Monday, October 28, 2013

Habits: How They Form And How To Break Them--NPR

From NPR.Org

Think about something it took you a really long time to learn, like how to parallel park. At first, parallel parking was difficult and you had to devote a lot of mental energy to it. But after you grew comfortable with parallel parking, it became much easier — almost habitual, you could say.
Parallel parking, gambling, exercising, brushing your teeth and every other habit-forming activity all follow the same behavioral and neurological patterns, says New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg. His new book The Power of Habit explores the science behind why we do what we do — and how companies are now working to use our habit formations to sell and market products to us.

How Habits Form
It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a "habit loop," which is a three-part process. First, there's a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.

"Then there's the routine, which is the behavior itself," Duhigg tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "That's what we think about when we think about habits."

The third step, he says, is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the "habit loop" in the future.

Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts.

"In fact, the brain starts working less and less," says Duhigg. "The brain can almost completely shut down. ... And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else."

That's why it's easy — while driving or parallel parking, let's say — to completely focus on something else: like the radio, or a conversation you're having.

"You can do these complex behaviors without being mentally aware of it at all," he says. "And that's because of the capacity of our basal ganglia: to take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine."

Studies have shown that people will perform automated behaviors — like pulling out of a driveway or brushing teeth — the same way every single time, if they're in the same environment. But if they take a vacation, it's likely that the behavior will change.

"You'll put your shoes on in a different order without paying any attention to it," he says, "because once the cues change, patterns are broken up."

That's one of the reasons why taking a vacation is so relaxing: It helps break certain habits.
"It's also a great reason why changing a habit on a vacation is one of the proven most-successful ways to do it," he says. "If you want to quit smoking, you should stop smoking while you're on a vacation — because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren't there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life."

Marketing Habits
It's not just individual habits that become automated. Duhigg says there are studies that show organizational habits form among workers working for the same company. And companies themselves exploit habit cues and rewards to try to sway customers, particularly if customers themselves can't articulate what pleasurable experience they derive from a habit.

"Companies are very, very good — better than consumers themselves — at knowing what consumers are actually craving," says Duhigg.

As an example, he points to Febreeze, a Proctor & Gamble fabric odor eliminator that initially failed when it got to the market.

"They thought that consumers would use it because they were craving getting rid of bad scents," he says. "And it was a total flop. People who had 12 cats and their homes smelled terrible? They wouldn't use Febreeze."

That's when Proctor & Gamble reformulated Febreeze to include different scents.

"As soon as they did that, people started using it at the end of their cleaning habits to make things smell as nice as they looked," he says. "And what they figured out is that people crave a nice smell when everything looks pretty. Now, no consumer would have said that. ... But companies can figure this out, and that's how they can make products work."

Read the rest of this article and find others online

Monday, October 14, 2013

6 Free Online Classes that Will Bring You Success

This post was provided by USA Today College

Some college students love learning for the sake of learning. But elective classes, however interesting and engaging, don’t necessarily count toward a major, and students might have to forgo the fun classes in favor of a degree.

For the students who didn’t get to explore all the subjects they wanted before graduation or just want to continue their education, perhaps it’s time to look at your online options.

Free online classes, open to the public, are growing more popular and extensive. They are offered through many websites and universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Duke.

These classes, which cover nearly every subject and have various formats, are ideal for anyone with a love for learning, but not the funds or grades needed to get a top-rate education.

Here are six unique, inspiring, and beneficial classes anyone can take in their spare time — free of charge!

Entrepreneurship—From Idea to Launch

This class is offered by Udemy, a website that has a wide variety of free online courses, from sports to music to languages. This course is composed of more than 32 lectures and 10 exercises.

The class “provides a series of lectures that can guide an aspiring entrepreneur through the steps that will greatly increase their chances for successfully turning their idea into a successful business.”

Personal Finance

This eight-class Missouri State University course can be found on both iTunes U and YouTube though Open Culture, a site that allows you to search for free online classes by topic, then directs you to all available formats. The class is composed of videos and covers topics such as personal saving, credit, and retirement planning.

Designing Your Life

This class is offered by MIT OpenCourseWare. The site explains that virtually all of the content from every class at the university is offered there. Designing Your Life is intended to provide an “exciting, eye-opening, and thoroughly useful inquiry into what it takes to live an extraordinary life, on your own terms” and “address what it takes to succeed, to be proud of your life, and to be happy in it.” This class includes lecture notes, assignments, and other downloadable course material.


This course offered by Yale may sound morbid, but at some point, we all think about what happens when we pass. This philosophy class explores the possibilities. The course examines concepts such as death not being the end of our journey, how knowing we will eventually die should affect the way we live, and the different attitudes toward death. The videos are offered through both YouTube and iTunes U, and the course pages can be downloaded.

Useful Genetics

This class is offered by Coursera and is a bit different than most. Coursera classes begin on specific dates—just like online classes you would take at a university—and last for a specific length of time. The course description says it is meant to create a sense of community with others taking the class.

This specific class is being offered on Nov. 1 and May 1. The Useful Genetics course is designed to deliver a college-level understanding of how genes function and the role of inheritance, as well as tackling questions such as “Is there a gay gene?” and “Do different races have the same genes?”

Food Preparation in the Home

This free, online class offered by BYU is good for those who want to improve their skills in the kitchen. You can start the class at any time, and it is very interactive. The course is meant to help you “understand food in relation to health, develop skills in buying, and preparing foods” and teach you to “practice safe handling, storage, and preservation of foods.”

Degrees may not be free, but learning can be.

Read the full article and other articles from Levo League and USA Today online

6 Tips for Networking Your Way to Success

Alexandra Moncur; Levo League

As Porter Gale, former Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America, reflected on her career, she realized that her network and the amazing relationships she had developed throughout her career had greatly assisted her in achieving her current and future success. While building her career, her networking philosophy has been focused on being very passionate, figuring out exactly what she’s trying to accomplish, and being the best that she can be. “It’s a quality game, not a quantity game,” she explained.

During Levo League’s Office Hours, Gale offered her top six tips for building a network. Keep reading to see them all.

1. Get comfortable

Networking events can be daunting, even for confident extroverts. In order to be successful, Gale suggests determining what your goals are and what is holding you back from achieving them. Are you shy in social situations? Are you unable to discuss the industry you’re interested in?
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert,” she said. “You have to figure out things that help you feel comfortable.”

For introverts, she recommends focusing your topics of conversation around your passion and knowledge base. However, if a topic comes up in conversation that you don’t understand or don’t know much about, own up to it. By acknowledging that this isn’t an area of expertise, you can further connect with the people you are speaking with as well as have an opportunity to learn. Also, don’t set a goal of meeting everyone at an event, but rather on meeting a select group of targeted individuals.

2. Funnel test

In her book Your Network is Your Net Worth, Gale suggests using her Funnel Test, which involves identifying three passions that you are comfortable discussing. Use this method to figure out what your passions are and what your purpose is in order to build a roadmap for networking and connecting.

This funnel will also help you to identify what types of content you should be posting and tweeting about, and types of networking events you should attend. In today’s world where we have both an online and offline persona, it’s very important to think about the impression you want people to take away when they Google you.

3. Find opportunities in pivot points

Success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a series of little steps that get us to success. Gale believes that the key is to be positively productive, which means figuring out how you can learn best from pivot points and keep taking small steps towards your goal. Know that you’re not going to have your dream job right out of the gate.

“Think big,” she said. “Don’t let the no’s upset you. Keep trying and keep going for your dreams. If you’re focused, amazing things can happen.”

4. Build a core team

The people who we are surround by inspire us, give us energy, and support us. Think critically about your these individuals. Determine how best to develop a core team, or a group who will support your ideas. Technology allows us to connect much more rapidly, which in turn allows us to have a much larger core team. Because so much of today’s job placements are a result of personal connections, it is essential that this core team and your online persona are optimized to reflect your career goals.

“It’s no longer really six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” said Gale. “It’s really three or four degrees of you.”

5. Bring your value to the table

“The successful relationships are coming from collaboration, sharing ideas, connections over startups, products, and apps,” explained Gale. “I always encourage people to ask a simple question: Are you a producer or are you a consumer?”

A producer mindset is all about considering what value you are bringing to your workplace and relationships. Value creation cannot be accomplished when you are constantly plugged in. It is important to set aside time for great thinking, ideation, and what you’re bringing to the table.

6. Help others

Gale has found that the people who have very strong and tight networks don’t expect anything in return. The same is true in social media, she said. You should be posting because you think the content is of value, and retweeting when you are inspired by the idea being shared.

“[Through] all of your micro-exchanges with people, you can also help inspire others,” said Gale. “You can inspire others and our future leaders. These simple actions that we do can make a huge difference.”

According to Gale, if you use the simple phrase, “How can I help?” and don’t expect anything in return, miracles can happen. She encourages women to think of this as a lifestyle and to travel with your headphones off. There are so many opportunities to connect with those around you if you are open to conversations, willing to connect, and show people that you recognize and value them.

“Often we miss so many of the opportunities that are around us because we’re engrossed in a book or we’re just not talking to people,” Gale said. “Be very open, be positive, help other people, surround yourself with a great team, and above all, be focused and passionate about what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

7 Habits of Great Small Business Owners-- Forbes

When looking at the players in any industry, there are usually a handful of businesses that stand out ahead of the pack. So what exactly goes into making some more successful than others? More often than not, it comes down to the kind of leadership they have steering their efforts. Being a strong small business owner is an elusive enterprise,  there is no one secret recipe to achieve. If there was a sure-fire way to be a dynamite small business leader, it would undoubtedly include the following 7 components:

1.    They take care of themselves
Smart small business owners recognize that having a sharp mind requires having a healthy body. Attention is paid to eating healthy and making time for physical exercise. What lesser business owners might see as overly indulgent behavior is seen by truly astute managers as necessary maintenance of their most crucial tool: their brain.

2.    They have lives outside their business
Spending too much time focused on any single interest will almost always lead to hitting mental walls. Leading a balanced life – taking time for interests outside of work – means exposing yourself to a diverse range of mental stimuli (you never know what might trigger a great idea), and giving your work brain the rest it needs to be focused.

3.    They look forward
Being a great small business owner means being a great leader. Being a great leader is all about being bold and forward thinking enough to go beyond simply following proven business and market trends. The best small business managers are pioneers, even in small ways, and always keep their eyes open for new ways to accomplish things. This means taking chances, but if anything is a critical part of running a small business successfully, it’s a willingness to do just that.

4.    They are organized
Sometimes having a head full of innovative business ideas can lead to being a bit scattered. The difference between a smart person who remains an ineffectual business owner and someone who takes command of their industry falls on having an ability to not just have good ideas, but to be organized enough to follow through with them. Keeping your meetings, deadlines, and business plan on a highly organized schedule, and sticking to it, will be what sets you apart from other small businesses that fumble in disorganization.

5.    They nurture relationships
When you’re overseeing the management of a company, it can be easy enough to get caught up in the day-to-day work and forget to look up from your desk. The importance of taking time to stay in touch and have thoughtful, generous interactions with clients and professional associates cannot be undervalued.

6.    They make decisions
Small business owners have to be decisive. It’s simply not optional. From daily operations to broad directional choices, your job is to lead your company, which means waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you are an expert at what you’re doing and trust your gut. If the particular decision on the table involves a part of your business that you aren’t a total expert about, deciding to consult someone more informed is still a valid decision.

7.    They cut the fat
Proactive small business owners are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating which parts of their company can be more streamlined, including which vendors and suppliers could possibly be swapped out for better sources and how work is divided. Knowing how your company’s time, man power, and financial resources are distributed – and paying steady attention to keeping that distribution as efficient as possible – is how small business owners keep their company thriving ahead of the competition.

Check out this article and others from Forbes online