Jul 29 2014

6 Scientifically Proven Ways To Boost Your Self&Control

One of the key parts of our culture at Buffer is a focus on self-improvement. We each pick an area to improve on each week and share our daily progress and challenges, making it a social, supportive way to adjust, create or change our habits.

There’s still a lot of work to be done for self-improvement to be effective, though. I’ve been through a bunch of different improvement focuses in the last few months, including positivity, running, reading more and learning French. Each one has been fun to focus on, but it’s hard to keep more than one new habit going at a time–partly because it takes so much willpower.

What willpower is and how it works in the brain

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, and author of The Willpower Instinct says willpower is a response that comes from both the brain and the body.

The willpower response is a reaction to an internal conflict. You want to do one thing, such as smoke a cigarette or supersize your lunch, but know you shouldn’t. Or you know you should do something, like file your taxes or go to the gym, but you’d rather do nothing.

The prefontal cortex (that section of the brain right behind your forehead) is the part that helps us with things like decision-making and regulating our behavior. Self-control, or willpower, falls under this heading, and thus is taken care of in this part of the brain.

To be effective at controlling our urges and making sound decisions, the prefontal cortex needs to be looked after. That means feeding it with good-quality food so it has enough energy to do its job and getting enough sleep.

How willpower gets depleted throughout the day

McGonigal points out that one of the most replicated findings about willpower is that it seems to be finite–that is, we only have so much and it runs out as we use it.

Trying to control your temper, ignore distractions or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength.

We can look at willpower like a muscle–it can get exhausted by overuse, but just like our physical muscles, there are some researchers who believe we might be able to strengthen our willpower by training it.

How to increase your willpower

Okay, we know that we only have so much willpower and as we go about our day, stress and normal self-control depletes our resource. Let’s see what options we have for increasing the pool of willpower we have to draw from.

1. Increase your capacity for pressure: Learn how to manage stress

To start with, we need to manage our stress levels, says McGonigal. Being under high levels of stress means that our body’s energy is used up in acting instinctively and making decisions based on short-term outcomes. Our prefrontal cortex loses out in the battle for our energy when high-stress is involved.

McGonigal says that stopping to take a few deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed or tempted can be a great start in managing our stress levels and improving our willpower.

2. Encourage yourself to stick to your plan

To make it even easier, it appears that self-affirmation can even help you to have more self-control when you’re running out, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A good example of this is the difference between telling yourself “I can’t” and “I don’t.” Taking back control of the situation using the phrase “I don’t” has been shown to be more effective at helping you to stick to your plan and break bad habits:

Every time you tell yourself “I can’t,” you’re creating a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

So try telling yourself that you don’t do that bad habit, rather than punishing yourself by saying “I can’t.”

3. Get more sleep to help your brain manage energy better

McGonigal also says getting enough sleep makes a big difference to how efficiently our prefrontal cortex works:

Sleep deprivation (even just getting less than six hours a night) is a kind of chronic stress that impairs how the body and brain use energy. The prefrontal cortex is especially hard hit and it loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings and the stress response.

Luckily, McGonigal also cites studies that have shown we can make this work in our favor by ensuring we get enough sleep:

When the sleep-deprived catch a better night’s sleep, their brain scans no longer show signs of prefrontal cortex impairment.

And if you’re wondering how much sleep is enough, here’s a rough guide: one of the most acclaimed sleep researchers, Daniel Kripke, found in a recent study that “people who sleep between 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours a night, live the longest, are happier and most productive.”

4. Meditate (for as little as eight weeks)

Meditation has also been linked to increasing the reserve of willpower we have available, as well as improving attention, focus, stress management, and self-awareness. McGonigal suggests this can even give fast results:

And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice–brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.

5. Better exercise and nutrition: The most ignored route to higher willpower

Another great way to train the brain, that is often easily ignored or undervalued, yet can make you a lot more resilient to stress, and thus boost willpower, is regular physical exercise. Both relaxing, mindful exercise like yoga and intense physical training can provide these benefits, though McGonigal points out that we’re not sure why this works yet.

As I mentioned earlier, what you feed your body affects how much energy the prefrontal cortex has to work with. This is why nutrition is so important:

Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower.

Not only will exercise and good nutrition improve your willpower, but they’ll make you feel better as well. Exercise in particular is known for making us happy by releasing endorphins:

These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.

6. Postpone things for later to gain focus on what’s important now

Postponing something you really shouldn’t have can be effective if you’re trying to break a bad habit. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister explains that people who tell themselves “not now, but later,” are generally less tormented by the temptation of something they are trying to avoid (his example is eating chocolate cake).

A treat for you, since you waited this long

One last thing. You might have heard of a famous experiment using marshmallows to test kids’ willpower. What happens is a child is left alone in a room with one marshmallow for an undefined period of time. If they can resist eating the marshmallow, they’re rewarded with a second marshmallow at the end of the experiment. If they eat the marshmallow before time is up, they only get that one.

It’s been recreated a bunch of times, and this is a really fun video of what it can look like:

Jul 29 2014

Hartford Financial Services Offers Self-Improvement And Takeover Potential

Summary

  • Running off the variable annuity business is compressing returns, but The Hartford has a high-quality PC business.
  • The Hartford still has room for further restructuring efforts, including operating expense reductions and possibly a sale of additional components of the runoff operations and/or the Group Benefits business.
  • Between a fair value of $38 (excess returns) and $42 (ROE-based P/BV), I believe The Hartford is still underappreciated by the Street and a strategic buyout could be possible.
Jul 29 2014

Dress as Fine Art: 19th-Century Self-Improvement Manuals

Much of it is set in treating the self with the same care as any art, with the choices of color and decorum having a promise of class and psychological improvement. Some of it feels outdated now, and often culturally insensitive, as books like the 1863 Taste versus Fashionable Colours by William and George Audsley giving varying shades of white for its color suggestions based on complexions.

To take the self-improvement books a step further, they are also an echo of the moralistic tone to much of societal development at the time. For example, when Central Park was opened in 1857, it was meant to improve the social conscience through an egalitarian, shared experience. Class was much more flexible in the United States than in Europe, and there was this sudden access to knowledge that had previously been transmitted orally among the elite about how to present yourself in a certain standing. The opportunities for women were also advancing, and despite all the rambling on choosing the right color of umbrella or cut of gown for the evening, these books were an opportunity to put that voice in print. For example, Eliza Leslie’s The Behaviour Book has an assertive chapter on Conduct to Literary Women, albeit chasing an Obligations to Gentlemen chapter, telling readers to not ask a female writer about how much she’s paid, to interrupt her work or treat it flippantly, or make assumptions based on her unconventional career:

When in company with literary women, make no allusions to ‘learned ladies,’ or ‘blue stockings,’ or express surprise that they should have any knowledge of housewifery, or needlework, or dress; or that they are able to talk on ‘common things.’ It is rude and foolish, and shows that you really know nothing about them, either as a class or as individuals.

Jul 28 2014

Self Improvement: Tales from the sewers of Ancient Rome

Are you one of our regular students for Self-Improvement Wednesday? Each week you get to learn something new.

Jul 28 2014

For self-improvement, author imitates lives of celebrities

Jennifer, Gwyneth amp; Me, Author: Rachel Bertsche, Genre: Lifestyle, Publisher: Ballantine BooksAuthor and celebrity-watcher Rachel Bertsche spent nearly a year emulating the lifestyles of several famous female stars, seeking contentment, productivity and better arms.

Her new book, “Jennifer, Gwyneth Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time,” is “The Happiness Project” meets People magazine.

Most celebrities are graced with devotees and burdened with haters, and this book – like the A-listers it covers – will likely face both. Some will hail it as a fun, thought-provoking, self-improvement memoir, while critics may call it self-indulgent and shallow.

There may be some readers who find the idea of taking life advice from celebrities questionable, but Berstche – a journalist and former editor at Oprah Winfrey’s magazine – creates a voice that is self-deprecating and relatable. She knows her target female audience, and her research and writing skills make it an easy read.

Throughout the book, Bertsche asks why women (including herself) are fascinated by celebrities and often see them as role models. Each of the eight chapters focuses on one celebrity’s particular assets and expertise, in an area the author would like to tackle to lift her self-esteem.

“A complete overhaul is too overwhelming. You don’t always know where to start. Comparing yourself to others isn’t necessarily the healthiest method of self-improvement but if it’s impetus to get started, is that so wrong?” Bertsche asks.

Bertsche is thoughtful about her goals in the project, honest about her successes and failures, and reflective about the results. She studies Jennifer Aniston’s eating habits and exercise regimens to feel better about her body, looks to Sarah Jessica Parker for fashion tips and envies Beyonce’s ability to work, parent and love gracefully.

Taking cues from stars’ lifestyles posed challenges. It’s easy to complain that stars have more money and access, but Bertsche gets creative by bartering, babysitting and copy writing for a gym membership, and modifying recipes and clothing choices to save money.

Bertsche’s experiment also suggests that even the fabulous are flawed. When trying to follow Gwyneth Paltrow’s food rules and cooking techniques, Bertsche points out the unrealistic amount of time and money the actress’ habits require, and fails her seven-day detox cleanse after two days of drinking a smoothie that tastes like “sweet earwax.”

Bertsche offers some valuable tips – from how to create a signature style to how to nail Tina Fey’s work ethic (hint: boycott social media and always carry a notebook). But the chapters on simulating the spark in Jennifer Garner’s marriage to Ben Affleck, and following Julia Roberts’ way of meditating to get more Zen, seem like guesswork.

The book would have more teeth if Bertsche had been able to interview any of the celebrities she writes about to get their take on whether their choices and routines actually lead to happiness.

Woven into the narrative of her celebrity makeover, Bertsche shares intimate details, including her determination to get pregnant despite fertility problems.

At the beginning of the book, she’s been laid off, and distracted by her desire for a baby, zapped of energy and motivation. “I had all the time in the world, but I wasn’t getting anything done,” she says.

Following the celebrity formulas gives her structure and accountability, leading to “enthusiasm, drive and purpose.” By the end, she’s exercising regularly, eating healthy food, working more efficiently, dressing better and meditating – making her feel accomplished, and maybe a few inches closer to Aniston’s famously coveted arms.

AP

Jul 27 2014

Lansner: Summer real-estate lull mixed bag for unlikely pro

Mike Shapiro has an uneasy feeling, one that’s refreshingly surprising for a real estate brokerage owner coming off a record month.

Shapiro is chairman of Hom Sotheby’s International Realty, a Newport Beach-based operation with a network of upscale-oriented brokerages stretching from Los Angeles’ Westside through Orange County’s beach towns and out to Palm Springs’ desert enclaves.

In June, Hom agents sold a company-best $325 million in property. Shapiro is stunned that it looks like July’s projected closings will be roughly half that sum.

One month doesn’t make a trend, he notes. But the sharp drop, paralleling other hints at economic anxiety, is, if nothing else, thought-provoking.

Shapiro, who in a previous career traded stocks, wonders if recent skittishness among Wall Street traders bubbled over into real estate. The continued modest level of overall economic recovery doesn’t help build huge momentum for property investments, even in the high-price communities that Hom serves. And global instabilities, political and economic, certainly don’t boost confidence.

“Something is up … I don’t know what,” the 51-year-old executive says.

Real estate executives usually don’t like to publicly ponder the downside. It takes gobs of enthusiasm to sell housing, so optimism – even when uncalled for – is often the spoken word. Considering the business Shapiro sees, his warning signal is noteworthy in itself, even if Shapiro isn’t the typical real estate pro. In fact, he never sought out the industry before odd timing led him to the trade.

And don’t forget Shapiro’s knack for financial timing – taking control of Hom in 2008 just as the housing market was bottoming. While he dismisses any grand wisdom in that well-timed bet in a self-deprecating way – “What did I know? Nothing!” – let’s just say I can’t ignore a hot hand.

Hom has blossomed under Shapiro’s watch from 56 real estate salespeople doing $200 million in business in a year to a flock of 365 agents with $2 billion in sales.

But running a real estate brokerage wasn’t part of Shapiro’s career plan. In fact, he was attempting a youthful retirement – at 45 – when the opportunity came.

The native New Yorker acquired his primary wealth by trading stocks – actually being a “market maker” for Merck Pharmaceuticals shares – in Chicago. But a decade ago his wife, Tara, faced some medical challenges. As a result, the couple decided to slow down their lives. In 2006, Shapiro retired to Newport Beach.

“That didn’t go well,” he admits.

He apparently doesn’t possess the stay-at-home persona. Plus, he had little interest in traditional retirement endeavors. So in his brief respite from the full-time working world, he took on some relatively part-time business efforts, none of which amounted to much.

Except in 2008. That’s when he failed to help merge an Arizona real estate brokerage with Hom. That oddly left Shapiro with the chance to recapitalize the relatively new Orange County realty firm on his own. Hom, founded in 2005, badly needed fresh financial oomph to fight off the ravages of the recession.

Quickly, Shapiro had to learn the real estate business, and it was a moment when the industry needed fresh eyes. Shapiro saw an industry where too many boom years made too many real estate salespeople forget what mattered most.

Jul 27 2014

The New Debt Collection Scam: Calling Your Mom

Fraud-fighting organizations are reporting a new trend in debt-collection scams, in which fraudsters not only try to pressure people into forking over money they dont owe but also harass targets family members and friends. Scammers rely on the social pressure and fear of job loss to get the victims to pay, according to a summary of consumer complaints to Fraud.org.

Many consumers dont know their debt collection rights (here are the essential rights you need to know), which clearly state a debt collector is not allowed to disclose details of the debt to someone other than the debtor. Even in the cases of legitimate debts and rogue debt collectors using illegal practices to pressure consumers, people shouldnt pay as a result of such collection attempts. Not only may it be a scam, its a violation of their rights.

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This trend isnt trivial: Scam victims suffered losses averaging $1,748.39 between October 2013 and June 2014, and these consumers are often in bad situations before fraudsters start pestering them. Scammers sometimes acquire a consumers home and work information from bogus payday loan applications, and if someone has been successfully duped before, fraudsters may try to sell their information to other aspiring criminals. These so-called sucker lists may subject victims to repeated fraud attempts, which is unpleasant enough without the added stress of harassing phone calls to others.

Anyone who has been a victim of debt-collection fraud should alert friends, family and co-workers so any debt-collection calls pertaining to that person are clearly identified as scam attempts. Most important: You should confirm the legitimacy of a collections account before paying (here are tips on the verification process), and never provide payment information to a debt collector over the phone. Fraud.org also warns against applying for payday loans online, due to the risk of exposing your personal information but also because online payday loans often carry higher fees and rates than loans acquired offline.

More on Identity Theft:

  • 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
  • The Risks You Face From Identity Theft
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: Pixland

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Jul 26 2014

Creative destruction

HIGHER education is one of the great successes of the welfare state. What was once the privilege of a few has become a middle-class entitlement, thanks mainly to government support. Some 3.5m Americans and 5m Europeans will graduate this summer. In the emerging world universities are booming: China has added nearly 30m places in 20 years. Yet the business has changed little since Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum: young students still gather at an appointed time and place to listen to the wisdom of scholars.

Now a revolution has begun (see article), thanks to three forces: rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology. The result will be the reinvention of the university.

Jul 26 2014

Low mortgage rates drag down housing market

WASHINGTON – Would-be home sellers across the country are grappling with a once-in-a-lifetime problem: They have mortgage rates so absurdly low it would hurt them financially to sell.

Doing so would mean giving up an irresistible rate in exchange for a new mortgage carrying a rate up to a percentage point higher. Thats discouraging some people from selling, thereby limiting the supply of available homes and contributing to slower home sales.

Its a significant shift from the way the US housing market has worked for the past 30 years. For most of that time, whenever a homeowner decided to trade up to a better home, mortgage rates usually were lower than the previous time they had bought.

But that is changing. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage fell below 4 percent in late 2011 and reached a record low level of 3.3 percent in November 2012. It didnt top 4 percent again until mid-2013. A refinancing boom ensued.

More than one-third of homes with a mortgage now have rates below 4 percent, real estate data provider CoreLogic estimates. Yet mortgage rates now average 4.2 percent. That is still low by historical standards but up about three-quarters of a point from a year and a half ago. And should mortgage rates rise later this year and next, as many economists expect, even more homeowners will be affected.

As a result, many homeowners with low rates are staying put. Others are moving and buying new homes, but keeping their old ones and renting them. Both choices mean that fewer homes are listed for sale, which drives up prices. Higher prices and limited selection have put the brakes on a housing recovery that began in 2012.

And slower home sales, in turn, drag down economic growth.

Mark Fleming, chief economist at CoreLogic, estimates that as many as 3.6 million homeowners are unlikely to sell this year because they would have to give up a lower rate.

They got the deal of the century, says Glenn Kelman, CEO of real estate brokerage Redfin. I dont think in 100 years anyone will be lending money at 3.5 percent. How do you walk away from a deal like that?

Remodeling instead

Youd think Ryan Carson, an attorney in Seattle, would be ready to sell. He and his wife have one young child, and they are expecting twins. They are going to hire a live-in nanny, which means there will be five people living in their four-bedroom house.

I could probably use the extra space, honestly, he said. And he would make money off the sale, because his homes market value is above what he paid.

But Carson, 39, has a 30-year, 3.85 percent mortgage rate, so he isnt going anywhere. He refinanced into the lower rate last summer, reducing his monthly payment to $2,200 from $2,600.

I have no interest right now in selling, he said. He and his wife plan to remodel instead.

Supply shortage

A shortage of homes for sale has plagued the housing market since late 2012. The number of available homes last year was the equivalent of just 4.9 months worth of sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. Thats far below the typical figure of six months.

Inventory has recovered somewhat this year, but it was still equal to just 5.6 months of supply in May.

Meanwhile, sales of existing homes have fallen 5 percent in the past year. Yet prices rose 8.8 percent nationwide during the same period, according to CoreLogic, partly because of the limited supply.

What economists call rate lock-in is one of several reasons so few houses are for sale. Another factor is that almost 40 percent of homeowners still dont have enough equity to enable them to sell.

We are in a uniquely difficult period for matching buyers and sellers, says Stan Humphries, chief economist at real estate data provider Zillow.

Home prices are expected to keep rising in the coming months, though at a slower pace than the double-digit gains that occurred earlier this year. Higher prices should lower the number of underwater homes and enable more people to sell.

Predictions

But as the number of underwater homes falls, several studies suggest the effect could be offset by higher mortgage rates. Most economists expect mortgage rates to rise later this year as the Federal Reserve ends its bond-purchase program, which is intended to keep borrowing rates low.

Humphries forecasts that rates will reach 5 percent by the first three months of next year. That would mean those buying or refinancing now, at the current rates of about 4.1 percent, might never want to sell either.

Paul Bernard, a recruiter in New York City, says the issue has begun to interfere with some of his clients willingness to move for a new job. In one recent case, an employee at a large technology firm decided to postpone a job-related move to San Francisco partly because it would have forced him to take out a mortgage at a half-percentage point higher than his current one.

The job market in some cases is less mobile than it used to be, he said.

FIGURE TO KNOW

A 2011 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that for every $1,000 increase in a homeowners annual mortgage payment, the likelihood that homeowner would sell fell as much as 16 percent.

Jul 25 2014

Absolute Home Mortgage Corp. raises $3480 for Warren County Habitat for …

The Hackettstown office of Absolute Home Mortgage Corporation sponsored a charity event on behalf of Warren County Habitat for Humanity on June 24. The golf outing was held at Panther Valley Golf Club in Allamuchy and was attended by real estate professionals throughout the area.

The day of golf was the brainchild of Manny Rizzuto, branch manager of Hackettstown AHMC, who conceived and organized the event along with partners Stephanie Speal and Bob Forte. As Manny explained, real estate professionals by their nature know their communities intimately and are concerned about the welfare of those communities. Put them together with Habitat, providers of affordable housing with a world-wide reputation, and it really is a natural fit.

Ben Eskow, executive director of Warren County Habitat for Humanity addressed the donors, thanking them for their generosity and challenging them with a call to further action in support of their communities. This outing is a tremendous help for our efforts to complete our current partner family home in Independence by March of next year, he said. The funds raised today will cover the cost of the floor framing and deck were currently working on.

The event was billed as the first annual golf outing and its success highlights the promise of similar events in the future. Its uplifting to be involved in an event which benefits local families and directly reaches people obviously willing to help themselves, said Stephanie Speal. Im proud to have been a part of it.

Manny, Bob, and Stephanie not only have their place of business in Hackettstown, but they each reside in Warren County as well. These local residents run a full service mortgage bank serving the lending needs of homeowners, real estate professionals, and homebuyers throughout the Tri-State area. They have built a strong reputation for providing the local community and surrounding areas with top shelf customer service in home mortgage lending. Learn more about the Hackettstown mortgage bank on hackettstownmortgage.com.

Warren County Habitat for Humanity is the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, International and has been serving Warren County since 1999. An accredited 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, its mission: Seeking to put Gods love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope. Learn more at warrenhabitat.org.