In his TED talk “The happy secret to better work,” psychologist Shawn Achor claims, “It’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.” According to Achor, we can change that lens so that not only can we change our happiness, but “we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time”.
Achor takes the view that there’s a direct and measurable correlation between positivity and brain performance and productivity. This is called the science of “positive psychology.”
In his 12-minute TED talk, which is really worth viewing for the humour alone, Achor explains that 90 percent of people’s long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way their brain processes the world.
From his research into happiness at Harvard University, he found that IQ alone predicts only 25 percent of job successes. Instead he says, “75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”
Why our formula for success is broken
Most of us are raised to believe that if we work hard, we will be successful in life. And the more successful we are, the happier and more fulfilled we will be. This thinking may be broken and backwards for two reasons:
1. Every time your brain experiences success, you move forward the goalpost of what success looks like. I know I am very guilty of this. You hit a business target, so you then up your business target. You successfully see through a project, and instead of enjoying that success, you immediately take on a bigger project.
“And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society,” explains Achor.
2. Our brains actually work in the opposite order. If we are positive in the present, then our brain experiences a “happiness advantage” and performs significantly better. The hormone dopamine, which makes us feel happy, floods into our system when we are positive, which automatically makes us happy. This turns on all of the learning centres in our brain, and when this happens, according to Achor, “Your intelligence rises. Your creativity rises. Your energy levels rise.” A positive brain is 31 percent more productive than a negative, neutral or stressed brain. For example, you’re 31 percent better at sales when you’re feeling positive.
Reversing the formula
It is possible to reverse the formula to become more positive in the present, so you can work more productively. There are ways you can train your brain to become more positive:
1. Take the gratitude challenge. Write down three new things you are grateful for everyday for 21 days in a row. At the end of that period your brain will start to retain a pattern of looking for the positives in the world first, instead of only seeing the negatives.
2. Start a journal. By writing about one positive experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours, it helps your brain to re-live it and focus on the positive.
3. Exercise. The positive impact of exercise on the brain is well documented. Plus, it teaches your brain that behaviour matters.
4. Meditate. Counteract the multitasking and distraction culture that’s crept into our working lives with daily meditation, which allows us to focus on just one thing
5. Commit a random act of kindness. Consciously take the time to make a kind gesture or act towards someone in your social network, and you’ll feel rewarded for passing on the positivity. As a bonus, if you spread a little kindness in the office, it can catch on and make everyone happier — and therefore more productive and potentially more successful — in the process.
Are you a glass half full or glass half empty sort of person? If you’re keen to take on the 21-day gratitude challenge with me, I’d love to hear how you get on.