For years we have been told that if we work harder, better, faster and use the latest technology, we will arrive at the promised land of milk and honey (where all the happy and successful people get to hang out). So we learn new techniques, we apply them, use the latest gadgets, try harder, but we never arrive. Today, most of us are working harder than ever, yet we never seem to be satisfied with our achievements. Once we reach our desired income we want more. Once we get the car we wanted, we start looking for a better one. The inevitable result is widespread frustration and discontentment.
Are we all insane? Is success supposed to be ever elusive? What are we doing wrong?
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of people – those who are positively inclined (optimists) and those who are negatively inclined (pessimists). Negative people tend to focus on things they cannot influence. Positive people tend to focus on things over which they have control. Shawn Achor (CEO of Good Think Inc.) shared some of his company’s research findings at a TEDx event in 2011, which highlight some of the benefits of maintaining a positive attitude:
“Your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we've found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You're 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed...If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we're able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.”
It comes down to attitude
Your ability to be optimistic rather than pessimistic is a function of your attitude, which Carl Jung defined as a "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way" (Jung,  1971:par. 687). Optimists say: "I am happy and I feel successful." (Welcome to the promised land!) Pessimists say: "Once I am successful I will be happy." (Take a hike in the desert and find a mirage!) Sparrow et al. further describes attitude as an evaluative position largely underpinned by your feelings and your beliefs. The association between attitude and beliefs is two-way. Your attitude is dependent on how you perceive something, but your perceptions can also be altered to support your attitude.(Sparrow & Knight, 2006) This means that if I act in terms you deem idiotic, you will think I’m an idiot and all my subsequent actions will likely support your belief. If a friend tells you that my behaviour was caused by temporary insanity, your belief might change, causing you to see me and my behaviour in different terms. You might re-evaluate my idiot label and endearingly consider me a nutcase instead. So, you might be wondering what you can do about your attitude?
Shawn's tips to re-wire your brain for a positive attitude:
- Write down three new things that you're grateful for, for 21 days in a row, three new things each day.
- Keep a journal of positive experiences
- Write one positive email praising or thanking somebody every day.
More tips to maintain your positive attitude:
- Stick to factual information – rumours are normally just rumours
- Keep perspective – What is the worst that can happen?
- Does the situation or problem relate directly to you? If not – ignore.
- Is the source of your information reliable?
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Think of 5 positive interpretations for something that seemed to be negative at first.
Zig Ziglar used to say:
“It is not your aptitude, but your attitude that determines your altitude.”
Shawn’s research seems to support this fact. If you can increase your happiness in the present, you can experience what Shawn calls the “Happiness advantage”. With a little effort each day you can literally re-wire your brain and influence your natural attitude to be more positive.
Sparrow, T., & Knight, A. (2006). Applied ei: The importance of attitudes in developing emotional intelligence. England: Jossey-Bass. Achor, S. (Performer) (2012). Shawn achor: The happy secret to better work [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html Wikipedia. (n.d.). Attitude. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_(psychology) Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos via Compfight cc