Jan 16 13

Happiness is Hard Work

by David Samoranski

I read a blog article last month that made me think about how happiness is affected by laziness and hard work. This also reminds me of similar concepts like pleasure vs. fulfillment and delayed gratification. It is far easier for me to be lazy, drink beer, and watch football all Sunday compared to writing a blog post, exercising, or volunteering at my local Habitat for Humanity. The lazy and pleasurable stuff is so easy it’s almost automatic. Even though the hard work is what leads to real happiness.

6 Harsh Truths

David Wong wrote 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. The audience for this article is primarily 20-something males, so the tone and the language is not for everyone. It is meant to be a wakeup call for guys who are living their life in the misery of cruise control. Not all of the truths resonated with me specifically, but #1 certainly did.

David also brings up a really good point in the second truth that I can relate with. It’s best summed up in his question, “How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made rather than creating your own?

Our brains trick us into thinking that caring is just as good as doing. Simply being a good person is not enough. We can have pure thoughts and abstain from bad things, but that does not produce anything positive. Many of us identify with who we are rather than what we do. Who we are on the inside is responsible for what we want to do, but somehow so many of us get stuck in our heads – we don’t actually do much of anything. Great compassion or enthusiasm for a specific cause does nothing to actually help the cause. It requires hard work to make an impact, not just thinking and talking.

Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement

Changing our current state is hard. The human brain has a very strong tendency to resist anything that challenges the status quo. Drug addiction is a great example of how powerless people can be to make and sustain positive change. We have a very steep hill to climb whether we are trying to beat an addiction or simply eat healthier.

Repetition and practice help us build new habits and skills. The challenge is that most of us give up before we see or experience the results we had in mind when we decided to make a change. “I’ve been exercising now for 2 days. I don’t feel any better and I haven’t lost any weight. This is stupid. I quit.” The lesson for me is that it takes real effort over time before the benefits eventually fall in to place. Good things come to those who put in the work.

The one lasting takeaway I have from this article is that our brains make it seem like misery is comfortable and happiness is hard work. It explains why so many people are miserable. A lot of us are too lazy/comfortable to do the hard work that will make us happier. Misery is not just comfortable though, it’s safe too. If we challenge ourselves to do something new and actually produce something for others consumption/benefit, there is a very strong chance someone will criticize what we produce. These psychological forces are very real barriers to happiness that can more easily be overcome when we understand how they affect us.

I got a strong dose of motivation and courage from the harsh truths. Hopefully, this post will inspire you to get up and get to work doing something that will make you happy too.

Nov 17 12

Gratitude and Visualization

by David Samoranski

I have had 2 recent experiences which reinforced my understanding of the power that gratitude and visualization can have on happiness. Gratitude is an appreciation of something valuable to you. Expressing gratitude regularly has a transformational effect on the way you experience life. Visualization is when you create mental images or pictures of something you want. Understanding what you want out of life and imagining yourself in the desired situation has a tremendous impact on your ability to achieve what you want. The old saying, “you can do anything you put your mind to” is surprisingly accurate. The trouble is that most of get distracted easily and usually choose short-term pleasure over long-term fulfillment.

What is Gratitude?

For me, gratitude is a state of mind. I can choose to focus on what’s wrong in my life or the things I don’t have, and I will see everything that happens from that negative perspective. Or I can choose to focus on the things that are going well and the things I do have, and I can experience life from a much better place. So, gratitude is about choosing what state of mind I want to be in and being conscious about how that state of mind affects my perception of reality.

True Secret to Success

Geoffrey James wrote an article for Inc. earlier this year titled True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think). James believes that gratitude is the key to success and happiness. He also shares that gratitude is an emotional muscle that can be exercised and strengthened. James suggests creating a routine time of day to reflect and recognize what you are grateful for. Practicing this exercise every day for a few weeks will quickly turn it into a habit and open you up to the many reasons to be grateful.

The Happiness Set-Point

Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis recently authored a book, “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”. Dr. Emmons is considered to be the world’s leading authority on gratitude. One of his findings relates to a concept known as the happiness set-point. This concept basically states that everyone has a pre-defined happiness baseline. As good or bad things happen on a day-to-day basis our happiness levels will increase and decrease, but eventually we return to our individual set-points. Dr. Emmons’ research found that practicing gratitude can increase the happiness set-point in individuals by around 25%.

What is Visualization?

For me, visualization is imagining an alternate reality. I did this a lot as a kid, but somewhere along the line I learned that daydreaming was not a productive use of time. I now have a new understanding of how the imagination can be a useful tool to achieve whatever I want. I have personally experienced that visualizing a desired result with intense emotion and focus has a direct impact on the ability to make it happen.

The Secret

There is a movie I have seen a few times now that first introduced me to the concept of visualization. The Secret shares the stories of several people that have used visualization and the law of attraction to change their lives. The basic premise is that you can attract whatever you want into your life if you visualize what you want and fully immerse yourself in the experience like it is really happening. The movie is a little mystical/new-agey which will turn some people off, but it’s definitely valuable information that has helped me. You can watch this movie on Netflix if you have an account.

I can’t say that I walk around in a state of perpetual bliss, but I do think being aware of my state of mind and how that affects my ability to achieve what I want in life has had a very real impact on my happiness. I hope sharing this information can inspire others to try similar ideas and find their own happiness.

Sep 16 12

The Science of Change, Games, and Happiness

by David Samoranski

It has been a year since I first started thinking about how I could apply the business concepts I use at work towards my own happiness. I have learned a lot through my research and have experienced positive results from identifying personal strengths, creating a personal vision and mission, designing a personal strategy map, and implementing a personal balanced scorecard. My most recent efforts have been focused on the science of change and motivation. I read the book, Change Anything, not too long ago. The book helped me gain a better understanding of personal behavior. I also enrolled in an online gamification course being taught by Professor Werbach in a partnership between Wharton and coursera.org. I am very interested in applying these concepts to the happiness framework.

Change Anything

Research from Change Anything found that behavior is influenced by 6 sources. Everyone experiences pressure from 3 specific motivations and abilities. This includes personal, social, and structural influences. The authors also discovered that people who were aware of the sources of influence and used them to their advantage were 10 times more likely to their desired change. The key is to leverage your motivations and abilities to develop vital behaviors for things that are important to you. This might be focused on exercise, nutrition, professional development, financial, or relationship behaviors you would like to make habitual.

The personal aspect of change is pretty straightforward. If you want to change, you have to want it and you have to be able to achieve it. Understand why you want to create change and why it is critical for you. Visualize what the future looks like if you are successful, and what will happen if you do not change. Picture the result you are seeking and use it as motivation to keep pushing forward. Wanting it isn’t enough though. You must rigorously break old habits that interfere with your vision and learn new skills that enable your goals.

The social aspect of change is based on the people in your life. Do the people you interact with make your goals easier or harder to achieve? Friends get you excited and encourage you while accomplices hold you back. Working with a support system of friends, co-workers, or relatives can establish the social motivation and ability to stay committed to your change. Transforming negative accomplices into friends that hold you accountable can have an enormous impact on change efforts.

Structural motivation and ability includes everything else. This could be the way you incentivize yourself to change or the things you see or hear on a daily basis. One of the surprising finds about motivation was that people are far more motivated to avoid losing something compared with receiving something of similar value. Another big surprise was the impact of our environments on the ability to change. The sights and messages we surround ourselves with are constantly at work influencing our perceptions. A change initiative can dramatically be improved by putting the structural aspect of change to work.

Gamification

Gamification is the application of game elements and game design in a non-game context. People enjoy games because of our natural desire to compete. Incorporating things like points, score boards, and challenges into business or behavioral change initiatives can help keep people engaged. Badges, progress indicators, and rewards can motivate people to complete specific activities or achieve certain goals. The popularity of social networking games has created the perfect environment for game theory and mechanics to be used for other purposes.

Gartner identified four principal means of gamification that drive user engagement.

  1. Accelerated feedback cycles
  2. Clear goals and rules of play.
  3. A compelling narrative.
  4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable.

The crew at Change Anything created an iOS app that gamifies the development of vital behaviors. You’re On enables you to track your progress on new habits you want to establish. It also allows you to invite others to join you and create challenges between friends. The app could use some improvements though. I wish I could customize points or create recurring challenges, but it’s definitely a good start.

I’ve been working on the execution of my own happiness strategy for a while now. I don’t always achieve the targets in my scorecard and some weeks I experience better results than others. But, I am more in tune with what’s important to me and what happiness really means. I’m very excited to apply what I’ve learned about the sources of influence and gamification to my work on the happiness maturity model.

Jul 14 12

Happiness Tools: Vision, Strategy, and Scorecards

by David Samoranski

I have been working on my values, goals, actions, and habits over the last year with the intent to create a repeatable process for people to identify what happiness looks like and create a plan to achieve it. I started with the concept that the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) methodology could be applied to individuals and not just organizations. My first post on this topic explored ideas on how to implement the concept of a Personal Balanced Scorecard. The Personal Performance post examined how I spent my time throughout the week and I began to ask myself questions to identify my personal vision. I was able to find a couple free online tools to assess my personal strengths and define my Personal Mission. I followed up with my first Personal Strategy Map in the next post and included a template for download. My last post, Personal Performance and Happiness, introduced my thoughts on the concept of a Happiness Framework. This post will share an updated format of the Personal Vision & Mission and the Personal Strategy Map, and present the Personal Balanced Scorecard I have been using. I also have free templates for each if you would like to download them and give it a shot. I would love any feedback you may have on why this concept would or would not work well for you.

Personal Vision & Mission

Organizations use vision and mission statements to define what change they would like to see in the world and what they do to make that change a reality. The statements I created were primarily a result of my work with the personal mission builder at franklincovey.com and the strengths assessment at viame.org. I worked with these tools to define these statements about 9 months ago. I’m happy enough with the results that I don’t need to spend any time refining them now. I put my results in a PDF so I could print it out and put it on my wall. You can download the template to fill in your personal mission and use mine as an example.

Personal Strategy Map

A strategy map is a tool used within organizations to visualize what they are trying to achieve and the relationships between the defined objectives. The map I am using is similar to a traditional BSC map. On the left hand side (the rows) I have been working on a generic framework that anyone can follow to identify high-level values, specific goals, immediate actions, and reinforcing habits to achieve their vision. On the top (the columns) I have put in four perspectives of focus for my life. The idea is that everyone’s stuff will be different, but hopefully this helps you think about it and fill it out. I chose my people, myself, my work, and my money as my values and cascaded goals and actions from there. I borrowed my habits directly from Covey and they are working well for me. You can download the template to try it out yourself and see the map I am using currently as an example.

Personal Balanced Scorecard

Scorecards break down the objectives defined in the strategy map into measurable targets and display the current performance towards achieving the strategy. At this stage, I am interested in measuring the actions identified in my strategy map. My scorecard indicates how I intend to measure each action, what the target is, and when it will be measured. I have created weekly, monthly, and yearly targets depending on the type of action and setup calendar appointments to remind me to check myself. I used arrows to display my performance. The color represents if I am on target or off target and the direction indicates if I have been getting better or worse. Download the template and let me know what you think. I was trying to decide what level of openness was appropriate for posting my scorecard publicly. I’m happy to share everything except the specific financial targets and performance. You can see my current performance in this week’s scorecard.

Next Steps

So, now I am tracking performance on my actions on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. The next step is to find areas where I am not hitting targets and determine what changes need to be made. I am also working on the concept of a happiness maturity model. This model identifies what skills, activities, and tools can help people get started with the framework based on their current level of personal awareness and ability. I will continue to share my work on this stuff for anyone interested.

Jun 18 12

Personal Performance and Happiness

by David Samoranski

Everyone sets goals and measures themselves differently based on their personal values. Some people continue to take action and achieve their goals with rigor and discipline while others tend to lose focus and direction after time. I have been doing a lot of work with business management concepts and tools focused on optimizing organizational performance lately. There seems to be a great possibility of applying similar methods to the concept of happiness. Here are my thoughts on what this could look like and what I am currently using to manage my personal performance and the pursuit of happiness.

Happiness

I think happiness is a result of knowing what you value, creating goals that align with those values, completing actions that enable you to achieve your goals, and practicing habits that help you sustain your action plan. Many people find themselves unfulfilled or unhappy with the quality of their lives even after achieving societal or social targets that signal success. I believe this is due to a lack of understanding and the failure to achieve goals that are aligned to the unique values of each individual. Thinking about what you value out of life and breaking it down into incremental targets can make the life you desire a manageable plan. Getting what you want out of life results in happiness.
Happiness Framework

Values

Values identify what is most important to you. These are the facets of life that you cherish and wish to align yourself with. Understanding what you truly value in life is the first step towards happiness. People are often clouded, confused, or misguided when it comes to honestly understanding values. Perceptions of values differ greatly based on the personal, social, and environmental factors we have experienced in life.

Goals

Goal setting is the next step. Values help you understand what is important to you and goals help you create a vision for what happiness looks like to you. Identifying things you want or would like to achieve creates a destination you can target and work towards. Goals are high enough that it should take you several years (3-5) to complete. A goal is something you strive for.

Actions

Actions are self-explanatory. Goals are broken down into actions so that the achievement of the goals is more manageable. Actions are still activities that you need to perform in order to work towards your goals. Actions could take you a year or more (1-2) to complete and can be decomposed into smaller activities with an action plan. Action plans specify measures and targets to routinely gauge performance on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.

Habits

Habits are basic practices we follow to empower us to complete the actions we have defined. Actions are specific activities with measures and targets while habits are behaviors we practice until they are nearly involuntary. Habits can also help to restore and recharge us so that we can sustain our progress and complete our plans.

This simple framework provides a structure to identify what you are working towards and ensure it aligns with what’s important to you. There are already tools in the business world that people use to help organization’s achieve this kind of alignment and execution. These tools can also be modified to help people obtain happiness. I posted about a Personal Balanced Scorecard and created a strategy map in an earlier post a few months ago. I have been working with this model for a while now. I am making a few updates to the map/template and will upload on my next post when I share my action plan/template.

Mar 17 12

Sharing is the Point

by David Samoranski

My last post was focused on getting started or improving your skills with Microsoft products to create content, design user experiences, and develop applications. This time I want to share some of the great FREE resources available if you’re new to SharePoint or want to learn more about this exciting technology. I have put together a few links to guide you through some of the content out there for SharePoint users, IT Pros, and developers.

Users

The iusesharepoint site provides how-to videos, tips and tricks, and other resources to help users understand how SharePoint can improve common scenarios. I recommend the Show Me How videos to learn more about how SharePoint capabilities can be applied to everyday scenarios. You should also take a look at the Introductory Training Courses provided by the Office.com team. Here you will find downloadable courses containing video lessons, a quiz, and quick reference card for each topic. You can also download a SharePoint Adoption Kit or build one for your organization.

IT Pros

Technet is the primary resource for SharePoint content focused at IT Professionals. IT Pros are site administrators, consultants, and others who know the platform but don’t write a lot of code. The Getting Started video series will take you about 4.5 hours to watch the 11 videos and provides an excellent mid-level overview of the SharePoint platform. You can learn even more with the Advanced IT Pro Training which consists of 19 videos and 9 virtual labs. The advanced training also provides the slides from each of the presentations for download. It will take you about 28 hours or so to complete everything in the advanced training. The Getting Started and Advanced IT Pro Training modules make an excellent 1 week learning plan for an IT professional looking to get smart on SharePoint.

Developers

MSDN is the primary resource for SharePoint content focused at developers. The Getting Started video series will take you about 6 hours to watch the 10 videos and complete the 3 labs. MSDN also provides more detailed materials with the Advanced Developer Training. This series of 17 videos and 7 labs takes about 29 hours or so to complete. Again, combining the Getting Started and Advanced Training modules makes an excellent 1 week learning plan for someone looking to get into SharePoint development. You can also try out all of the virtual labs available for SharePoint.

Developers can also expand their skills with the video center and code samples. The Video Center has great content from the 2011 Tech Ed conference, Visual How Tos, and How Do I videos. The newly released SharePoint 2010 101 Code Samples is an awesome resource that contains 101 standalone projects for Visual Studio that walk you through a specific development feature or feature set.

Jan 28 12

Getting Started with Microsoft

by David Samoranski

I have been asked a similar question a few times over the last couple months. “If I want to get a job in your field or a related one, where should I start?” This conversation is usually motivated by some level of unhappiness from a current job or career. I love what I do and I am very grateful for my quality of life, so I have no problem offering advice. My recommendation for anyone is to discover a way to align passion with talent, and then find a way to monetize that activity. Monetizing the activity is the hard part.

Fortunately, technology gives us the ability to integrate our chosen expertise with unique business models so that we can make money doing what we love. Look at the web, social media, and the various app marketplaces exploding with growth today. There is opportunity everywhere, it is available to everyone, and it doesn’t cost much to get started. The key is to generate meaningful content or a valuable service and use technology to distribute it effectively. Microsoft has provided free tools and resources to help make the technology aspect easier to grasp. Anyone can become a social media personality, an app designer, or web developer if they have the time and motivation to do so. Check out some of the resources below to learn more.

Improve your Office game.

It’s all about creating content. The quality of the content you produce speaks volumes about you or your business. Many of us fumble around with standard Office tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and don’t use the features that were designed to make it easier for us to work. Knowing the possibilities of the tool set allows you to be much more creative when working with those tools and leads to better content. The team at Microsoft Labs has done an excellent job combining game theory and social media with technology training. Ribbon Hero is an awesome example of how innovative training concepts can make learning fun and engaging. Download the latest release at www.ribbonhero.com.

Get started developing for the web.

The Microsoft Website Spark program provides free tools and resources to help developers expand their knowledge and expertise. The program offers access to Visual Studio 2010, Expression Studio 4, WebMatrix, Windows Web Server 2008 R2, and SQL Server 2008 Web Edition. You can find more details and signup for the program here. After you have signed up and downloaded the tools, start with this 9 part tutorial to build your first web application using WebMatrix. Check out these free tutorials from W3 Schools if you’re new to the world of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Get started designing and building apps.

Microsoft Expression provides a complete toolset to design and build applications for the web, desktop, and mobile platforms. You can download a 60-day trial of the full version of Expression Ultimate or use the version that is available through the Website Spark program above (the Website Spark version of Expression does not have the SketchFlow application). Once you have the software, sign up at .toolbox to learn design principles and scenarios to build your skills. The .toolbox training applies a little game theory and social media to the training too, but not quite to the same level as Ribbon Hero. An additional 5-day training course is also provided to round out your understanding of the tool set.

Create a startup.

Microsoft has another program specifically targeted at entrepreneurs starting new businesses. The BizSpark program provides tools and marketing to help software startups succeed. They also have a network that connects investors and advisors to BizSpark participants to provide mentoring and support. Learn more about BizSpark.

Dec 10 11

Personal Strategy Map

by David Samoranski

After completing my visionary statements, I decided to create a personal strategy map. I referenced Dr. Hubert Rampersaad’s Personal Balanced Scorecard (PBSC) methodology and Randall Rogers’ work with Personal Strategy Maps to create a map that works for me. I really wanted to use perspectives that had definitive cause and effect relationships. I used values, wants, actions, and needs for my perspectives. I doubt this map is final, but it works well enough for now.

PersonalStrategyMap

I put values at the top of the map. I defined values as the things that are most important to me. Underneath values are wants. These are defined as high-level goals that align with my values. Next, we have actions. These are the activities required to achieve my wants. And finally we have needs. I am not sure this is the best label for these renewal and improvement activities. They are personal growth habits that will help me complete my actions in the long run. I guess needs works for now.

I’m going to spend some time with this strategy map over the next few weeks and determine how I can measure the objectives. I’ll do my best to define measures and targets for each so that I can create a personal scorecard. I also need to get an action plan of improvement initiatives so that I can start to align myself better with my objectives. I took all of my stuff out of the document in hopes that someone else might find it useful as a template. Personal Strategy Map Template

Nov 13 11

Personal Mission

by David Samoranski

I have been working on my personal mission for a few weeks now. I have been a little reluctant to post it though because it feels a little vulnerable to put it out there for everybody to see… but that’s the point though, right?

My mission is focused on my interest and research in the field of happiness. I stumbled upon this concept of positive psychology while trying to improve myself from a business sense. I was commuting to work several times a week, which could take 2+ hours each way, and it felt like such a waste of time. I signed up for an account at audible.com to start listening to audio books on business management and leadership while I was on the road. I added the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to my queue and experienced a paradigm shift from Dr. Covey’s message.

If you haven’t read or listened to this book, I highly recommend it. For me, the experience was similar to the movie The Matrix. Unlike Neo’s reality though, my awakening consisted of a renewed understanding that there is a greater purpose in life beyond who has the best job and makes the most money. My parents raised me well and I have always known this truth. However, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. If you ask someone why they do something, over and over again like a young child, you will find it always ends up at happiness. We do things to make us happy.

This fresh outlook on the world combined with my audible.com reading list has helped me to realize that the success formulas, concepts, and processes so often applied in business can be simplified so that everyone can benefit in their personal lives. So, as I continue to learn and apply business management disciplines in my professional life, I will also continue to look for opportunities to apply these strategies to my personal life. Visionary statements (mission, values, vision, etc.) are a great example.

I found a few free tools online to help me create my stuff. One of those tools is a survey that assesses personal strengths and the other is a personal mission builder from Franklin Covey. The links to the tools I used and the results I received are below.

My Personal Strengths

I used the assessment tool at viame.org to identify my personal strengths. The survey is free and the results seem accurate to me. It’s 240 questions and takes a half hour or so to complete.

My strengths are:
Humor and playfulness
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
Curiosity and interest in the world
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
Forgiveness and mercy
You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.

Personal Mission

I used the personal mission builder at franklincovey.com. In general, I like the experience of the viame.org survey a little better than Covey’s mission builder. I like the approach of asking simple multiple choice questions and then delivering a level of information beyond the questions you answered. The mission builder basically guides you to enter the exact text that you get in the end. It’s helpful, but not as cool as the survey tool. I dumped the output into a PDF and you can see it here if you’re interested: Personal Mission.

Oct 7 11

Personal Performance

by David Samoranski

I’m continuing where I left off last time with the Personal Balanced Scorecard

I have spent some time capturing how I spend my time through the week. After doing this I realized this information doesn’t tell me much. I can see that I spend roughly 29 hours of my week (17%) doing things like watching TV, hanging out with family, and relaxing by the pool. Some of these activities do have a positive result in the health and relationship perspectives of the PBSC, but I could probably cut this time in half and have a couple hours every day to spend on improvement activities. I created a quick chart to illustrate the percentage of my time spent on each activity over the course of a week.

PBSCgraphic2

Next step is to create my personal mission, vision, and mantra. It’s hard to tell if I’m driving in the right direction because I don’t have a clear destination. I think I am headed in the right direction and most signs point that I’m going the right way, but it would be great to know how many miles I have left at the speed I’m going. Ok, enough with the driving metaphors. Let’s talk next steps.

A typical vision identifies what an organization wants in the future and the mission identifies what they are doing to achieve that vision. Personal mission and vision statements are very similar to those used in business. Guy Kawasaki’s book, Art of the Start, first introduced me to the concept of a mantra. A mantra differs from traditional visionary statements because it is short and easily understood. For example, Nike’s mantra is “Authentic Athletic Performance.” I think this concept can easily translate into personal performance too.

I am currently working on these 3 statements. Some of the questions I am considering to define these statements are:

Vision
Where am I going in life?
Who do I want to be?
What do I want to achieve?

Mission
Who am I?
What do I value?
What do I believe in?
Why do I do what I do?

I hope this process will help me clarify my vision/destination so that I can better understand if I’m doing the right things to get there. I can continue this process by creating objectives, identifying what measures quantify performance for those objectives, and then setting goals with specific targets. Then, I’ll create a strategy map and scorecard to help me stay on track and measure my effectiveness. Still a lot of work to go, but it feels like a good start!