Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cracking up at the crack of dawn.

One paradox I’ve found about life in America is that (very) late-night TV is still pretty popular here (even though network TV audiences are in decline as viewers watch streaming services like Netflix more and more).

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For example, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon doesn’t actually start until 11:35 PM, long after my bedtime, and long after British TV has gone into a less-than-prime-time mode.

What’s most strange to me, though, is that many Americans also start their days incredibly early.

For instance, my local Starbucks opens at 5 AM.

So retiring after The Tonight Show and rising at the crack of Starbucks’ espresso machine could leave you enjoying only the briefest of snoozes.

Although I can’t get my head around the late nights, I much better understand (and embrace, actually) the early starts.

I guess I’m a lark at heart.

However, I’m not the only one.

I’m generally at Stanford by 7:30 AM, and most mornings I meet up with four friends for a 30 minute catch up over coffee.

We’re not all there every morning, but when there’s a full quorum it’s notable that the overall sound issuing from the group is laughter.

And it certainly feels fine to start the day with a really healthy chortle.

Sometimes, of course, life is anything but funny.

But I think a chuckle is always possible, even on the darkest of days.

So what makes you laugh?

And who makes you laugh?

And what can you do to bring the what and who into your life today?

Water, water everywhere, and not enough to drink.

A couple of years after they were turned off, Stanford University’s fountains are back in full flow again.

They went off soon after I arrived in California (I didn’t take it personally) because of the drought conditions in this part of the world.

Apparently the people who look after the grounds have now made various adjustments and fixed various leaks, meaning that it’s okay for the fountains to gush once more.

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It’s fantastic to see them, and it also gives the students somewhere to dangle their feet.

However I was surprised to learn that in spite of the fact that they all recycle their water, overall they still lose several thousand gallons a day through evaporation and splashing.

Who knew?

It’s a good opportunity for us to remember just how important water is.

Not only in your environment, but also in your body.

And what’s good for your body is good for your mind – and mood.

Men need 3 litres of water a day, women 2.2 litres.

Perhaps, like me, you’re not always as good as you could be about remembering to hydrate?

I keep a water bottle with me while I work, but sometimes reach the end of the day and notice it’s still full.

One suggestion is to use your phone to remind yourself to drink water, as I’ve just done.

Although you can get fancy reminder apps, I just set alarms (separately, one for each hour of the day, with a “Drink water!” message) in my Clock app.

Another benefit of regular water-drinking is that when nature calls, you’ll probably want to pause whatever it is you’re doing.

So not only do you get hydrated, you’re also forced to stretch your legs.

How your passwords could give you a lift.

Research in 2015 showed that the most popular password in a sample of more than 3.3 million was 123456.

The second most-used, believe it or not, was “password.”

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In spite of this, people are actually becoming more security-minded.

In 2011, around one in twelve computer users relied on “password” as their, er, password – but by last year the proportion had fallen drastically to just one in a hundred.

These days, your passwords may be saved in your web browser, so for some sites you may not need to enter them every time, but even so you probably type passwords several times a day.

So what could this possibly have to do with nudging your mood?

Well, let me make a suggestion.

Why not set your passwords in a way that they’ll give you a boost every time you type them?

Obviously, to be safe, passwords should contain a mixture of upper and lowercase characters, numerals and symbols – but underneath this system, it’s definitely possible to base your on a word or phrase that acts as an affirmation.

So, “You will be happier Sue” could become “uW1llBeH@pPier5uE” for example.

Be safe with your passwords, of course, but why not also be more positive?

After all y0UKn0w1tM@Ke5sEn5e.

What’s the real reason you procrastinate?

It’s funny, I was just sitting here thinking about writing a piece on procrastination, and realised I was putting off starting it.

No kidding.

You see, I’ve ended up with a dilemma over my “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” book.

After a delivery which didn’t show up, I’ve finally got the third printed proof in my hands, and I’m at last really happy (appropriately) with the contents.

Although there’s certain to be the odd but hopefully rare typo in it, I think we’re just about there with the text.

The cover’s looking splendid, too, with the minor exception of me being slightly, perhaps over-fussily, dissatisfied with the colour.

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Thanks to an excellent book I’ve just started reading, “The Achievement Habit,” written by Stanford professor Bernard Roth (who I saw speak last week, and then curiously spotted again just now as he cycled past me) I’ve realised that I’m perhaps ascribing a reason for my procrastination which is, well, kind of fake.

I’m telling myself that the delay is because I want the book to be perfect (and of course that’s “perfect” in my eyes – your perception could be very different from mine).

But in the words of Bernard Roth I wonder if my reason is actually bulls**t.

Bernie Roth is a plainspoken New Yorker. I like him.

I now think it has little to do with aesthetics, and more to do with nervousness about putting my work out there.

Wow, even writing that down is cathartic.

(Please excuse me while I self-analyse.)

The whole colour thing is probably a bit of a self-invented excuse, to be honest.

I mean, is anyone actually going to fail to be nudged to happiness simply because the book’s cover has a slightly different shade of blue on it than the one I had in mind?

Of course not.

So maybe we can agree on two things.

First, Cousins should push the metaphorical Publish button.

And second, if you too are putting off doing something, and have come up with what seems to you like a good reason, please ask yourself if this is entirely valid, or whether there might actually be the slightest whiff of Bernie Roth’s bulls**t about it?

I mean, fair’s fair.

I’ve shown you mine.

Committing to do things that make you happy.

I mentioned on Monday that I’ve started presenting a weekly radio show on Stanford University’s radio station, KZSU—Wednesday mornings 6 AM to 9 AM PST, or 2 PM to 5 PM in the UK, online at kzsu.stanford.edu/live

Depending on when you’re reading this, that’s today.

Anyway, one of the features I’m experimenting with is a spot called Goodwill Gold where I play three tracks from a CD I’ve uncovered in one of the Bay Area’s thrift stores.

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It feels like a fun thing for people to hear, and it also gives me an opportunity to give local thrift stores some free publicity.

The icing on the cake for me, though, is that I now have an excuse to go music-browsing once a week, which I absolutely love.

So it made me wonder if it might be possible for you to set yourself a mission to do something you know you’ll enjoy, on a similarly regular basis?

What’s handy about Goodwill Gold is that I’ve made myself accountable.

I’ve said I’ll do the spot every week, so now I have to find a CD.

What could you do, in a similar way?

Here are five ideas to get the ball rolling, and you thinking:

1. If you love gardening, how about offering to cut a neighbour’s front lawn once a week? It probably wouldn’t take long, but you’d have to do it, and it could be really rewarding.

2. Is baking more your thing? Well, how about making a cake or a plate of cookies for someone once a week? Possibly not the same person every time, of course, unless they’re exceedingly fond of cakes.

3. Perhaps you’re a pet lover with no animal of your own at the moment? What if you offered to walk a friend’s dog every Sunday morning? They’d probably be delighted to have the help, and you’d very likely enjoy the walk, as would the dog.

4. Maybe you could help a child? Parents don’t always have proper time to sit with their kids while they’re learning to read. Great if you could help, even better if you could set it up as a regular appointment.

5. How about a monthly litter-picking walk with a friend? Arranging to do this with someone else makes it harder for either of you to back out, and two of you picking up trash means you’ll feel less conspicuous than you might if you were on your own.

Now these are just quick thoughts designed to help you come up with an idea that’s right for you.

But it’s certainly worth a try, don’t you think?

And, oh yes, Goodwill Gold is three tracks from Eric Clapton’s “Clapton Chronicles” today.

Why resetting an alarm clock might reset your life.

In 1974 Harry Chapin memorably sang about being the morning DJ at W.O.L.D.

32 years later, I’m happy to report that it’s now my turn, as I am the morning DJ at K.Z.S.U., well the Wednesday morning DJ, anyway.

KZSU is Stanford University’s radio station, transmitting across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Studio A, the main studio, of KZSU.
Studio A, the main studio, of KZSU. And yes, they do still have turntables.

I’ve now presented my first two shows and am steadily getting used to handling the controls without making too many catastrophic errors.

Presenting a 6 AM show means getting up at 4:30 AM, however, and although I am a morning person, I did end up feeling completely exhausted after doing the show last Wednesday.

I needed to do something about this, and I thought it was worth sharing my solution as it could trigger an idea or two for you.

One answer, I guess, could have been for me to throw in the towel and ask to be transferred to another timeslot.

I wasn’t going to do that, though, because I’m only too aware of how fortunate I am to have landed the (volunteer) job in the first place.

What I’ve decided to do instead is reset my alarm clock for that same early start every day.

I seem to do best with regular structures in my life, and I think what was killing me was breaking up the routine.

I’m excited about my earlier starts as it was something I used to do, actually.

Some years back I instigated a daily routine which involved rising early to spend an hour thinking and planning: what I’d done (and achieved), what I was going to do, and things I needed to tackle but was prevaricating about.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m often not as logical as this about tackling a change in circumstances, but so far things seem to be working out well this time around.

Maybe something is changing, or about to change in your own life?

If so, it could be worth thinking about what other alterations you could make, not only to accommodate your new circumstances, but to actually make the most of them.

You may need to think laterally, as I had to.

But – who knows? – something great could come out of it.

And, oh yes, I’ll be presenting the show this coming Wednesday (and every Wednesday in fact) from 6 AM to 9 AM PST, which is 9 AM to Noon EST, and 2 PM to 5 PM in the UK.

KZSU streams live online (but with no “listen again” service) at kzsu.stanford.edu/live and I’ll be happy to have your company.

I’ll even do my best to not sound sleepy.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, don’t always.

Over the past few months I’ve seen two excellent movies at Stanford about famous 1960s psychology experiments.

The first was about an infamous study performed right here—the Stanford Prison Experiment—and the second (last week) featured the story of Stanley Milgram’s spellbinding obedience study.

Experimenters asked participants to administer electric shocks to individuals in another room if they failed to give the correct answers to a memory test.

Most of the participants followed the order to shock the other person with increasingly high voltages, despite hearing what they believed were genuine sounds of distress coming through the thin dividing wall.

What they didn’t know, of course, was that the “victim” was in fact a confederate who was in cahoots with the experimenters, and actually receiving no shocks, just pretending to be in pain.

The movie (it’s called “Experimenter”) is a great reminder of the experiment’s conclusion that sometimes people can be persuaded to behave cruelly when they believe they’re simply following orders from someone they perceive to be an authority figure.

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Talking about seeing the movie, though, gives me an opportunity to touch on the idea of stepping outside your comfort zone, which I actually did simply by going to the screening.

The event was put on by the Stanford psychology undergraduates’ association, and when they also showed The Stanford Prison Experiment movie, it was in a large auditorium with an audience of hundreds.

Although I didn’t know before I went to see it, the Milgram movie night was a very different kind of evening, held in a small lounge with an ordinary flatscreen TV and an audience of about 15.

Of course, it’s easy to get lost in a crowd, but you can’t do this when the number’s much smaller. I felt a bit conspicuous, especially because almost everyone else there was an undergrad.

However, people got talking before the movie began and I ended up chatting to the one other more senior person there (still decades younger than me, though) with whom I then caught up again last weekend.

So I’m glad I went, even though it felt a bit odd at the outset.

Perhaps a similar sort of thing happens to you sometimes?

You go to an event of some kind, but then get cold feet because it doesn’t look quite what you expected.

I know I’ve done so in the past.

However on the strength of my experience last week, I’m going to take more chances, even when the circumstances feel a bit different at the outset.

Often, different can be good.

Thank you, thank you.

There’s something very important I want to say to you.

Thank you.

For however long you’ve been doing it, you open up these emails from me, or read the versions I post on the Moodnudges blog, and you give me the gift of your attention.

And never let it be said that attention isn’t a gift.

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You have so much going on, so many other demands on your time, that I count my lucky stars you find the focus to read I write and sometimes (I think) reflect on its meaning in terms of your own life.

I see your willingness to hear from me four times a week as the granting of an enormous honour.

I want you to know that I very certainly don’t take it for granted.

As time goes by, the volume of emails you get is increasing all the time.

I know my own Inbox is only barely under control these days.

So allowing me to write to you so often (and I hope not too often) means the world to me, it really does.

There’s something very important I want to say to you, that’s so important I’ll say it twice.

Thank you.

Why everything takes twice as long, and is twice as expensive.

I watched a fascinating talk at Stanford last week, by the CEO of a start-up company called Strivr which is using virtual reality (hence the last two letters of its name) to train football players when they’re not actually on the field.

Players wear VR goggles and are suddenly in the midst of a game.

Apparently the effect is uncannily realistic, and Strivr is certainly doing good business, by all accounts.

One big takeaway for me was the CEO’s remark that in business everything always takes twice as long as you think it will take, and costs twice as much.

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Funnily enough, I think something similar is going on with some concreting that’s happening near where I live.

I was told it would take about 10 days, but it’s now looking as if it will be more like three weeks.

And then of course there’s my book.

At the end of January I giddily said I’d have it published by the time February was out.

But of course, here we are – April – and I’m still not quite there.

(It’s getting pretty close now, though. I received the third proof yesterday, and once it’s been thoroughly checked, we should be able to give it the green light any day now.)

It seems to me that this “always taking longer than you thought” thing seems to be pretty pervasive in life.

Perhaps it applies to recovery from low mood, too?

Years of tracking mine have shown me that the way down can sometimes be quick and sudden, but the process of getting back up again often takes more time than you’d like.

I don’t think you can force it, but you can probably gently encourage the transition by building in small “nudges” every day, which is one of the principles behind my book, of course.

Today’s tip then?

Accept that recovery will take its time, but also reassure yourself that change is just about inevitable.

In time even the darkest clouds make way for the sun.