When it comes to creating the career you really want have you covered all your bases? Chances are you’ve invested in the technical qualifications you need, are seeking our the on-the-job opportunities that will help you most and are building the networks you need. But might you have overlooked one of the key ingredients for your success?
Shawn Achor best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage suggests that most of us follow a formula that says – work hard and I’ll be successful, and once I become successful then I’ll be happy. However he believes this formula is completely back-to-front. “Waiting to be happy limits your brain’s potential for success – whereas cultivating a positive brains is likely to make you more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive, which drives your performance upwards”.
In fact a growing body of evidence suggests that happiness may lead to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including relationships, health, citizenship, creativity, and especially in our careers and businesses. And the good news is that because positivity is literally contagious, it has a ripple effect throughout your organization.
For example, researchers have found that when a positive team member enters a meeting, their mood can be instantly infectious, and help to improve the performance of each team member, as well as their ability to accomplish the task as a group. And when our leaders are in a positive mood, we are more likely to be in a positive mood, to help others and coordinate our tasks more efficiently.
But is it really possible for us to be happier?
Neuroscientists suggest that it is possible to rewire our brains by changing our everyday thoughts and actions. Shawn suggests you can harness this neuroplasticity to become more positive and resilient by adjusting how you interpret and respond to what’s happening in your world, developing positive habits and enhancing your relationships with others.
This book doesn’t advise you to put on a happy face, or use “positive thoughts” to wish away your problems, or turn a blind eye to them in the hope they’ll disappear. Rather it asks you to be realistic about your present circumstances, while knowing that by putting in focus and effort to gain the happiness advantage you will be able to fuel greater achievement and fulfillment.
Shawn gives you seven guiding principles to gain the happiness advantage:
- Gain the Happiness advantage – by retraining your brain to be happier – experiencing positive emotions, having a sense of meaning and purpose to what you do – you’ll gain a competitive edge through working smarter, being more motivated, healthier, and therefore more successful. Positive emotions, such as awe, gratitude, forgiveness, and love have been found to broaden and build our capacity to be more creative, open to new ideas, and better at complex problem solving. For example, expressing positive emotions during business negotiations can lead to more effective and successful outcomes.
Adding just small jolts of joy into your day can lift your mood and provide a swift antidote to stress and anxiety. Shawn suggests while activities such as listening to music, reading a funny article, taking a quick walk outside, or sharing a joke with a colleague, might seem trivial in your workplace they can make a real difference to your performance.
- Adjust your filter – while you can’t change your circumstances, you can choose how you filter events and react to them. And by changing the way you perceive yourself and your work you can change the likelihood of success. For example, when you believe your work is meaningful, you are more likely to feel engaged and motivated in your daily activities. You can find meaning in even the smallest tasks when you connect them with your personal goals and values.
Find ways to connect your current work tasks to values that are meaningful to you. It might be you made life easier for a client or colleague, provided resources for future employees, improved your skills, or you felt productive at the end of the day.
- Capitalize on possibility – Our brains are a finite resource, and when you get stuck in a pattern of focusing on problems, you can be setting yourself up to fail by missing out on seeing the positive possibilities around you. Researchers have found that you can overlook what’s right in front of your eyes if you are not directly focusing on it. Scanning for the good, and feeling grateful about these can help you become more happy, energetic, and successful.
Shawn suggests that the best way to kick start your brain into focusing on the positivity is to make a daily list of good things that in your life, and your career. This simple activity can have long lasting effects on your happiness.
- Falling up – happier people achieve more success, not despite of their setbacks but because of them. Our brains map different paths to help us cope with stress and crisis. If you look for the mental path that sees failures as opportunities to learn and grow, you can feel stronger and more capable before the fall. You can turn adversity into opportunity by using optimism to interpret negative events as being temporary and specific to the situation at hand, rather than pessimistically seeing them as permanent and applicable to all areas of your life.
Use Professor Martin Seligman’s ABCD approach to develop more optimistic thinking – adversity, belief, consequence and disputation. Listen to what you are saying to yourself about adverse events and how these reflect your beliefs. It might be “I never get anything right” or “I don’t have what it takes in this game”. If the consequences – your reactions and emotions – of your belief about the event are based on pessimistic beliefs they are not likely to be energizing or motivating. Try to dispute your interpretation with alternative beliefs and reasons for what might have happened.
- Engage your rational thinker – often in our workplaces stresses can build up and we can feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face. Research has found that our actions are often determined by our brain’s two duelling components – our knee jerk-like emotional system and our rational, cognitive system. Most of our daily challenges are better served by the rational thinker, but unfortunately, when you don’t feel in control, you can get hijacked by your emotions.
To regain a sense of control in these situations identify which aspects of the situation you can control, and narrow your efforts and energy on these. Focusing on setting and achieving small manageable goals can help you regain a sense of control. Small successes can add up to major achievements, and will build your resources and confidence.
- The 20 second rule –when it comes to making lasting changes in our life most of us depend on willpower. However research suggests the more we use willpower, the more worn-out it gets. So despite our best intentions, eventually we fall back to our easier and more convenient habits. Shawn suggests by reducing the activation for new practices down to just 20 seconds, you can create habits without exhausting too much effort or reserves of willpower.
Identify the activation energy—the time, the choices, the mental and physical effort for a new task—and then reduce it. For example if you plan to go to the gym every morning, have your gym wear ready right by your bed to make it easier for you to get up and get moving. Perhaps even organize a gym buddy to help you stay motivated.
- Invest in social networks – the need for positive social connections is hard-wired into our systems and your happiness depends on your relationships with other people more than anything else in the world. Research has found that when you have others you can count on—spouse, family, friends, colleagues—you multiply your emotional, intellectual, and physical resources in the short and long-term. You are able to function better, bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose. Studies suggest that the more you can socialize and interact with your work colleagues, the more engaged, motivated and productive you will be.
You can improve the connections you have with others at work through even brief encounters. When passing colleagues in busy corridors, say ‘hello’ and look them in the eye. And actively listening to and encouraging others’ good news story helps them re-experience the positive emotions, and strengthens your bond with them.
How happy will any of these actions really make you?
Whilst not discussed by Shawn in the book some researchers suggest that we each have a genetically built-in range for happiness much like we do for weight. And just like you can maintain your optimal weight by eating well and exercising, by investing energy and effort into interventions such as those suggested by Shawn you may be able to more consistently live towards the peak of your personal happiness range. The real key is discovering what works best for you when it comes to flourishing at work, based on the situations you’re in, the resources you have and the outcomes you want to achieve.
Shawn’s book is full of ideas and suggestions that may inspire you. Which ones are you finding helps you to gain the happiness advantage?
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