Growing up, my sisters and I were constantly clamoring for who was speaking and being listened to--we even had hand signals that indicated, "Spotlight is on me! Don't steal my turn yet!" We all have those acquaintances, friends, or coworkers who don't know how to listen and instead start talking about themselves, perpetually returning the spotlight to them. It's one thing when the person is a sibling and you can tease him or her into submission so they'll listen. When an "Aren't We Still Talking About Me?" person is a friend or colleague, good luck getting any thoughtful, probing questions about this event and its implications for your future. Please remember that we all have people in our lives who consistently offer suboptimal responses, and we all have people in our lives who respond this way sometimes. We may even be guilty of it ourselves at times. Identifying people in your life as passive or destructive responders does not condemn these relationships. We are all human, and they may well be navigating their own TRAPs that prevent them from mustering genuine interest and excitement at times. Because of their humanness, I want you to think through the range of responses you often receive. I want you to do so because, as you plan to capitalize on your behavioral successes, you'll want to keep in mind who can really listen to you--and when. Take out your journal or use the downloadable form to write down answers to the following questions. Just as experiences beat out objects when it comes to shopping for yourself, if you're looking to strengthen your friendship with a gift, go with something the friend can do, rather than have. In a study of fifty-nine pairs of friends, one person was assigned the task of purchasing a $15 gift for a buddy--either a tangible item or an experiential gift. Recipients rated the strength of their relationship with the friend before receiving the gift, then a few days after, then a week later. The experiential gifts had a stronger impact than the material gifts on the perceived strength of the friendship. Interestingly, perceived thoughtfulness and liking of the gift did not statistically impact the results; the important thing was that it was something the friends could actually experience. But while giving can boost your well-being and strengthen a friendship, being overly generous can actually damage social connections, with research showing that people-pleasers can be a serious turnoff. Researchers from Washington State University and the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas asked subjects to play a game in which they could both contribute to and withdraw from individual or group rewards, along with a team of four other members (who were in fact computer simulations). After several transactions, the subjects could indicate how much they wanted each member to remain in the group. As might be expected, those "team members" who took more than their share from the rewards while contributing little received lower scores than those who made moderate contributions and withdrawals.

But at the same time, those who did the opposite--contributing much while taking little--were also selected for dismissal from the team. Through additional experiments and follow-up questions, the researchers determined that while it would seem foolish to reject someone who was willing to contribute more than their fair share, such cost-benefit analysis was tempered by "an equally strong, perhaps stronger, desire for equality of participation." The researchers suggest the reasons for this may be the competitiveness an unselfish person inspires (with others feeling obliged to give more in order to keep up) or resentment that the generous person is breaking social norms. Strike a balance in your generosity. If you've bought your friend a birthday gift for three years running and they've never given you one, maybe look for another avenue for your benevolence. The amount of money in your bank account and the nice things you have don't affect your level of subjective well-being as much as what your friends think of your bank account and nice things. Researchers have found that your life satisfaction and levels of positive or negative emotions are affected significantly by the admiration and respect you receive from your social group--the people you see face to face. Changing requires 100% commitment and NOTHING LESS. It requires nothing short of being extreme. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. You must change your mindset to reflect that belief. It requires taking every ounce of your focus and placing it on your goal of changing yourself, your habits, and your life. Cut off everything happening inside and around you and fully immerse yourself into the thoughts, activities, and habits that help you change. Put the mission before yourself. Put the path and your purpose before yourself. Put your goal of changing before yourself. It's perfectly fine if everyone says you're doing too much and spending too much time focusing on getting your act together. You shouldn't be bothered by it. Ignore it. What other people think is none of your business. Since no one else is willing to fully immerse themselves into reaching particular goals, it doesn't mean you have to listen to them.

In a series of studies (including one comparing members of student groups such as sororities and ROTC organizations, and one that looked at a national sample of college kids), researchers consistently found that "sociometric status" beat out socioeconomic status as a predictor of subjective well-being. When someone rose in status among their peers, they felt happier--far more than when their income simply rose. The researchers dubbed this "the local-ladder effect." We want big changes but we're not actually willing to MAKE big changes. We want 100% of our life to change but we only want to make a 20% effort in making it happen. We want things to be different but we don't want to actually do anything different. If you want your life to change, YOU have to change. Your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and habits have to change. You have to leave the old you behind and move forward as the new you is being created. You have to be willing to leave everything behind, move forward, and never look back. You can't get your act together and become a different person yet keep the same lifestyle you've always had. You can't get your act together and become a different person yet keep the same people around. For a shift to happen in your life, a shift has to first happen in your mind. For a shift to happen in your mind, a shift has to first happen in your environment. You have to consciously make the shift. You have to put time, energy, and effort into it. Throw out the garbage in your life - even if it means starting from scratch. Clean house, fire everyone and everything keeping you from becoming a better person, and never look back. Who is at the top of your capitalization list? You can consistently turn to this person, who won't think you're bragging and who loves to reflect with you about your momentary triumphs. Who is sometimes a very supportive responder but has a few blind spots?

This could be a friend who you can celebrate most things with, except that one topic that he or she is sensitive about. It could be a romantic partner you need to approach at the right time, as he can give you enthusiasm as long as he's not "hangry" or watching a basketball game. Here's how to capitalize on your day-to-day choice points and keep stacking the odds in your favor that you will continue to make choices that uplift and encourage you. Again, record your reflections in your journal or on the downloadable form as you proceed through these eight steps. But, if they start asking you to stop at the grocery store first or to provide them some spare cash, know that it's time to draw the line. Tell them that you're happy to drive them home but they'll need to pay for gas or find time when you're not as busy. Or just say no. The goal here is not to be rude or to say no for the sake of saying no. It's to protect yourself against people who see your likability and assume it means you're a pushover. By default, those who have their act together are mentally tougher than those who don't have their act together. It's easier to be weak and think we can't "handle" the pressure of getting our act together than it is push through the resistance and pain. Your body gives out before your mind and getting your act together requires more mental exertion than physical. When the mind is willing, everything you want will happen. When the mind is weak, it's because you're deciding to be weak. Navy SEALs have a 40% rule - if you think you're at your breaking point, you've only reached 40% of your capacity and you can still keep going. Your mind is more powerful than you can ever imagine. Lose the weak mindset and thoughts. Quit thinking it's hard. Quit worrying about it being "tough". Quit worrying about hurting yourself mentally and emotionally.

Quit worrying about it somehow being unhealthy. I've heard it all from myself and others - and the truth is, they're all excuses to avoid actually making an effort. The harder you push mentally, the tougher your mind becomes and the easier everything in your life becomes. Just like, physically, working on your muscles, exercising your mind and willpower causes it to become stronger, healthier, and tougher. Do the hard things and stop thinking about how much it "hurts". Embrace the pressure and get used to it. Pressure hardens you. Pressure creates diamonds. When you're not feeling pressure, it's a sign you're not doing enough. It's a sign you're too comfortable. It's a sign you need to push yourself more. Remember back to how your parents responded to questions like that - would they say yes or no and what would their reasoning be in both cases? You're an adult and that means you have the power to make your own decisions, back them up with your emotions and experiences, and use them to assert your position in a relationship. If someone expects you to do something because you're a nice person, maybe it's time to lay down the law. And, if you do decide to help someone, recognize that you never `have to' do anything. Going broke helping a friend with their own bills is not an excuse not to pay your rent. You need to make decisions that ensure you are taken care of first. If you decide to pour every remaining ounce of your resources into helping other people, so be it, but don't sacrifice yourself to do so. It doesn't generate respect from other people and it surely doesn't make you any more likable - it just makes you "useful". Any number of people will go into a new conversation or relationship with expectations.