Want a Happier, More Fulfilling Life? 75-Year Harvard Study Says Focus on This 1 Thing


Positive Alacrity is the art of creating micro-experiences that have an emotionally uplifting impact on others. But I’m getting ahead of myself …

A quick Google search for “secret to happiness” brings up over 7,500,000 results.

That’s a lot of people writing about and searching for something that, according to a groundbreaking Harvard study, has already been found.

That’s right: Thanks to Harvard’s Grant and Glueck studies — which tracked 724 participants from varying walks of life over the course of 75 years — we’ve already uncovered the key to long-term happiness and fulfillment.

The answer? Our relationships.

Here’s Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development:

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

In other words: The quality of our life — emotionally, physically, and mentally — is directly proportional to the quality of our relationships.

But there’s a catch. If there’s one thing most of us have learned, it’s this: Just knowing a lot of people isn’t enough.

True fulfillment in relationships is about genuine connection, and one of the most efficient ways to form that connection is by practicing what we at Mindmaven call Positive Alacrity; a skill we define as creating micro-experiences that cause an emotional uplifting in others.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Relationships

Did we really need a 75-year study to tell us relationships are important?

Probably not; I bet many of you already knew that. So why do we so often struggle to treat many of the most important relationships in our lives with the reverence and priority we know they deserve?

For example, do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • When under stress, you may have a tendency to be ruder to your spouse than you’d ever dream of being to a complete stranger.
  • When building a business, you’re willing to work 60-hour weeks but somehow never “have time” to check in with lifelong friends.
  • Speaking of business: You may fail to consistently and proactively invest in deepening the professional relationships that might provide the breakthrough opportunities you need.

So why do we do this? Because …

Although many things in life are deadline and urgency driven, relationships almost never are.

As a result, they’re often one of the first parts of our lives that we neglect until we “find the time.”

The good news is, building those deep, meaningful relationships isn’t as daunting or time-consuming as it may sound. In fact, by focusing on one habit, anyone can build more fulfilling relationships every day.

The Secret Factor Controlling the Quality of Your Relationships

But what determines the level of fulfillment we find in our relationships?It isn’t simply “knowing” the other person.

What makes you feel happy or fulfilled isn’t the relationship itself, but the interactions that make that relationship up.

Here’s what it comes down to: The only path to achieving the goal of a fulfilling life is to have fulfilling relationships, and those relationships can only be created by consistently connecting through meaningful interactions.

Let me illustrate with a few examples.

#1: “I just want you to know how much I appreciate you.”

John’s wife Sarah welled up with tears as she read the unexpected thank you note her husband had written her before he left on a 6:00am flight for a business trip.

John — the CEO of an aggressively growing startup — thanked his wife for all the support and grace she’d given him over the last three years as he worked long hours to reach his — and his company’s — fullest potential.

The short note left Sarah feeling appreciated, loved, and truly known by her husband.

#2: “Thank you for sacrificing your time for our vision.”

Hannah, a recent intern-turned-engineer at a public company, felt pleasantly surprised and greatly affirmed after Erin, the CEO, walked over to her cubicle specifically to say thank you.

Without prompting, Hannah had recently pulled an all-nighter in order to ensure a backend patch was completed on time to restore server stability. And even though Erin’s visit was shorter than 30 seconds, the fact that the interaction was focused solely on thanking Hannah left her feeling appreciated for stepping up and excited to work for the company.

#3: “So you never have to lose something again.”

Cole — a die-hard Atlanta Falcons fan — laughed in amusement as he wrote back “Thanks, but I hate you lol ;)” to Rob, a friend who had sent him a Tile following the Falcon’s 2017 Super Bowl loss so he’d, “never have to lose something important again.”

The practical joke made Cole smile and deepened the sense of connection and friendly rivalry the two of them shared.

The Science-Backed Power of Positivity

Here’s the key takeaways from those examples: Each time, someone performed a small, lightweight gesture. For example:

  • John’s handwritten note to his wife,
  • Erin’s 30-second interaction, or
  • Rob’s quick email and gift.

And despite the ease of each interaction, they all delivered an uplifting sense of connection to the other person.

But perhaps the best proof of the power of interactions comes from Dr. Martin Seligman’s famous Gratitude Visits. For those unfamiliar, Dr. Seligman — founder of the positive psychology movement — introduced the concept of Gratitude Visits in a University of Pennsylvania study.

Here’s how it worked: Participants were asked to write a 300+ word letter of gratitude to someone in their life, and to then visit the recipient and read the letter aloud to them.

Simple though that may be, the effects were profound: Although Gratitude Visits were one of many positivity practices recorded in the study, they were the only practice that had participants reporting increased happiness and decreased depression for a full month after completing the action.

And while I fully support the practice of Gratitude Visits, they come with a challenge: Most of us don’t have time to sit down and write a 300-word letter every time we feel positive or grateful.

So I figured if Gratitude Visits are truly one of the most fulfilling things we can do, there must be a way we can simplify it into a habit that can be practiced daily.

Building Happy, Fulfilling Relationships with Ease

The solution? Positive Alacrity.

At the end of the day, this concept’s all about consistently delivering small, simple experiences that leave people feeling genuinely uplifted. So how do we do this? It all comes down to a single habit:

When you think something positive and you genuinely believe it, voice it.

As simple as that habit may be, we believe the impact of Positive Alacrity is as profound as Gratitude Visits, with one distinct advantage: That same simplicity allows you to practice it anytime, anywhere, with practically anyone.

Why? Because most of us already think positive thoughts on a daily basis. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised if you often thought things like …

  • “That’s a really insightful way to look at the situation,”
  • “I really appreciate the way she listens to me,” or
  • “Wow, he handled that ordeal really well.”

Pause a moment and test it for yourself: When was the last time you thought something positive? I’d venture to bet it was within the last 24 hours.

The problem is, we often let these thoughts come and go without ever practicing Positive Alacrity. But when we forgo voicing these thoughts to others, we cheat ourselves out of a valuable opportunity to enrich our relationships in three key ways:

  1. When you voice positive thoughts, you make the recipient feel emotionally uplifted.
  2. This feeling elevates their appreciation of you and the relationship you share.
  3. Because you were the source of that interaction, their emotional response creates an incredibly fulfilling sense of happiness and satisfaction in you.

That last part’s key: By uplifting others, we inadvertently uplift ourselves. Why? Because …

The effects of Positive Alacrity go both ways.

For instance, remember the example above with Hannah the CEO and Erin the engineer?

As a seasoned leader, Erin closely observed Hannah as she thanked her for working so diligently on that patch; so she noticed as Hannah’s expression slowly shifted from shocked confusion to recognition and, finally, to realization.

Seeing Hannah’s cheeks flush, smile spread, and eyes gleam made Erin realize she’d just delivered something truly meaningful, and Hannah’s reaction created a tremendous sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in Erin as the one who delivered that interaction.

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation to Erin’s, you probably understand exactly how she’s feeling, and know just how uplifting those feelings can be.

When you practice Positive Alacrity, you’re not only uplifting others. Above all, you’re uplifting yourself.

Positive Alacrity in Action: Mastering the Habit of Intentional Positivity

The action itself is simple: Think something positive? Voice it.

But until we turn that conscious action into an unconscious habit, we won’t be able to fully leverage it to impact our relationships and enrich our lives. And that all starts with a shift in awareness.

By default, positive thoughts often slip through the cracks before they ever reach conscious acknowledgement, let alone vocal affirmation. So how do you become more aware? By becoming intentional.

Once you’ve become aware of a positive thought, consciously label it “Positive,” then ask yourself: Do I genuinely believe this?

If you believe it, voice it. Positivity works so long as it’s perceived as genuine, and as long as you truly believe what you’re saying you can usually count on a positive outcome.

Habitualizing and Compounding the Secret to Happiness

Keep in mind: As with any new habit, practicing Positive Alacrity is probably going to feel a little clumsy or unnatural at first. But as long as you genuinely believe what you say, it doesn’t matter how awkward it comes out because it’s real.

The most important thing is that you’re voicing it. And if you’re able to push through that initial awkwardness, I can practically guarantee the process will become second nature in no time.

So how do you start? Thankfully, the practice is as simple as the theory. Try following this three-step process to utilize Positive Alacrity today.

  1. Recognition: Think of something positive that happened within the last 24 hours, then ask yourself: “Who was the cause of (or involved in) this experience that I could thank or compliment?”
  2. Specificity: Ask yourself: “What specifically did I like or appreciate about this experience/situation?”
  3. Action: Now, voice it. Pay this person a face-to-face visit. If that doesn’t work, call them. If you can’t call them, then text or email them; immediately, before you finish reading this.

Keep in mind: The steps above are an example of how to leverage Positive Alacrity retroactively, but it’s even easier to perform as you move forward in your day-to-day life.

The only thing you have to do is increase your ability to recognize these thoughts as they occur, then voice them as you become aware of them (rather than once a year when the holidays roll around).

John, Erin, and Rob are prime examples of these principles in action:

  • While getting ready to leave on his business trip, John looked over at his sleeping wife and realized just how appreciative he was for her continued understanding about his hectic travel schedule. So instead of just grabbing his jacket and heading out the door, John went over to the study, picked up some stationery, and wrote Sarah a short note expressing those feelings.
  • After learning of Hannah’s all-nighter, all Erin had to do was have a 30-second conversation genuinely thanking her. The only risk she took? Potentially being a few seconds late to her next meeting.
  • And as the Falcon’s loss made Rob realize how long it’d been since he and Cole talked, the only actions he had to take were writing his friend a tongue-in-cheek note and asking his assistant to mail it off along with a package of Tiles.

John, Erin, and Rob all spent less than a minute acting on their positive thoughts, but the uplifting emotions from those simple interactions have the potential to last for months.

And what about Sarah, Hannah, and Cole, the recipients of those interactions? They’re probably going to walk through the rest of the day feeling uplifted and empowered. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, later that same day, they provided a similar experience for someone else.

That’s the Pay-it-Forward principle in practice:

A single positive interaction can have a multiplicative effect, building and spreading further than you’d ever imagine.

Ultimately, those simple interactions are the heart of Positive Alacrity and the foundation for meaningful relationships. And, as that 75-year Harvard study taught us, those very same relationships are the secret to lifelong happiness and fulfillment.

Want to master the art of Positive Alacrity to revolutionize your relationships and enhance your life? If this was intriguing and valuable to you, and you’d like to learn more …

Click here to learn how to incorporate Positive Alacrity into your day-to-day life!

About the Author:

Patrick Ewers is the founder and CEO of Mindmaven, an executive coaching firm and educational platform focused on helping startup CEOs, executives and their team members achieve their fullest potential by delivering exceptional experiences to the most valuable relationships in their network.

Check out his blog, then follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more content like this.

4 Impressive Ways Great Leaders Handle Their Mistakes


One of the ways you can tell good leaders from great leaders is how they handle their mistakes.

All leaders make mistakes. To be human means to mess up once in a while. But the difference between good leaders and great ones lies in how they handle those mistakes.

What are you modeling to those around you when you make a mistake? Your team will be watching, and what they see will affect their relationship with you and the level of trust they hold for you, so it’s important to get it right. Here are four simple but impressive ways you can demonstrate great leadership when you make a mistake:

1. Acknowledge your mistakes.

Never try to cover up or blame others for what went wrong. If you messed up, admit it and own it. It doesn’t have to be a big deal–simply acknowledge your responsibility and move on. Insecure leaders may be afraid of looking weak, but not admitting their mistake makes them look worse and costs them respect. I believe that in leadership, vulnerability is the ultimate strength. Admitting your mistakes earns you the respect of those you lead and makes your leadership human.

2. Learn from your mistakes.

Once you learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat them. As the old saying goes, when you repeat a mistake it is not a mistake anymore but a decision. The nature of great leadership lies in accepting risks, trying new things, and taking big chances, looking for the limits of what’s possible. And the best leaders know creativity often means breaking rules, making mistakes and learning along the way. Mistakes are among the greatest teachers, and working to understand your mistakes is one of the best forms of self-education. Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; leadership is learning from them.

3. Teach others from your mistakes.

The times in our lives when we feel we have the least power can actually be the times we have the most–when we can affirm or redefine who we are and what we believe, and make choices that help others benefit from our experiences, good and bad. When you make mistakes, make a point of teaching others what you’ve learned. Doing so builds connection and trust. The best leaders are the great teachers, coaches, and guides who show us the way after they have been down that path.

4. Move beyond your mistakes.

Success is connected with action. Successful people keep moving; they make mistakes but don’t quit. Learn to use failure as a stepping stone away from the past. You don’t forget your mistake, but you don’t dwell on it or let it get you down. Get up and keep moving.

Like all of us, you’re bound to make mistakes. But when you handle them well, they can help you be a better leader and a better person.


A Systematic Approach to Life (Habits You Should Adopt Immediately to Improve The Quality of Your Life in The Next 90 Days)


Successful people don’t just drift off to the top. Getting there requires focused action, personal discipline and lots of energy every day to make things happen,” says American author and entrepreneur Jack Canfield.

Jack couldn’t be more accurate.

Don’t let old habits hold you back in life.

Take control of your habits and improve the quality of your life.

Build a system for everything you do

It pays to build systems to keep your life on track.

In “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, author Scott Adams explains: “… A system is something you do on a regular basis that achieves your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”

Systems are the foundations of a better life and great work.

Using systems can make your life easier.

A system provides you with an inner guidance system and a equip you with the power of habit.

A structure in your life and some routines that help you every day and keep you on the right track is better than a single shot at getting something done.

Start anything with a clear goal and focus on a system to achieve it.

Many people have different successful systems that guide how they work and what actions to take at any point in time to achieve the bigger purpose.

If your current system of work doesn’t work or give the desired results you expect, make a change, create a new system and take steps every day to stick to it.

By spending a little bit of time figuring out what will work best for you and your habits, you can put yourself in a great position to get out of your head and get things done.

Reserving an hour each day for something you absolutely want to get done can be a great system that can help you achieve your big goal.

Guardian’s Oliver Burkman says, “…focusing on a system means focusing on what you can control (your actions) rather than what you can’t (the endlessly unpredictable external world). Keep working your system and you’ll maximize the chances that success will find you.”

You can start building systems one habit at a time.

Focus on incremental progress and consistency to lay the foundation for getting things done.

A daily or weekly routine, a consistent application of even small habits, will transform your life more effectively than striving for an overwhelmingly large goal without a consistent routine to achieve it.

A better life starts with a great daily routine

As simple as it sounds, routines are the key to improving your health, productivity, wealth and total well-being.

creating a daily routine can make a big difference in your life.

How you start and end your day determines everything.

That means, developing a system to guide to guide how you use your time when you awake, when you first start working, when you finish your workday, and even how you use your evenings.

How will that change your life?

It will help you get a great start to your day, and finish your day by preparing for the next day.

It’ll help you build productive routines, and help you focus on what’s important, not just what’s urgent.

Make time for high-value work

Don’t start your day until you have it planned. — Jim Rohn

Spend the first hour of your work day on high-value tasks.

Don’t begin the activities of your day until you know exactly what you plan to accomplish.

Every morning, get one most important thing done immediately.

There is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you’re already in the flow.

And the easiest way to trigger this feeling is to work on your most important task in the first hour.

Use your mornings for high-value work.

Lean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

Low value activities, including responding to notifications, or reacting to emails keep you busy and stop you from getting real work done. Make time for work that matters.

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen says, “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Research shows that it takes, on average, more than 23 minutes to fully recover your concentration after a trivial interruption.

Don’t tackle tasks sporadically throughout the day

To increase your ability to focus, researchers suggest ideas for both boosting our ability to concentrate as well as reducing distraction.

You can improve your ability to focus if you can boost your ability to concentrate. Reducing distractions can change how you work for the better.

Everything competing for your attention when you want to single task can waste your precious time.

In 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman writes“To get the right things done, choosing what to ignore is as important as choosing where to focus.”

Time wasters such as impulsively checking notifications is a major distraction at work. The few minutes you waste on reactive tendencies doesn’t help your work.

Learn to single-task without compromise

Single tasking changes everything.

In an age of constant digital interruptions, it is no wonder you’re having trouble ignoring distractions.

If you really have to focus on that task, limit the time you have to spend on any given task. Add dates, and due time to your to-do lists.

Push yourself to deliver within the specified time and move on.

Single-tasking is one task at a time, with zero tolerance for distractions.

Try the Pomodoro Technique to improve your chances of success when you embrace single -tasking habit.

Focus on one task for about 30 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, and then move on to another task or continue the task.

Read, read, read

Pick up a book every day. Even for just a few pages.

Reading puts your brain to work.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to your body.

It gives us freedom to roam the expanse of space, time, history, and offer a deeper view of ideas, concepts, emotions, and body of knowledge.

Roberto Bolaño says“Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.”

Your brain on books is active — growing, changing and making new connections and different patterns, depending on the type of material you’re reading.

One of the best ways to gain knowledge is self-education. Period.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop.

As long as you are genuinely interested in what you are studying, don’t stop.Make the most of your time and get the best education you can can offer yourself.

People who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world.

Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of.

Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.

Lifelong learning will get most of your questions answered.

You don’t even have to commit long hours everyday to learning. Whatever time you decide to put in your own education, stick to it.

What are the most interesting topics you wish to know more about.

The goal here is to find as many sources of ideas and knowledge as possible.

Brain Pickings is a good place to start. It’s one of my favorites. And it’s free.

Go subscribe and you won’t be disappointed.

Find other blogs blogs, websites or online courses that can broaden your horizon. Read expert opinions about topics of interest on Quora.

It’s a game-changer in the world of question and answer websites. Look for answers to some of your most important questions at places people normally ignore.

Cut back on social distractions

In the age of constant connectivity, distraction is at its peak in life and at work.

Our minds need urgent purification to improve focus, replenish attention, and encourage creativity.

The average adult checks their phone 50 to 300 times each day. And we tap, swipe and click on our devices 2,617 times per day, according to a recent study.

We spend more time online than we do asleep.

Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, writes,“Our smartphones provide an endless stream of bite-sized, delicious information for our brains to consume. It’s easy to get hooked, even to feel addicted. And most of us would prefer not to feel this way.”

I have turned off most of the notifications on my phone.

I choose when I want to check my notifications. I have consciously planned to check social updates at a set time to avoid distractions when I am doing focused work.

Every time you pull out your phone to scan your feeds, your brain is building a habit loop that reinforces itself to encourage the habit.

Notifications prompt task-irrelevant thoughts and disrupt attention performance even if you don’t interact with the device.

The buzzes, beeps, emails, alerts, and notifications never end until you do something about it.

An increasing number of psychologists and doctors are concerned about our relationship with smartphones.

“It’s a spectrum disorder,” says Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, who studies addiction. “There are mild, moderate and extreme forms.” And for many people, there’s no problem at all.

According to David Greenfield, a clinical psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, smartphones can easily take over your life, because they’re always screaming for attention.

Being constantly plugged in affects our sleep patterns, posture and more in our bodies and minds.

Our lives are becoming more wired all the time, hence the need to take over and control your relationship with mobile devices before they become the only thing you deeply care about at the expense of your relationships.

If you feel your phone is taking over your life, schedule digital detox on your calendar. Start balancing your digital life with real life.

Do a 30-day challenge

The challenge most of us have is starting and sticking to healthy and productive daily routines.

You can start with a 30-day challenge to develop the perfect routine that works for you.

What do you want to improve.

Write them out on paper, along with your motivations, obstacles, and strategies for overcoming them.

Start with a few habits you can consistently focus on building.

Report on your progress each day.

Adjust anything that is not working on a case-by-case basis.

Then do an assessment after 30 days to see how your new routine is working for you. If you fail, figure out what went wrong, plan for it, and try again.

You don’t always have full control over your workday, but you can plan and make the most of your day to help you accomplish your life and work goals.

You can use them to make sure the most important stuff gets done — from working out, to spending time with friends and family, to developing a side business, to reading and engaging in other hobbies.

5 Steps to Becoming an Upgraded Version of Yourself


Image credit: Compassionate Eye Foundation/Gary Burchell | Getty Images

The following excerpt is from Ben Angel’s book Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound

When people who’ve been dreaming of starting a business actually decide to take the first steps to making their dreams come true, they can become overwhelmed. Suddenly a state of panic ensues. What if I can’t make this work? I don’t have the money to get this business off the ground! I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to do what I have to do! This is a normal part of growing as an individual. But in order to prevent the “snapback effect” of getting thrown back into your old routine and your old identity, we need a new technique to stop it in its tracks.

This is where progressive overload (PO) comes into play. PO is a technique used in strength training where you periodically increase the weight, intensity, or duration of an exercise to stimulate new muscle growth. You do it gradually over a period of time so your body has time to rest, recover, and grow. Your body adapts to the change over time, so the increase doesn’t cause a shock to your system or inflict real muscle damage. I’ve applied this same technique when I’m in the process of evolving into a new identity. Here’s how it works:

1. Choose your next three major projects or goals.

I work in 13-week increments and focus on three major goals in that period. It’s short enough to remain excited about the projects or goals and not so long that momentum is lost. Focusing on three goals during this process is manage­able. I break each of them down into smaller goals on a weekly basis.

2. Identify the “educational gaps” you need to fill to make this proj­ect possible.

For example, online marketing, public speaking, health, well-being, writing, product creation, starting a business, improving a relationship.

3. Pick your educational resources.

Search for the top podcasts, YouTube videos, authors, educators and experts within these educational gaps and then make a list you can reference. Listen to one podcast per day while showering, driving to work, or going for a walk. Sign up for online or in-person courses. Watch YouTube videos to fill a gap in knowledge and read or listen to books when you’re working out. Keep a notebook close at hand so you can jot down ideas on the go or record them on a recording app on your cell phone. Do this for weeks or even months before you start your project. This way, you’ll be progressively overloading your brain with new information that will force you to grow, and you’ll be primed to bring your project or goal to life. Once your educational gaps are filled, the fear of not knowing how to bring your goal to fruition suddenly disappears, excuses fade away, and you act without needing willpower to overcome fear. That doesn’t mean you won’t still occasionally be afraid, but now you’ll have the techniques to deal with it.

4. Decide who you need to become to reach these goals.

Do you need to be educated, empowered, fulfilled, confident, self-assured, motivat­ed, driven?

5. Do the Quickfire Visualization on a daily basis to prime your brain for the overall direction you are heading in.

Visualize the person you’re becoming, the attainment of your goals, and the ease and joy you’ll experience along the way. Visualize as well any challenges you may encounter and effectively manage with style and grace. This allows you to grow into the person you’re becoming and prime your mind for the changes you need to make, instead of throwing yourself out there, only to return right back to where you started like a boomerang. When I was working on my first book, I would stand in front of the mirror nightly for months before I ever began writing and hold someone else’s book in my hands with my eyes closed, visualizing it was my completed book. It mentally pre­pared me for the work ahead.

Are you ready to become unstoppable?

Visit areyouunstoppable.com and take your FREE 5-minute online quiz now. By answering a series of simple questions, my software will analyze your results and provide you with a comprehensive report that will indicate your identity type and lead you to the tools and tips you need to close that gap between who you are and who you could be.

The 7 Essential Behaviors Of Highly Creative People


The 7 Essential Behaviors Of Highly Creative People

The most commonly held belief about creativity is that it’s elusive, esoteric and unique only to the anointed few.

The ancient Greeks believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. They called these spirits daemons. The Romans had a similar idea as well but called the spirit a genius.

Centuries later, not much has changed. The only difference is that we no longer attribute creativity to divine spirits, but to special individuals. We think that it’s only Beethoven, Picasso and Mozart who have creative genius.

Except that’s not true.

Today, we deconstruct and analyse even the most elusive of processes. We come to understand that there are specific behaviours and mindsets which anyone can use to reach a desired result.

Here are the seven behaviours of highly creative people.

1. Steal Like An Artist

There is a truth that the aspiring creative must first recognise. We need only turn to Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist, to learn this:

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

One must realise that the idea and inspiration for a piece of work comes from many sources at once. Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas. It’s why, quoting Jonathan Lethem, Kleon writes that “when people call something ‘original,’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.”

Hence the recommendation — steal like an artist.

The good artist emulates the style of another as closely as he can. The great artist selects elements from others’ work and incorporates them into his own mix of influences. He does so tastefully, knowing that the right fusion will create something that is uniquely his, although not completely original.

So learn to steal like an artist — the entire world is up for grabs.

2. Always Be Researching

To find something worth stealing, one must look in the right places.

Input facilitates output. There’s no getting around that. The quality of the information one consumes determines the quality of work one will produce. In a world where noise often drowns out the signal, finding the best ideas can often be difficult.

There are two ways to get around this. The first is what Kleon calls branching, which is useful for exploring variations of an idea.

“Chew on one thinker. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go.”

That’s not the only method of sieving out valuable ideas. Originality stems from creating something that has never been seen before. Which is why bestselling author Ryan Holiday turns to the classics whenever he is in doubt.

Classic pieces are ‘classic’ for a reason. They’ve survived the test of time. The philosophy of Stoicism goes back to the ancient Greeks, but Holiday showed how those ideas are relevant today in his books Ego Is The Enemy and The Obstacle Is The Way. He didn’t come up with those ideas; he applied them.

It’s not enough to just observe your surroundings. The creative actively seek out the best ideas from all places. They’re always researching.

3. Enter New Domains

As we gain more experience and expertise in our work, we become more entrenched in a particular way of viewing the world. It makes us more efficient as we eliminate part of the thinking process, but the downside is that we become less receptive to new ideas and less responsive to changes.

It’s as Abraham Maslow observed: he that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.

That’s a death sentence for any creative who hopes to do good work. It’s also the surest way for a company to go out of business within the next few years.

Consider the ubiquity of Google today. Search engines had existed long before Google along, but were limited in use. Google changed that when it adopted a new approach for returning results, choosing to focus on quality rather than popularity.

The inspiration for this change? Academic publishing.

In the academic world, one can easily determine the quality and relevance of a paper by how often it is cited. The best research papers rise to the top, while the more limited ones fade into obscurity. It was an elegant idea which Larry Page was only too happy to introduce into Google’s search algorithm. It’s now known in the world of Search-Engine Optimisation (SEO) as back-links.

Original and creative solutions don’t always come from reinventing the wheel. Rather, it comes from developing innovative applications, not imagine completely new concepts.

 You can start by finding two completely different ideas and combining them.

Or as James Altucher puts it: have idea sex.

4. Be More Prolific

Thomas Edison was famous for being relentless in experimenting. The sheer quantity of his experiments would eventually result in him holding the record for having the most patents — over 1090 in his name. Picasso painted over 20,000 works. Bach composed at least one work a week.

Most of these works never amounted to much. They were creations which the average man on the street would never have taken a second look at. It turns out that none of us can accurately predict which ideas will hit and which will miss.

The solution? Produce so much work that one piece will inevitably stick. If only one idea for every ten that you come up with is good, all it means is that you should be working on a hundred ideas to come up with ten good ones. The same goes for writing, composing, or painting.

It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality — if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it — but this turns out to be false. Quantity breeds quality. The act of creating something, no matter how lousy, is practice for creating a better one.

And that’s why Steve Jobs rightly said, “real artists ship”.

5. Give Yourself Permission To Suck

Creating more work sounds like a good idea in theory, but it’s difficult in application. The single and most important reason is that we don’t give ourselves permission to suck.

Stephen Pressfield knows this too. In The War of Art, he names the fear that all creatives have — he calls it the Resistance.

“The amateur, on the other hand, over-identifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over-terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyses him.”

The problem is that we’ve been trained to tie our self-worth to our accomplishments. If that’s the case, who then, would willingly create a piece of work that would be used to judge him?

For this reason, Pressfield says that we must turn from amateur to professional. Only then can we produce truly creative work.

“Resistance wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can. The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance.”

The way to creativity is to create a lot, and the way to create a lot is to give ourselves permission to suck. People will forget the mistakes and garbage we make but will remember our best works.

6. Embrace Constraints

There are many barriers that can prevent us from creating a good piece of work. But the essence of creativity is making do with what we have. In fact, Austin Kleon suggests that it is necessary:

“Nothing is more paralysing than the idea of infinite possibilities. The best way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself.”

He goes on to explain how having less helps us:

“One, getting really good at creative work requires a lot of time and attention, and that means cutting a lot of fluff out of your life so that you have that extra time and attention. And two, creativity in our work is often a matter of what we choose to leave out, rather than leave in — what is unspoken vs. spoken, what isn’t shown vs. what is, etc.”

Constraints are not the enemy. Many creatives understood that and went on to produce masterpieces because of constraints, not despite them.

Dr Seuss was challenged to write a children’s book with only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, which went on to sell over 200 million copies. Having constraints was so vital to fuelling creativity that Dr Seuss would set his own limits to work with for his other books. For example, The Cat In The Hat was written using only a first-grade vocabulary list.

But perhaps the most famous example is Hemingway’s six-word story. Nobody is likely to forget For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn anytime soon.

7. Develop Your Ritual

Creativity doesn’t come easily.

The process is frustrating. There’s hardly a good barometer with which we can use to measure our progress. It’s elusive. It’s why we give ourselves a pass whenever we can’t come up with good ideas or do any creative work.

But what does the architect, the lawyer, or the doctor do when they aren’t inspired? They still get down to work.

It’s essential then that we create a routine or ritual which we can rely on. Systems work, and prevent us from falling victim to our mood. The painter, Chuck Close was unequivocal on this point:

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great art [idea]. […]If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.”

Creativity is a process. There’s a system that one can apply methodically to generate good ideas. It’s not an esoteric field that is the sole domain of the genius. But one must do the work, no matter how difficult.

Just remember — if you hang in there, you will get somewhere.