Winter has ended almost all over the United States, and with the sunshine and flowers comes a renewed reason for happiness, right?
If life were that easy, we'd all live happily ever after. But recently we read a fascinating book called 10% Happier that helps people quiet the constant voice in their heads that always keeps tabs of all the uncompleted tasks and difficulties of the day—and often makes us unhappy.
Harris became an on-air reporter before his 30 birthday and was on staff with mentors the likes of Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer
The book is a New York Times best-seller written by someone you might recognize, Dan Harris. Harris is an anchor for ABC News, Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America, and his book, based on his own search to quiet his inner voice, may prove very helpful to busy e-preneurs, like you.
Panic attack sparks a journey
Harris became an on-air reporter for the network before his 30 birthday and was on staff with mentors the likes of Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer.
He was living the life many young journalists only dream of, but one morning, while reading the morning news on Good Morning America, Harris experienced a nightmare: He had a full-blown panic attack on air and without warning.
The event was so terrible he had to send the cameras back to the confused anchors in midstream. His meltdown happened in front of what Nielsen Ratings estimated to be 5 million viewers, and that experience sparked his desire to understand his reaction, which eventually led to his book.
It can happen to you
Harris' experience has a lot of commonalities with the lives of all the super-charged, busy online sellers we've met, who likely share a lot of traits with you. Do you find yourself unable to shut the door at the end of the day, for instance? Just one more email check? Just one more listing? Yeah, we thought so.
So many e-commerce merchants are some combination of supercharged multitasker and dyed-in-the-wool-sufferer of ADHD. It's part of the personality that makes it possible to build a multi-platform business and keep it running.
Just the same, we all know you can't sustain constant work and multitasking indefinitely. It's too taxing. And if you reach that brick wall, your crash may not be as public as Harris', but it will certainly still be painful.
If you reach that brick wall, your crash may not be as public as Harris', but it will certainly still be painful
Fortunately, Harris took his stumble and made it the pivot point from which an overdone guy became someone who, today, can still pursue his chosen career and is, indeed, 10 percent happier. He spoke with us recently to share some of his insights.
That inner voice is a jerk
Harris' journey took him into the study of mediation. He fully admits that, at the start, he thought he'd have to join the ranks of "bearded swamis and unwashed hippies."
What he learned, instead, is that meditation allowed him to quiet that constant voice in his head that keeps running from the moment he wakes until he finally falls asleep.
He admits that, like the voice inside most of us, his voice is kind of a jerk. If yours is like ours, there's a constant tally of unfinished projects, things that don't look as great in reality as you'd imagined, people who have been obnoxious throughout the day and the stuff we wish we'd said at the time, the creep who seems to think Ford didn't bother to put turn signals on that model, and so on.
How often does the voice in your head commend you for a task well done or a random act of kindness? Yeah, ours look at all the bad stuff, too.
Why only 10% happier?
We asked Harris why he chose to write this book now.
"Meditation has a huge PR problem," Harris says. "It's either bull-s*&t or you have to completely clear your mind. Neither of these is true. It seemed there was room for a newer voice."
He also told us he insisted on the title 10% Happier—although his publisher protested—because he'd grown weary of those self-help books that promise to make us all into entirely new beings in 10 simple chapters. All he was looking for was a way to quiet that voice in his head and let him get back to work.
Multitasking doesn't work
One of the first things Harris wants you to know is that multitasking is humanly impossible. He calls the effort "continuous partial attention."
One of the first things Harris wants you to know is that multitasking is humanly impossible. He calls the effort 'continuous partial attention'
You may think you're getting more done, but you're actually just working more. Harris quoted a Harvard study in which people agreed to be "pinged" throughout the day. At each ping, the participant was asked to rate his or her level of happiness.
The study showed that people who were focused on something were happier. When people were unfocused, they reported being unhappier, and we are unfocused a lot with things like technology constantly distracting us.
Harris admits he's as tethered to his electronics as anyone else, but he's also noticed that when he's mindfully using his devices, he's happy. When he's just reflexively clicking through them, he's often unhappy.
"That's where mindfulness comes into play," he explains. "It's really just paying attention to what's happening right now. In between moments you can just notice what's happening around you. [Noticing the] wind on your face or your feet on the floor, it actually gives your brain a rest. If you're recharging, you're resting your brain."
And giving your brain a chance to rest is one of the most important things Harris has learned through meditation. It's one of the main advantages to the practice. He found that through meditation he was able to gain focus.
"I'm able to stay on task in the face of tweets, texts, emails and calls," he tells us. "You develop an ability to see the voice in your head more clearly without attaching to it. You're able to reign in your thoughts. You may find yourself actually listening to your colleagues and customers, because you're not building those narratives."
With your next customer service issue, take a minute to notice if you're really listening to the customer or thinking ahead for the explanation you'll be giving once it's your turn to talk.
Achieve your own 'quiet'
If you've tried meditation and found it's too hard to control that inside voice, Harris understands and has some simple advice.
Just noticing that you've been distracted is the win, since it stops you from doing it
- Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight.
- Focus on your breath moving in and out.
- Your mind is going to go nuts! The whole game is just noticing that you've gotten lost and start it back again. Here the failure is success! Just noticing that you've been distracted is the win, since it stops you from doing it.
- Don't chastise yourself for the distraction, but if you do, just notice you're chastising yourself and move on.
- You might notice you're focusing on your breath and congratulate yourself. That's also a distraction, so you start again.
- You just have to start again and again, and, in time, that "muscle" of your brain gets stronger and stronger.
Harris has become so passionate about helping other people calm the incessant voice in their heads, that he has been very public about his long ago public humiliation. The clip of his panic attack is right up there on YouTube for all to see.
It is painful to watch, but Harris shares it purposely.
"We have these thoughts and emotions, and then we build a whole narrative around them," he says. "These thoughts are not saying anything concrete. You're going to notice the insubstantiality of your thoughts. That becomes very profound."
His hope is that the people who read his book and give mindfulness a try will also end up at least 10 percent happier.