My life is a to-do list. Almost every day I wake up with my mind racing, wondering how I’m going to get everything done. There are kids to ready for school, books to read, articles to write, emails to answer, appointments to keep, dinners to make. Every time I cross something off the list, it seems like something else quickly replaces it.
Meanwhile, there’s a nagging sense that my life should be a lot more joyful and satisfying than it is now. Maybe some of you feel the same way, answering the everyday question of “How’s it going?” with the stock response, “Busy!”
If so, I highly recommend you read Christine Carter’s new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.
Carter, the bestselling author of Raising Happiness and a regular blogger on Greater Good’s website, has written a highly readable, diligently researched advice book that offers concrete tips on how to get off the treadmill by focusing on what’s important in life, letting go of distractions, and using the science of happiness to discover your “sweet spot”—“that place where you have both great strength and great ease.”
Carter speaks from experience. A few years back, she was a single parent, working at a triple-focus job that required writing, speaking engagements, and travel. But after a kidney infection put her in the hospital, she realized that something had to change. Luckily for us, she found the way to her own sweet spot employing the science of wellbeing, and her book points the way for the rest of us.
Finding your sweet spot involves first examining what’s most important to you in your life—relationships that need nurturing, work that brings meaning to your life, and self-care, for example—and then cutting out the chaff. This need not involve making radical changes; in fact, part of the appeal of her book is that her focus is on making small changes that can be leveraged for greater relief.
For example, Carter suggests that everyone—no matter how busy they are—needs to take small breaks during the day. This can mean anything from meditating for five minutes in the morning, to getting up and taking a walk around your office at work every 90 minutes. Science clearly shows that taking a break is important for optimal functioning, and those who are at peak performance know the benefits of resting.
But even if you only take a 30-second break twice a day, you will be heading in the right direction. Carter offers many “ridiculously easy” tips for better health, knowing that habit formation is easier when you don’t aim too high. Otherwise, you might end up having to fight against your habitual, and unconsciously controlled, ways of behaving—a struggle she compares to a rider trying to change the course of an elephant. The key is starting small and rewarding yourself often so that the changes you want to make become ingrained in the neural pathways of your brain, eventually becoming automatic.
“If we want to live with great ease and power, we need to use our effort to train the elephant, not convince the rider,” writes Carter.
Carter suggests many other ideas for getting to the sweet spot, including getting better control over your Internet use, having a regular meal plan so that you don’t have to make dinner decisions every day, and saying “no” to invitations to do things that take you away from your priorities…though not to the point of inflexibility. It’s also important to say “yes” to the things that feed you, like getting exercise, finding time to chill, and, most importantly, making time to connect with others.
“We Americans spend a lot of time working, hoping to increase our feelings of well-being by making more money,” she writes. “But we’d do better to cultivate our close connections to other people because when our relationships flourish, so do we.”
Drawing from the science of happiness, motivation, mindfulness, and other related fields, Carter uses personal anecdotes and considerable wit to make her advice easy to swallow. From a personal perspective, I found the book helpful in motivating me to start meditation, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Not too surprisingly, meditating is helping me to feel better, think more clearly, and work more efficiently.
Can I get to my own sweet spot? I don’t know. But, thanks to Carter’s book, I’m on my way…one ridiculously small step at a time.