Ikigai is Good For You

The first time I took the "signature strengths" questionnaire at authentichappiness.org, I received an update on Martin Seligman's work, as I mentioned awhile ago. Here's another passage from that update, also an excerpt from Seligman's new book, Flourish:

There is one trait similar to optimism that seems to protect against cardiovascular disease: ikigai. This Japanese concept means having something worth living for, and ikigai is intimately related to the meaning element of flourishing (M in PERMA) as well as to optimism.

There are three prospective Japanese studies of ikigai, and all point to high levels of ikigai reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, even when controlling for traditional risk factors and perceived stress. In one study, the mortality rate among men and women without ikigai was 160 percent higher than for increased CVD mortality as compared to men and women with ikigai.

In a second study, men with ikigai had only 86 percent of the risk of mortality from CVD compared to men without ikigai; this was also true of women, but less robustly so.

And in a third study, men with high ikigai had only 28 percent of the risk for death from stroke relative to their low-ikigai counterparts, but there was no association with heart disease.

It is healthy to add more meaning and purpose to your life, and it will improve your mood. To explore this, start here:

Why Goals Are Good

How to Find a Purpose in Life

Immediate Practical Benefits to Having a Purpose

Visualizing Goals

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary projects, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations; your consciousness expands in every direction; and you find yourself in a great new and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be."

- Patanjali

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

The Master Tool

The method I am about to share with you will help you clarify your thinking, get rid of upsets, solve problems, organize your activities, and make you more productive. It's a simple tool, and you already know about it. But just as Dorothy had the way back to Kansas all along without realizing it, merely having the tool doesn't do the trick. The key is knowing you have the tool, and knowing what you can do with it.

The master tool is making lists. Listmaking can be applied to a great many areas of your life. I don't know if there is a natural limit to the usefulness of this tool, but I will give you a few examples of how I use it.

One of the things that tends to stress me out is the accumulation of too much to do. I collect things I want to do much faster than I can do them. So I need to manage my time better.

The best audio program I've ever heard on time management is from Earl Nightingale's Lead The Field program. He tells the true story of an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee who visited the president of a steel company to convince that president Lee's firm could help him manage his company better. The president said he wasn't managing his company as well as he knew how, and that what was needed wasn't more knowing, but more doing. He said everyone at the company knew what they should be doing, and if Lee could tell him how to get more of it done, he'd pay him anything within reason he asked.

Lee got out a blank sheet of paper, and asked the president to write down the six most important things he needed to do the next day. It took the president about three minutes to do it.

Then Lee asked him to number them in the order of their importance to the success of the company. The president took another five minutes to do that.

Then Lee said something like this: "Now tomorrow, pull that piece of paper out of your pocket and go to work on number one. Don't worry about the others until the first one is done. Then go to number two. And so on. Once you've convinced yourself of the value of this method, teach it to your people, and then send me a check for whatever you think it's worth."

A few weeks later, Ivy Lee received a check for twenty-five thousand dollars. And the president wrote that what Lee taught him was the most profitable lesson he'd ever learned. Within five years, the company became one of the leaders in its field, and its success was largely attributed to that simple method.

I've used that method too many times to count, and it always clarifies my mind and helps me get more done. I always immediately feel less stressed as soon as I've written the list, so I sleep better. It takes time to make the list and put it in order but the increased efficiency more than makes up that time. Don't take my word for it. Try it, and then send me a check for whatever you think it's worth (wink).

Here's another example of how I've used the master tool: When I'm worried about something, I use listmaking to help me think. When I feel agitated, I ask, "What's bothering me?" And I'll make a list. The list is always finite. That realization, all by itself, is relaxing. When the worries are in my head, it seems like there's a lot of them, but when they're written down, I can see there aren't that many. Once I've got my worries written down and I look at them, many of them seem pretty stupid.

But usually there is at least one important problem on that list, so I take out another piece of paper and ask this question: "What can I do about that?" Usually I write the question at the top of a page, and number one through ten on the page and then force myself to fill in all ten with something I can do that might help. Often the most original ideas are the ones I come up with last, as if I need to get the obvious ones out of my head before I have room to think something original. I've solved many a problem with this kind of list-making-thinking.

The examples are endless. I've made a list of possible courses of action to deal with a difficult person at work. I've written a long letter of the ten most important reasons I love my wife and gave it to her. I've made a list of my top seven values (I made a list of twenty and then by the process of elimination, got it down to the seven most important).

"We make lists so we will not forget what is important," says George Roche, president of Hillsdale College, "…if we chronically forget items like milk and bread unless we make a grocery list…isn't it also likely that we will forget items like virtue and compassion unless we make a character list…?"

The principle has wide application. How about the ten most important things you want to teach your kids before they turn eighteen? How about putting that one in order and working on your top three?

The principle is: Make a list. (Or make a list and put it in order.) There are many ways to use this principle to enhance your life. Why don't you try it right now? Get a piece of paper, write on it, "How can I use this principle to improve my life?" Write numbers one through ten and force yourself to fill in all ten with an answer. Pick the best one and try it.

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

Direct Your Mind: Does This Help My Goal?

In the movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, John (the kid) finds out the bad Terminator is probably going to kill his mom. John wants to find her and warn her. The good Terminator says, “Negative. It is not a mission priority.”

The kid starts yelling. The good terminator (Arnold) says, “This does not help our mission.”

Throughout the movie, Arnold plays a machine that has only one goal and never lets go of it, never gets distracted from it, never comes up with a new goal, and never gets discouraged by setbacks. During the whole movie, he evaluates every possible action with only one criteria: Does it help his goal or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, he has no time for it. He doesn’t waste any time fuming about someone else’s behavior. He doesn’t waste any time thinking about what he “should have” done. He just stays on his purpose.

Of course, the Terminator is a machine. But imagine how much you could accomplish with that kind of clear focus. This question, asked all the time, every day, would help you do that (without becoming a cold machine yourself, because you have several goals, including maintaining good relationships and being happy).

One of the values of “motivational material” like success books and seminars is that they get you thinking about your goals. The simple focus on your goal is motivating.

That means if this question was on your mind a lot, you’d feel motivated more often.

In a course my wife, Klassy Evans, used to teach, she demonstrated the motivational power of keeping your eye on the goal with a little help from the audience. She asked for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room and let her make them feel bad. Let’s go into the courseroom now and listen to Klassy do the demonstration. The following was transcribed from one of the courses:

“I need two people. The only requirement is that you are wearing comfortable shoes. You? Good. Thank you. Come on up. And you? Excellent. Now [speaking to the two volunteers] I’d like you to look at the audience and find someone who would be a good match for you in a tug of war — and who is also wearing comfortable shoes.

“Okay [to the audience] these two people [referring to the first two volunteers] are going to represent you in your life. You’re going to see what your life looks like. You two volunteers stand here and here and face that wall across the room [the wall to the right of the stage from the audiences’ perspective; the volunteers are to the left of center-stage].

“That wall will represent a goal of yours,” says Klassy. “You’re going to try to reach it while the person behind you tries to stop you. They are the barriers to your goal.

“Not just yet, but in a little while I’m going to ask you two barriers to come up behind them and put your arms around their waist, and be a drag on them while they try to reach their goal.

[She turns to the audience]: “We all have things that hold us back. If we didn’t, we’d just go get what we wanted. So if you don’t have what you want, it’s because something is acting as a barrier to hold you back.

[Speaking to the two people (the barriers) that the first two volunteers have chosen]: “You two barriers, we’re going to do the demonstration twice and I want you to stay consistent. Hold them back equally the first and second time because I want the difference to be a result in them, not because of something you are doing differently, okay? [They nod].

[Speaking to the goal-seekers — the first two volunteers]: “With your permission, I’m now going to bring you down. Then when I say, ‘Go for what you want,’ I want you to start moving toward your goal, represented by this wall [the wall to the right of center stage].

“But first, I’d like you to think of some bad news you’ve heard lately...[Klassy gives them time to think of some. When it looks like they’ve both found something, she continues]:

“Think of a mistake you’ve made...

“Now think of something good in your life...

“and realize it’s not going to last...

“Think of something bad in your life...

“and realize it’s probably permanent...

“and you’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life...

“Think about a weakness you have, a fault you have, something that holds you back...

“Think of something that stands in your way and prevents you from getting what you want...

“and realize it is more than you can handle...

“Add up all the barriers you can think of that stand in your way...

“and all your personal weaknesses...

“and come to grips with the fact that your goal is completely hopeless...

“You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you just give up now...

“Now I’d like the barriers to come up behind you and put their arms around your waist and interlace their fingers. And I’d like you to look down at their hands and keep looking at their hands, feeling the strength in their arms. Keep your attention on the barriers, and think about all the things that the arms represent: the barriers, your weaknesses, the hopelessness of the task. In your thoughts, I want you to hear what you tell yourself about all your failures and shortcomings and everything that’s wrong with you. When you feel down, what do you say to yourself about yourself?

“Remember vividly all the times you have failed...”

“Keep looking down at the hands and be aware of the strength of the barrier holding you back. With all your attention on the power of the barrier, I want you now to come and get your goal.

[At first there is no movement. Then they slowly inch forward, eyes down, looking serious, even sad. She lets them struggle that way for a couple of minutes while the audience looks on. They don’t even get halfway to the goal.]

“Okay that’s enough. Thank you. Now I’d like you to go back to where you were again. We’re going to turn it around. Think of something good in your life...

“it’s probably going to last...

“Think of something bad in your life...

“and realize it’s temporary, you’ll get through it...

“Think of some success you’ve had...a time when you did something and you won or it came out right and you felt really pleased with yourself, proud of yourself...

“When you think about a new challenge, you can remember, ‘Well, if I could do that, I can do this.’

“Think of all the strengths you have, talents that many other people don’t have...

“There are quite a few once you start thinking about it...

“I’ve got a little gold star in my hand [it’s a ceramic star glazed in a glossy golden color, about four inches tall]. I want you to focus your attention on it. Ignore the hands around your waist, and keep your eyes on this star. Let the star represent what you could have. This star is your goal. Imagine the future, when you have achieved this goal...

“would you dress any different?

“Would you go places you now don’t go?

“When you achieve this goal, what great things will you be saying to yourself?

“Think about the good things other people will say when you have this goal...

“What will it feel like to know you have attained this goal?

“What will it feel like to know you have what it took to achieve it?

“Barriers, please put your arms around them again.

“Now, you two: Keep your eyes on the goal. Do not take your eyes off this goal. Remember a time when you did very well at something...

“and I want you to know if you did very well once, you can do very well again...

“I want you to know a lot of people are behind you and want to help you...

“You will reach your goal!

“You have the strength. You have the talent. You have the determination.

“Keep your thoughts on this goal now. Stay aware of your feelings about this goal, and how you’ll feel when you reach it. Now come get it! [Without hesitation, they both suddenly pull forward, smiling and laughing. The barriers are no match. The barriers unsuccessfully try to hold them back, but their effort is futile. In about three seconds, everyone is at the goal. One of the people reaches up and touches the gold star with a big smile on his face. Everyone laughs.]

“Thank you. I’d like to ask the barriers a question: Did you notice anything different between the first time and the second time? [They both nod yes.] Okay, what was the difference? [One of them says, “He had more energy the second time.” Klassy goes to the chalkboard and writes “energy”.]

“Anything else you noticed? [One of them says, “She did it easier.”] Klassy writes “easier” underneath “energy” on the board.]

“Anything else? [One says, “They were faster the second time.” Klassy adds “faster” to the list.] I don’t know if you in the audience could see their faces, but there were more smiles the second time. We’ll assume smiles have to do with fun. [She adds “fun” to the list.] Okay, thanks to both of you. You two barriers can sit down.

[Klassy turns to the audience.] Now I’d like to ask you: What did you notice was different between the first time and the second time? [Somebody calls out, “More confidence the second time.” Klassy adds “confidence” to the list. People say more things, and she adds them to the list: determination, strength, focus.]

[She turns to the two main participants in the demonstration — the goal seekers]: “Now I’d like to ask you, ‘What was the difference for you?’ [One of them says, “It reminded me of learning how to drive. When I first started, I focused my eyes on the front edge of the car, and I wasn’t very effective. My Dad said over and over to look out ahead, and when I did, my driving got a lot better and I could relax.” The other one says, “I felt stronger and more determined.”]

“Thank you. That’s a good one. Anything else you want to add? Okay, thank you for helping. You can sit down now.”

What this demonstration shows very clearly, among other things, is that you are stronger, more determined, more powerful, and better able to get what you want when you stop focusing your attention on your obstacles and put your attention on your goal. 

That’s the purpose of the question: Does this help my goal? 

If you want to be a photographer and get your business going, for example, it would help to continually ask this question. So when you have a little extra money and you’re about it spend it on a weekend trip but it would really help your business to get a new lens, ask the question: Does this trip really help my goal? Does getting a lens really help my goal?

When someone tries to talk you into a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, dangling riches before your eyes, this question will clarify the issue tremendously.

If there is one secret to success, this is it: Focus. You can’t do it all. There just isn’t enough time. You have to constantly choose one thing over another. How will you choose? By your feelings at the moment? By what you think others want? Or by how much it will help the most important goal you have?

“Obstacles,” said Henry Ford, “are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”

So ask yourself this question all the time, about everything. It will keep you focused on your goal, and this focus will give you power, speed, determination, strength, and fun.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal GrowthSlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy.



The Answer to Procrastination is Not Willpower: A New Podcast Episode

This is the Talk to Klassy podcast, Episode 3: There is a way to think about your future self so your actions in the present are a lot less tainted with procrastination. We explore some research on this topic in this episode. Listen here:

Generate Friendliness

The Buddhist tradition teaches a meditation technique called metta, which is translated as loving-kindness. It's the culmination and end result of the practice of Buddhism, yet it's a simple meditation that brings surprisingly good results right away.

It only takes a few minutes, but it can imbue you with warmth and relaxation and improves the quality of your relationships without making you any less effective. In fact, in relationships that are difficult for you, it will make you more effective.

Here's how to do it:

1. In a quiet place, close your eyes and relax for a moment.

2. Think of anything that gives you a warm, loving feeling. It could be a memory of something someone did for you that touched you, or some story you've read, a scene from a movie, an image of one of your parents or children or siblings, or any thought that generates inside you a friendly feeling.

3. Notice where and what that feeling is. It could be a smiley feeling in your jaw; warmth in your eyes; a relaxed feeling in your abdomen; whatever.

4. Imagine the feeling spreading slowly throughout your body, gradually filling the cells of your body with warm, loving feelings.

5. Slowly open your eyes, and throughout the day, pay attention to that loving-kindness feeling whenever it arises during your day, no matter how slight. You'll notice it talking to someone or shaking hands or thinking about someone. Simply notice the feeling. Pay attention to it and enjoy it.

Love and friendliness are relaxing and enjoyable feelings. It is healthy to feel that way, and the metta meditation brings more of those feelings into your life. It is not only good for you, but any increase in feelings of goodwill, whether in you or in the people you contact, helps make this world a better place.

Read more about Metta Meditation in the book, Lovingkindness Meditation

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

Soft Commitments Could Change Your Life: A New Podcast Episode

On the Talk to Klassy podcast, Episode 2 is about how to make improvements to your routines. If if there's a change you want to make in your life, and it requires regular action, daily or weekly, the idea of soft commitments might make your wish turn into reality. Listen here:

The Secret of Rudy's Persistence

I love the movie, Rudy. It's a true story about a boy who wants to play football for Notre Dame even though he’s small, not very strong, not very quick, doesn’t have the money for college (and neither do his parents), and gets lousy grades in high school.

But because of his formidable persistence and consistently great attitude, because of his willingness to keep moving toward his goal no matter what obstacles barred his way, he actually achieved his goal. It is truly inspiring to watch.

The real Rudy Ruettiger was a consultant for the movie, and made sure the movie was an accurate depiction of his life. But it leaves out some interesting facts. You can’t put a whole life into one movie without omitting something.

One of the things the movie left out is what I consider to be a vital part of the story: How he became so incredibly persistent. Luckily, he wrote about his experience in more detail, so we know the answer. A particular event changed his life.

In the movie, only one person supported Rudy's dream to play football for Notre Dame — his best friend, Pete. When Pete died in a tragic accident, something happened to Rudy, and he realized if he was going to make his dream happen, he’d better get on with it because life is short.

A few days later he was in a bookstore and found a paperback copy of Psycho-Cybernetics. “I took the book home and read it cover to cover,” says Rudy, “and then I started again at the beginning.”

The book made a profound impression on Rudy, and he immediately started acting on his newfound understanding of how to accomplish goals.

“Although I was already 23, I immediately headed for Notre Dame with the attitude, ‘I'm going to do this, period, end of sentence,’ and new opportunities were created just by me showing up.”

I’ve had similar experiences where my commitment to a goal — all by itself — seemed to make things happen, almost like magic. You probably have too.

“Maltz said if you take action, the plan will unfold in front of you,” wrote Rudy. “You can develop your game plan as you move toward your goal. Sometimes it’s better not to have everything all laid out; focusing too much on how you think it should go can cause you to miss opportunities.”

According to Rudy, the book changed his life.

If you have important goals (and I’ll bet you do) find yourself a copy of Psycho-Cybernetics and read it. It’s one of the best self-help books ever written.

Two things make the book exceptional: First, it’s easy to read. Second, it is complete. It talks about the value of setting goals and how to set goals, and how to visualize your goals to make them real. But it also talks about one of the most important barriers to achievement: Your self-image.

If you have a goal but believe you’re a loser, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to accomplish your goal. Something will always cause you to fail before you reach it.

If this has been happening to you, dig into the self-image psychology in Maltz’s book and follow the practical suggestions for eliminating the internal barriers to your success. Rudy said, “I learned from Psycho-Cybernetics that it’s all in what you think.”

But that doesn’t mean “just think positive thoughts and everything will turn out well.” There is more to it. Maltz goes into detail about exactly how to use your mind effectively to overcome the psychological obstacles to achievement. Read a summary of Psycho-Cybernetics.

Rudy wrote, “Every one of us uses our mind to create our life. My story can be your story — if you are willing to swim against the stream, fight against the odds, and believe you can be whatever you want to be.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.