A conversation with my college-age son over his winter break led me to discover an entirely new role model in my life — positive psychology researcher, Shawn Achor. Fast forward a few months and I had the privilege of introducing Shawn at our Cisco GVS&CS leadership summit last month. In selecting him as a guest speaker, I knew his message would resonate, especially as we undergo tremendous transformation all across Cisco and our global partner communities.
For 12 years Shawn researched the link between happiness and success at Harvard, and he has visited more than 50 countries to study and discuss the power of positivity and resiliency across a wide spectrum of people and organizational stakeholders (academia, commercial, nonprofit). His research has unlocked a meaningful shift in the relationship between happiness and success – one where positivity can affect outcomes, propel people forward and have a rippling effect to impact others.
This new discovery in positive psychology defies conventional wisdom that happiness is a byproduct of success. It is now understood that long-term happiness is predicted less by genes, environment and circumstance, and more by how your brain processes the world. So what does this research and the new formula for happiness mean to Cisco, our partners and customers? And how can the practice of positivity be applied to how we lead, particularly through times of great transformation?
The Power of Positivity
In academia and business, it has long been believed that if an individual works harder, he/she will be more successful and, ultimately, happier. This logic has driven leadership and management styles for decades, pushing happiness beyond the cognitive horizon. Research now shows that this logic is scientifically backwards and that our brains actually work in the opposite order. If we can raise someone’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what Shawn has dubbed “the happiness advantage.” When the brain is at positive, it performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. When at positive in the present, intelligence, creativity and energy levels all rise, and virtually every educational and business outcome improves.
Putting Happiness to Work for You
In his bestselling book, The Happiness Advantage, and in his presentation to our team, Shawn shared proven tips for creating lasting positive change. Requiring a time investment of just two minutes daily across 21 consecutive days, the following exercises – crafted by Shawn — allow you to deviate from genes, circumstance and environment to respond to the world in a much more adaptable and successful way.
- Practice gratitude by writing three things that you are grateful for each day. This practice helps your brain retain a new pattern of scanning the world for the positive.
- Journal about one positive experience or simple moment of meaning you have had over the last 24 hours. This allows your brain to relive it. Write at least three positive things about that experience to memorialize the moment and create a new positive model for processing events.
- Exercise. It teaches your brain that behavior matters, and it helps establish more positive patterns in life. Exercise also releases endorphins, making you feel better chemically and more susceptible to moments of happiness.
- Meditate. It trains the brain to overcome cultural ADHD and become more present in each moment. Meditation requires that you focus only on the task at hand and take a break from the constant act of multi-tasking.
- Practice conscious acts of kindness to share moments of positivity with those in your social and professional circles. This may be in the form of a personal communication thanking someone for a simple act or acknowledging someone’s achievement unexpectedly in a group setting. This practice not only retools your brain to identify positivity throughout daily experiences, but it also influences the processing patterns of those within your social networks.
Understanding the role of positivity in achieving happiness and success is particularly important to Cisco, our partners and customers at this very moment in time. Together, we are leading a transformation of epic proportions, and we need to take stock in the fact that our individual journeys and successes are truly inter-dependent. If we process our day-to-day experiences through a lens of positivity, I’m convinced we’ll be much happier and achieve more successful outcomes – for our families, our businesses, our customers, and ourselves.
For more inspiration, watch Shawn’s TEDxBloomington presentation here.