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Selling Power Magazine Article
Benefits of a Positive Brain
Research shows it isn’t quite that simple. In reality, it’s just the opposite: You’d probably be more successful if you were happier. Let’s repeat that for emphasis: You’d probably be more successful if you were happier.
“People often project happiness into the future, believing they’d be happy if they could only own a certain thing or have a certain experience,” says Shawn Achor (shawnachor.com), researcher, consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Crown Business, 2010). “But when we get the things we said we wanted, the happiness we expected is often elusive. It’s because our brains operate in the opposite order. This science could create a cultural revolution, because it’s showing us that happiness isn’t about getting to point ‘A’ or point ‘B.’ It’s about the attitude you bring to your everyday work.”
Achor helped design the famed happiness course, at one time the most popular course at Harvard University, and then went on to create a study that measured the connection between positivity and production in a group of managers over a four-month period. The study suggested that to a large degree, happiness is a learned behavior. Managers who were trained in positive psychology showed significant increases in optimism – one of the greatest indicators of performance and success. Extensive studies have shown that employees with high levels of life satisfaction are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more resilient in the face of a challenge.
“Positive-psychology training creates a clear return on investment,” says Achor. “If your employees raise their levels of positivity, their production levels will rise also.”
Happiness doesn’t just feel good; it also thinks well due to the broaden-and-build effect. “When we’re stressed, our brains narrow to the point that we can see only two possible actions: fight or flee,” says Achor. “But a happy brain can think of more solutions. When a brain is positive, it perceives more possibilities and builds more networks, coming up with innovative and creative strategies to cope with the challenges it faces. In many ways, a happy brain is a smarter brain simply because it uses more of its potential.”
How can managers create a happybrain environment in the workplace? The answer is simple: Give your employees more recognition and praise.
“Research shows that if a manager praises or recognizes just one person a day, over the course of a month his or her team will experience a 31 percent rise in productivity,” says Achor. “We found this to be true even in such industries as coal mining, where people don’t tend to be verbal and the attitude is often ‘no news is good news.’ But people want to believe that their behavior matters, and when their manager recognizes their accomplishments on a regular basis, this teaches them that yes, what they do has an impact on the team, that their efforts are noticed and acknowledged. It takes maybe thirty seconds a day to do, and it sets up a waterfall of success.”
Of course, not everyone works in a positive environment, but Achor says it’s quite possible to keep your brain happy even when you’re surrounded by gloom. “Only 10 percent of happiness depends on our external world,” he says. “The other 90 percent depends on how our brain processes the world. Instead of scanning the world for problems, mistakes, and dangers, positive thinkers focus on things to be grateful for or ways to make the situation better.”
Achor offers four tips for training your brain to be happy:
1. Each night, write down three things for which you’re grateful. Be specific. Don’t just write, “my children.” Instead, list the funny remark your daughter said at dinner. Gratitude moves your brain onto neural tracks that scan the world for things that make you happy.
2. Maximize your strengths. “We think the best way to get ahead is to focus on our weaknesses and learn how to overcome them,” says Achor. “If instead we focused on a strength every day, we would feel more engaged in routine tasks. As your investment in the day goes up, your creativity rises with it. What are you best at? Re-craft a daily task to use that strength.”
3. Journaling about recent positive experiences helps you make a connection with the most meaningful parts of your day. (continued on page 2)
– Kim Wright Wiley
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