Art Markman on How To Use Smart Change to Be Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy

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This is a guest post by Art Markman, PhD, on how to use Smart Change to be healthy, wealthy, and happy.

Art is author of the book, Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done.

If you don’t know Art, he is one of the premier cognitive scientists in the field.

And by premier, I mean, cream of the crop.

Art is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.  He also helps companies use Cognitive Science in their businesses, as well as provides executive education services through his company Maximizing Mind, LLC.

Art has also been the editor of Cognitive Science since 2006, and, he blogs for Psychology Today and Huffington Post.   He is also the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, as well as the scholarly work Knowledge Representation.

In his research Art explores thinking, including how we form and use analogies, how we make decisions, how we form categories, and how motivation influences our reasoning.

With all that knowledge and insight about how our mind’s work, I thought Art could really help us put it to good use.  So I asked Art if he could share with us what he knows about using our brains to get over our humps and build better habits.

Without further ado, here’s Art on how to use Smart Change to be healthy, wealthy, and happy …

Habits are the Key Driver of Your Daily Performance

If you’re reading this site, then chances are you feel there is something that is holding you back from reaching your full potential. You might feel like you procrastinate too much, that you hesitate too long to get involved in new ventures, or that spend too much time flitting from project to project without putting in sustained output. Although you might be aware of the problem, you might not know why these problems arise. That is because your habits are the key driver of your daily performance, and you have little insight into the basis of your own habits.

Change Your Habits to Remove Stumbling Blocks

That is where Smart Change comes in. You need to understand how the brain creates and maintains habits and then use that knowledge to change your behavior to remove the stumbling blocks that keep you from succeeding.

When you have habits that promote success, you feel happier about your daily life.

Goals, The Go System, and The Stop System

The motivational mechanisms in the brain have three parts that drive your habits:

  1. Goals
  2. The Go System
  3. The Stop System.

Goals are the aims you hope to achieve with your goals. The Go System energizes these goals to drive you toward behaviors. Ultimately, the Go System creates habits that turn behaviors you perform frequently into routines. The Stop System is a set of brain mechanisms that require effort to engage that stops the Go System from performing a behavior it has engaged. The Stop System (which we sometimes call willpower) is prone to failure.

6 Ways You Can Use Smart Change

Here are six things you can do to engage in Smart Change to promote great success.

1. Learn About Yourself

Before trying to change your behavior, you need to understand it. Keep a habit diary. Spend two weeks keeping track of the behavior you want to change. When you do you do it? What was the situation? How were you feeling? After two weeks, take a look at your diary. What patterns emerge? Are you surprised at some of the things you are doing that are keeping you from succeeding?

2. Focus on Positive Goals

One reason it is often so hard to change your behavior is that you focus on stopping actions you no longer feel are valuable. You might want to eliminate multitasking from your life or stop checking email so often. Your Go System cannot learn not to do something, so you have to focus instead on actions you can take. Aim to write for 30 minutes without taking a break every morning or sit in a nice chair and read a book or article for work each day. Eventually, those behaviors will become habits.

3. Manage Your Environment

Much of your behavior is driven by the world around you. So, make the actions you want to perform easy to do and the actions you want to avoid hard. If you want to avoid checking your email so often, keep your email program closed and shut off your cell phone for an hour at a time. That will reduce the number of temptations to stray from your goal.

4. Find Happy People

A lot of the goals you adopt are influenced by the actions of the people around you. If you want to develop a new set of behaviors, then find people who have what you want. Find happy people. Spend time with them. Not only will you get some good advice, you will find yourself engaging in the same kinds of routines they do, and that will affect your own happiness.

5. Be Active

Too often, people wait for the right time to make a change in their lives. They assume that the right moment will come and everything in their lives will fall into place. Successful people do not wait for some future time to make changes. They act each day. Success is not really a matter of timing. It is a matter of doing work every day and allowing the small successes to accumulate over time. Success is not something that happens one day. It is something that you look back on and realize you achieved.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Finally, remember that your path to success will involve a number of failures as well. Successful writers have their work rejected. Successful scientists do studies that fail. Successful athletes get benched. The trick is to use each failure as an opportunity to learn something new rather than as an excuse not to continue trying. That means that you have to have a little self-compassion. Do not get down on yourself because you failed. Figure out whether you put in enough effort. Analyze what worked and what didn’t. And then get up and try again.


Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scientific papers on motivation, decision making, and reasoning. He is also the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership. His new book Smart Change comes out in January, 2014.

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