“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
How To Have a Good Day Short Summary
In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb takes her extensive experience as a management consultant and economist to illuminate insights from psychology and behavioral economics on the nature of our decision-making. She reveals that we can fine-tune our perceptions and decisions to optimize our happiness in everything that we do. A riveting and well-researched book with many practical tips on how to improve our well-being.
Part 1: Priorities
Your priorities and assumptions determine your perceptions. Resetting your priorities can change the way you experience and approach the day.
For example: Sad people are likely to see a hill as being steeper than it actually is. While happier people are more likely to see others in a positive light.
The brain’s deliberate system—the one that’s responsible for self-control and thinking—prioritizes what seems worthwhile and screens everything else out. While this is important, we can miss out on stuff in our environment.
The secret is being more proactive in what our brains see as important every day. We can tweak our perceptions by being more deliberate in our perceptual filters.
We can do this by looking at things from three angles:
- Aim. Think about your aim as you meet people and as you work on your activities. Ask yourself: “What really matters?”
- Attitude. Take time to notice the concerns that are dominating your thoughts. Ask yourself: “Do they help me achieve my main goals?”
- Attention. Given your priorities, ask yourself: “Where should I focus my attention?”
Setting Great Goals
There are two types of goals:
- Approach Goals: doing more of something good
- Avoidance Goals: doing less of something bad
Approach goals are better than avoidance goals as they encourage higher performance. How to reframe your goals:
- “What positive outcome am I seeking? And what do I need to start doing, or do more of, to get that ideal outcome?”
- Turn avoidance goals into approach goals. What good thing you’d need to do more of to achieve the same outcome?
Find a personal WHY. Articulate your goals in a way that reminds you of something that you care about.
We achieve more when our goals are focused and achievable. Set a series of small goals that are within reach.
Implementation Intentions (“When-Then” Plans): to make sure that you will achieve your goals, set a clear “what we’ll do and when we’ll do” i.e when X happens, then I will do Y When you have a goal in mind, write it down ASAP.
Don’t waste your brain’s working memory. Create a brain-friendly to-do list. Remember that you have limited working memory, so don’t try to remember so much at the same time.
Reinforcing Your Intentions
Spend little time on the negatives.
Mental Contrasting: finding and addressing obstacles that are likely to stand in the way of achieving your goals
“To benefit from mental contrasting as you’re making your own plans for the day, ask yourself: What’s most likely to get in the way of you succeeding in meeting your goals for today? What’s your “when-then” contingency plan to prevent that obstacle from getting in the way?”
Use cues to remind yourself to stay on track. Find words or phrases that will remind you of your intentions.
Take your time and visualize how your perfect day would look like. Ask yourself: “What will I be doing to overcome the challenges that I’m likely to encounter?”
Part 2: Productivity
It is fallacious to believe that we can multitask. Our brains’ deliberate system can only handle one task at a time. How to single-task:
- Batch your tasks into different types of work. Examples of batches include reading and researching and responding to emails and messages
- Identify uninterrupted blocks of time
- Decide on the batch of tasks that fit into each block of time
How to avoid distractions:
- Turn off alerts. Turn your wifi off if you have to avoid any alerts that will distract you
- Remove temptation. Remove visual distractions from your viewpoint as they take away your working memory
- Record your stray thoughts. If stray thoughts keep coming up, record them on a piece of paper and free your working memory
- Build up your stamina. The more you focus your attention on something, the longer you are going to do it the next time
- Time yourself. Set a time that counts the minutes or hours that you spend on a single task
Planning Deliberate Downtime
Your brain’s deliberate system needs regular breaks to keep it fully functional. When tired, we are more likely to make poorer decisions. You need to give your brain a chance to step back and consolidate the experience. Make your decisions when the brain is freshest at peaks, not troughs.
Plan for breaks between “zones” in your day. Refresh your mind after every ninety minutes. Research shows that ninety minutes as much as the brain can focus on a single task without being distracted. After completing new tasks, step back, and reflect on what you’ve learned.
- When you feel stress rising, take a deep breath and ask yourself: “Do I want to feel like this?”
- Outsource basic memory tasks to a recording device to free up space for real thinking
- When faced with decision overload, look again at your to-do list and ask what is the most important thing that you need to
- Find the smallest step that you need to move forward. This will reduce the mental resistance to getting things done
- Find your comparative advantage and delegate other tasks to other people
- Say no and set your boundaries
- Automate the small stuff like what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, whether to answer your phone, and which tasks to prioritize. Doing this frees mental energy in your brain’s deliberate system
“Most of the tasks we avoid are ones that promise long-term benefits—better relationships, career success, personal satisfaction—while requiring immediate effort from us.”
To beat procrastination:
- Picture the benefits. Ask yourself what will be better if you get things done
- Plan a short term reward. Reward yourself for achieving the goals that you set
- Tie the first step to something that you like. Identify the first step that you need to take and link that to something that you are going to do
- Amplify the downside of inaction. Make precommitments to other people so that they can apply social pressure
- Ask the five whys. Ask yourself five why questions to discover what is holding you back
Part 3: Relationships
The quality of your relationships determines the extent of your happiness.
Building Real Rapport
Set collaborative intentions by identifying what you would really like from a relationship. At the same time, check your negative expectations regarding other people.
Get curious about the other person and ask quality questions. Turn factual questions to open questions that invite them to share their thoughts and interests. Be open to other people. The more open you are, the more they are likely to share secrets with you.
Create a sense of in-group. Look for shared goals, gripes, and interests with the other person. The other person’s brain is likely to see you as a friend as opposed to a threat.
How to find common ground:
- Describe the other person’s point of view as if you really like it. Re-express the opinion of the other party in your own words
- Identify all the things that you agree on. Find the areas that you agree on to build a sense of in-group
- Isolate and understand the true disagreement. Dig deeper into the reasons that you differ. Often, you will find that there is something hidden
- Explore how both of you would be correct. As yourself: “Is there a way that both of us could be right even partially?”
- What can you do now based on your common ground? Find an actionable plan based on the common ground
Spread positive contagion. Your mood affects the mood of other people around you. Therefore, decide on what mood you want to bring in a conversation.
Assume “good person, bad circumstances”. People are often good but their circumstances can change how they come out.
Acknowledge other people’s point of view by giving them speaking time and showing empathy.
Manage your own emotions by stepping back from volatile situations and reassessing what needs to be done.
Bringing Out the Best of Others
Be an extreme listener and let the other person express themselves fully without interruption. Give autonomy to members of your team. Research shows that autonomy makes people better achievers. GROW Model:
- Goal. See what the ideal situation looks like
- Reality. Describe the current situation
- Options. Find the options for moving forward
- Way forward. Find the first step and the help that will be needed to move forward
3 ways to give brain-friendly feedback:
- “What I Like About That Is…” (give examples of what you like) + “What would make me like it even more is…” (your suggestions)
- “Yes, and…,” to signal that you’re adding your perspective alongside that suggestion rather than in conflict with it
- “What would need to be true to make that work (well)?”
Part 4: Thinking
Einstellung Effect: Having a solution in mind makes it harder for us to see a better way of solving the same problem.
To change your brain’s perception of a problem, pose a question. Some of the questions that you can ask:
- What would be a totally different approach to this?
- What would be a great way of going about solving this?
- If I knew the answer, what would it be?
- If the solution knocked at the door what would it look like?
Refresh and reboot by momentarily focusing on another serious task. Try to see the problem that you are facing from a completely different angle.
You can do this by explaining the issue to someone else, or mapping it out. Find an analogy to the problem that you are trying to solve.
Making Wise Decisions
The brain’s deliberate system likes to take shortcuts. Take note of when that is happening. Signs of your brain taking shortcuts include when statements that with “It’s obviously right”, “It’s obviously wrong”, “let’s just stick with what we know”, “there is only one real option”.
Cross-check your questions by:
- Playing the devil’s advocate
- Mandating dissent
- Never say never
- Conducting a pre-mortem. Ask yourself: “If this goes wrong what will have caused that?”
Watch out for your own tiredness. When tired, take some time off and rejuvenate. When faced with a dilemma, ask yourself: “What could I do?” rather than “What should I do?”
Boosting Your Brain Power
“Our most important or interesting tasks often involve solving problems— something that can be an energizing experience when we reach a good outcome. But when it’s not immediately obvious how to address an issue, it is easy to feel a little tense”
To improve the quality of our thinking on tasks that matter, we can choose to operate in discovery mode rather than in the defensive mode. To get to discovery mode:
- Take stock of the most recent positive events. Recall the good things that happened during the day
- Imagine the ideal outcome of the task or project. Ask yourself: “What steps can I take to make the ideal outcome real?”
Draw an issue tree showing the different branches of the problem. Example of an issue tree: Harness your social brain by conceiving the problem as real people interacting. For example: When trying to understand the relationship between two variables, think of them in terms of people exchanging information. Boost your brainpower by getting enough sleep and exercising.
Part 5: Influence
Getting Through Filters
Getting a message through to other people can be hard because other people’s automatic system gets in the way.
“People aren’t always being consciously closed-minded if they’re not responding as you hope; it’s possible—even probable—that their brains are on autopilot.”
Provide a reward or a dose of intrigue as you communicate. The human brain craves new things.
Experiment with different mediums for your information. Use visuals, charts, and everything else that you can think of to stimulate the mind. Present your information from a different vantage point.
For example: tell your sales rep to see the product as customers would. Tips to make your communication fluent:
- Keep it as short as possible. Humans have limited processing capacity
- Provide signposts. Help people find their way through your information with clear signposts and turning points
- Use sticky phrases. An example of a sticky phrase is no pain no gain
- Give concrete examples. The more you give concrete examples, the easier it is for people to get your idea
- Include a visual image to illustrate your point. Images are easier to process than a long block of text
Don’t automatically assume that other people are going to know what you are talking about. Stop to check their perspective as you are talking.
Making Things Happen
When you want people to do something for you, give them a brief reason. It works like magic.
Make it easier for people to choose by providing them with mental shortcuts. Ask yourself: “How can I make it easier for people to solve a particular problem?”
You can also nudge people by providing visual hints for the outcome that you want. To get people on board with what you want, paint a clear picture of the benefits.
Don’t assume that people will automatically understand the benefits. You can use social proof to show that what you are asking works for others too.
Let the others contribute to the success. Being part of something is motivating. Ask for their views and assign them tasks.
How to build your confidence:
- Reframe your nerves as excitement. The same neurotransmitters that are responsible for fear are also responsible for excitement. Therefore you can see your nerves as readiness for the task at hand
- Connect to your values. When faced with a crisis of confidence, focus your attention on what matters the most to you
- Take your space. Stand tall, stretch yourself, and assert your presence for about five minutes
- Score more personal recognition. Keep track of your personal achievements and make sure that others are aware of them too
Part 6: Resilience
Keeping a Cool Head
Affect Labeling: label the way that you feel to reduce negative emotion. Say: “I feel this way because of so and so.”. When you are worried about something, adopt a distant perspective:
- Talk to yourself. Identify the issue you are facing and try to reframe it in a positive way
- Travel forward in time. Ask yourself: “What will I think of this a month from now or a year from now?”
- Wear someone else’s shoes. Think of what someone else would say if they were describing the situation from a neutral perspective
- Inhabit your best self. Think in terms of your best version and see the situation from that perspective
- Advise a friend. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation?
When faced with a difficult problem, ask a rewarding question. For example: When you make a mistake ask “How fascinating. What can I learn from this terrible mistake?”
Sometimes, we need to cut our losses and go. When a situation is not improving despite your best intentions, think of the future costs and benefits.
When someone else screws up, assume the best in them. Take time to access whether it was the individual or the circumstance that is to blame.
For a complete and happy day, you need to focus on your energy and reboot it when needed.
Practice gratitude by recognizing the things that are great in your life. List at least three things daily that are great about your life. Engage in random acts of kindness. Kindness is very rewarding and uplifting.
Know thyself by identifying where the typical energy highs and lows occur. Plan for the triggers and events around the highs and lows.
End your day on a high note. Smile and write down three things you are grateful for.