The mental construction of your activities, more than the activities themselves, defines your reality
If you knew a way to multiply your creativity, amplify your results, think faster on your feet or be more successful, wouldn’t you grab it? That way is closer than you think.
It’s happiness. Seriously, happiness primes you for more success.
Your happy brain
Positive emotions flood your brain with dopamine and serotonin, allowing you to create more neural connections, think quickly and creatively, solve problems and receive insight and inspiration more readily.
In The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, author Shawn Achor debunks the myth that success brings happiness, so if you’re chasing success to be happy you’re doomed to fail. Studies in positive psychology literature show that happiness causes success, not the opposite. Achor goes on to share the different ways you can cultivate happiness right now.
Change your mind, change your performance
Here are some of the principles Shawn Achor discusses in his book.
1. Look at what’s possible
“It is not the weight of the world that determines what we can accomplish. It is your mindset and what you believe is possible, that determines what you accomplish”
The year was 1979. Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist, designed the famous Counter Clockwise study with a group of 75-year-old men, in which she took them on a week-long retreat (p.66) where they were to pretended it was the year 1959. The stage was set in a room scattered with memorabilia from their mid-50’s; Life Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post sat on coffee tables and they wore ID-badges with their photos taken when they were younger. They were instructed to talk about topics from when they were 55 – work, President Eisenhower, sports – all in the present tense.
Before and after
Before the retreat, the men were tested on physical strength, eyesight, posture, perception, short-term memory, and cognition. After the retreat, most of the men were more flexible, their posture improved, eyesight improved by 10% on average, and their appearance changed. Photos were taken before and after the study, and random people guessed the participants looked three years younger than their before photos.
Psychologists call this phenomenon Expectancy Theory (also known as placebo effect), where your expectation creates brain patterns that feel as real as if the events occurred. This cognitive activity sets off a chain of events down your central nervous system that lead to real world physical consequences.
What does this tell us?
Your beliefs can change the concrete results of your effort and work.
How to apply the “Expectancy theory” in your life
Do you feel time-starved?
Change the way you see time. Instead of telling yourself, “I never have enough time”, ask yourself, “How can I create this day to my advantage?”
If you’re about to have a boring meeting, tell yourself, “I am going to learn three new things from this meeting.”
Nervous about a sales meeting or presentation?
Instead of asking, “What do I say?”, tell yourself, “I am going to learn three new things from the client.”
Networking or socializing (and you’re not much of a socialiser)
Instead of dreading the event, take control of your objective. You could choose to make two people laugh or feel good about themselves.
2. Unstick negative patterns
In another study, psychologists asked students to play the video game Tetris for several hours a day, three days in a row. At the end of the experiment, the participants said they saw little box shapes from the game everywhere; on shelves in the supermarket, on the street, in their homes etc. This happens because your brain is stuck in a pattern. Psychologists call it inattentional blindness. When you see a flash of bright light, like with flash photography, do you recall seeing dots afterwards? It’s the same principle. This “blindness” causes a selective perception of events, influencing your awareness, and therefore your actions.
It becomes hazardous when we can’t switch off these sticky patterns. Consider accountants or journalists who look for errors in their day job but end up consistently looking for errors in their life. Or athletes who compete with their friends. While it has its benefits, this fault-finding mindset decreases overall health and your success rate.
You can create new, healthier patterns through three key drivers of positive patterns- happiness, gratitude, optimism.
Application in your life
- Write three wins from today
- Write three things you’re grateful for
Make these a daily practice and soon enough, these two simple exercises will begin to change your brain’s pattern.
3 Think big but act small
Small successes can add up to great achievement. Just take that first step.
Humans have a fundamental need to be in control. A key driver of well-being, this need has more to do with thinking we’re in control, than actually being in control.
Overwhelming ideas and plans kick start the limbic-system (emotional centre) and we respond like a saber-tooth tiger is staring us down. Chunking down goals into tiny digestible tasks gives a sense of accomplishment. Set small manageable goals. “Don’t write a book, write a page,” suggests Peter Bergman, Harvard Business School Professor.
Also, narrow the scope your of action. When you focus energy and efforts, the likelihood of success increases. For example, my wife does 25-minute bursts of editing her novel. This helps you re-learn that your actions directly affect your outcomes and that you are in charge of your fate. With this comes greater confidence in ability and greater action. It’s certainly helped my wife rebuild motivation and momentum.
4. Hack habits that make you unhappy
When I first left the corporate world to do my own thing, it didn’t work out so well. In that year, I picked up the terrible habit of snoozing my alarm. This awful habit stuck with me for years and made me feel awful. I’m happy to report I overcame the habit, using the tips that follow.
I put my phone (which is also my alarm clock) in the bathroom before heading to bed, telling myself to brush my teeth after I turn off the alarm. I also put my clothes in the bathroom. The idea is to keep me from going back to bed. I know that as soon as I slip back into bed, I’ll go back to sleep. I also know brushing my teeth kind of wakes me up. I stuck with this routine for several weeks. Now when the alarm goes off, my eyes are wide open. It has become automatic. I’ve re-trained my brain to get up when the alarm sounds instead of snoozing.
Habits occur because our brain changes in response to regular, repetitive use. Put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, create conditions that ensure success. After that, you’re in control.
You can also save time by adding time. Bad habits like social media are a major time-suck. Plenty of studies show that it doesn’t give you true happiness. Creating a barrier that adds 20 seconds to the time it takes you to access social media or games or apps, is enough to stop you. For example, delete apps or remove them from your homepage. Log out and reset the cache and browser history so passwords are forgotten. The time it takes to log in is often enough to deter you from engaging in non-productive behaviours.
The key to creating empowering habits is ritual and repetition. Doing so carves new neural pathways in the brain, which eventually leads to automaticity.
Something an app can’t fix
In a well-known Harvard study, one of longest psychology studies, researchers followed 268 men from the time they started college in 1930s to 2009. The longitudinal study allowed researchers to identify circumstances and personal characteristics that distinguished the happiest and most fulfilled people from the unsuccessful ones. One surprising revelation was that relationships matter more than anything else in the world when it comes to happiness.
Social media doesn’t give us the level of connection that humans need to thrive. So talk to people, in person. Instead of emailing a prospect, client, or friend, call them and meet for coffee.
Six scientifically proven ways to be happier
- Find something to look forward to
- Conscious act of kindness
- Infuse positivity into your surroundings
- Do something that you’re really good at
- Spend money on an experience (not stuff)
Bottom line, instead of pursuing success to find happiness, be happy and you will find success. When you’re happy, you’re more sociable, creative, attuned, better at selling, more energized and motivated.
Your mindset doesn’t just change how you feel about an experience, your mindset changes objective results of that experience.