would think that having memories of poor choices you’ve made in the past would be a good thing and allow us to make a better decision next time, but because emotions are involved it, can lead to flawed decision-making. Let’s say you cheated in the past, either on your diet or on a significant other – although we’re sure the significant other would disagree, in the context of this discussion they amount to the same thing. Even though the consequences of cheating (weight gain, embarrassment, breaking up, self-loathing) were severe, studies have shown that we put more emphasis on that brief moment of pleasure we got from the actual cheating than the painful aftermath.

So how can we fight against ourselves and make better decisions? You have to be able to look at your decision-making process and spot flaws. And perhaps even more importantly, you need to avoid what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls narrow framing, where you look at each choice as an individual thing instead of considering how you’ve approached – or wish you’d approached – similar decisions in the past.

Rather than deciding in the middle of an emotion-fueled moment, we can create a system of acceptable responses for ourselves. At its most base level, this is essentially what society and the justice system does for us – it tells us what choices are going to lead to positive and negative outcomes by spelling out what those outcomes will be ahead of time. Of course, saying you’re going to come up with a system that prevents you from making bad choices and actually implementing it are two different things, but the only way to get better is to try.

Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. Her desire to consistently improve her life led her down the road of psychology. When not working, she loves to travel and discover new places and cultures, having a fancy for modern minimalist architecture and interior design. She can also be found on Cerebral Hacks, where she regularly contributes.

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20 Before 30: A Quarter Life Bucket List

Photo courtesy of Raymond Larose

Your twenties are that magical decade when you’re finally able to make your own decisions in life, but you haven’t got all of the responsibilities that come later. Take this time now to explore the world around you in a variety of exciting ways, learning about yourself all the while. As you take advantage of all that life has to offer you at this stage, be mindful of each experience, internalizing how to experience joy. The earlier you learn how to be mindful of your own happiness, the better. As you try each of the following 20 suggestions, root yourself firmly in the moment each and every time.

  1. Visit New York City, and not just for the tourist attractions. Stay for a few days and learn just how amazing that city really is.
  2. Date people. Plural. Getting to know a variety of people will help ensure that you end up with someone you’re really compatible with.
  3. Wear a bikini as often as possible. Guys, skip this one. Unless that’s your thing.
  4. Take an impromptu road trip with friends. The destination doesn’t matter. When will you ever have the chance to jump into a car on a whim and just GO?
  5. Eat at an all-night diner at 3:00AM. Why? Because you can.
  6. Get a tattoo or a piercing. Put some thought into this one though. You are probably going to have a career soon, so be responsible about it.
  7. Go to a dance club. The kind with lights and techno music. Dance all night, come home, and sleep the entire next day. When you wake up, eat cereal.
  8. Move out of your parents’ house! You do not want to be that thirty year old who lives with Mom.
  9. Get an education. If not now, when?  It gets increasingly harder to go “back to school” with each passing year.
  10. Find your passion. Switching professions later can be exceedingly difficult and stressful.  Believe me - I did it.
  11. Take the subway.
  12. Travel out of the country as much as you can. My recommendations: Paris, Capetown, Barcelona, and Bora Bora.
  13. Get amazingly fit. Go to the gym as much as possible. Staying fit and healthy now means you’re setting yourself up for success in your thirties and forties.
  14. Explore your talents. If you’re insanely good at something, see if  you can’t possibly make an awesome living doing it.
  15. Drink a really amazing glass of wine, and try to taste every single ingredient.
  16. Live somewhere cool and trendy with lots of nightlife.
  17. If possible, live alone. Enjoy solitude. Learn to like doing things on your own.  Be comfortable with yourself.
  18. Learn how to cook.
  19. Buy something completely impractical, just because you want it. Only do this once, though. You don’t want to be bankrupt at 30.
  20. Begin your journey toward self-discovery. You might not get all the way there by 30, but if you start now, you’ll have an amazing head start.


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Doldrums Dragging You Down? 10 Ways to Get Your Mojo Back

Photo courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography

We all have days when all of our responsibilities just seem like too much effort. Am I right?

Maybe a bad night’s sleep is to blame, or a fight with a significant other, or maybe there’s no obvious reason for falling into a funk. Sometimes it just happens.

On days when I’m feeling like my eyelids weigh one thousand pounds and my favorite word is ‘meh’, what I want to do is crawl under the covers and watch a marathon of bad reality tv. If I gave in to those urges though, I’d fall way behind on my work and my business would suffer. So, I get things done, whether I want to or not.

Instead of just powering through tasks that feel totally tiresome, it seems that it would be much more productive if we could get our mojo back first. Being motivated to get things done makes us work smarter and faster, and give us more satisfaction out of a job well done. The problem is – how in the world can we get motivated when what we really want to do is take a break from life?

When I’m feeling funky (and not in the Kool & the Gang way), I try a couple of things to break my foul mood before delving into the day, even if it means postponing my start time. I’d rather work on a project when I’m fully engaged and excited about what I’m doing than just plod through it. Here are some things that usually help me beat the blahs:

  • Distraction – Doing something fun and moderately active will get your heart rate up and stimulate your endorphins.
  • Discussion – Talking to a friend about a different topic entirely can get your smile muscles working and boost your mood.
  • Declaration - Tell yourself over and over again why you set out on your particular journey. Repeat your mantra until it sinks in. For me – “You can (and will) accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
  • Doing less – The blahs usually hit us when we are overloaded or overstimulated. Take stock of what you really want and need to accomplish immediately, and let some of your other responsibilities slide until later.
  • Daydreaming – Let your mind go free for awhile. You might feel much better after a little daydream about something awesome coming up in your life.
  • Dancing – I mean, really – who doesn’t feel happier after a little boogeying?
  • Diverging – Sometimes simply moving my workspace to my back porch is all it takes to get me up and running again. Change your location. If possible, try to get some sun in the process.
  • Dressing differently – Put on an outfit that makes you look and feel amazing.
  • Double-teaming it – Work with a partner who helps you stay motivated. If you work alone, contact a team member via Skype and ask them for help.
  • Delighting while working - Munch on your favorite snack, wear your fuzzy slippers, put on your most expensive perfume, drink a luxurious cup of tea – whatever your delight is – combine it with your task in order to associate good feelings with working.

While it is possible to power through even when you don’t feel like it, it’s best to break out of the doldrums before they turn into a long-lasting slump that could really set you back.  Nip your blahs in the bud now before they have a chance to take root and grow into something much harder to tame.

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Find Happiness by Answering These 4 Questions

Photo courtesy of Vinoth Chandar

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to achieve true happiness in life without even knowing where that happiness lies. It’s a bit like taking off on a roadtrip with no idea where you’re going. You might enjoy the ride and you’ll definitely have an adventure, but where you’ll end up is a complete mystery.

Like a roadtrip, there are many acceptable routes to achieving your life’s goals, but in both scenarios, it’s always better if you have an endpoint in mind before you even begin. It’s ok (and encouraged) to take some roads less traveled on your journey toward inner peace, as long as you know where you ultimately want to end up. Without knowing what your desired destination even looks like, you will likely find yourself driving around in circles, seeing the same sights repeatedly and really, just wasting gas.

Before you can begin moving toward complete happiness and inner peace, you need to know where Your Personal Happiness is located on your map. Find it by asking yourself these four important questions.

  • What is my true self? – The answer to this question is all-important when it comes to moving forward in your life. Take some time to really get to know yourself – the real you, not what you want to be like or what your resume says. Look deep within yourself and really see who you are.
  • What does the real me enjoy? – After you’ve discovered your true self, determine what you really like to do and who you like to be around.
  • When do I feel happiest/at peace? – Remember to be totally honest in your self reflection. Sometimes this one is difficult because of societal pressure.
  • Based on the first three questions, what does my desired future look like?

Write down a detailed description of your perfect future so that you can refer to it often along the way, like a map. It will serve as a constant reminder of where you’re headed and why you’re on this journey in the first place. By frequently referring to the endpoint on your map, you will feel more connected to your desired destination. You’ll find yourself shutting off the auto-pilot and taking the wheel of your own life again. The journey toward Happiness may be filled with twists and turns, and you might get a flat tire along the way, but don’t give up. You know where you’re going, and that’s half the battle.

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Are You Being Selfish….Enough?

Photo courtesy of Randy Willis PhotosThroughout my life, whenever I was told I was being selfish, I immediately felt shameful and tried to amend my behavior accordingly. What I didn’t realize until very recently is that selfishness can be used for good, and trying to beat all sense of selfishness out of someone could be detrimental to their future happiness.

I have fought against a lot of my natural instincts throughout my life because of societal expectations. I tried to refrain from saying exactly what was on my mind when I was told that I was too bold. For many years, I tried to keep my dry, sardonic humor at bay,  feeling that I may be more accepted by others if I portrayed my role as “female”  in a more socially acceptable manner. And, even though I had an inner desire to stop making so many sacrifices for other people so that I could further my own goals, I continued to follow the herd.

Perhaps many people have a misunderstanding of what it is to be selfish.  Selfishness does not suggest  that we think only of ourselves with no regard to others.  To do so would be egomaniacal and self-absorbed. I have no desire to hurt other people, and I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping others.  The difference between Present Me and Past Me is that now I tend to help myself first.

Naturally there are exceptions to this rule, as I am a wife, daughter, and mother to 2 children, and if they are in need, I push the hold button on my own needs indefinitely.

Finding out what makes you fulfilled and happy and then moving forward with your happiness as your priorty, is the kind of selfishness that makes the world go round. Forge ahead toward your goals, remaining steadfast until you realize them. Reach for success and don’t waver when people try to get in your way.  Many people who have achieved success did so because they were selfish enough to care about what would make them happy and then they persevered until they reached their goals!

The weirdest thing happens when you begin to embrace selfishness. Once you are able to stop sacrificing your own happiness, you will finally reach a genuine Place of Yes, where you can help others because you want to, not because you’re expected to.

Happiness isn’t going to fall on your lap, or magically appear one day because you’ve helped so many other people. If you want to experience true happiness, make yourself a priority and go out there and get it.

After all, “Nothing resembles selfishness more closely than self-respect.”

~George Sand


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