Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage

Thanks to Joyful Darkness & to Chris Koob for their recommendations!

book notes on The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor

Change your performance by changing your mindset

Be the outlier! Weird:rich; normal:broke

"Helping the Elderly" - test of motivation and resilience. Not possible to sum up. Here it is in full.

As an undergraduate, I was often encouraged to sell my body. The Psychology Department was constantly offering money for willing research subjects; and since I was almost always short of funds, I was a willing guinea pig for experiments that ranged from mere humiliation to full-on trickery -- everything from uncomfortable social encounters, to repeated MRIs, to grueling trials of mental and physical abilities. But the most memorable experiment of them all was a seemingly benign one called "Helping the Elderly".

The study was three hours long and promised to pay $20. To get things underway, two research assistants handed me a set of bike reflectors with Velcro straps and a pair of tight white biker shorts. One of the assistants said formally, "Please attach these reflectors to each of the joints on your body and put on the shorts. And oh, yes, we just ran out of white T-shirts, so you'll have to go topless. Do you wish to proceed?"

For $20? They clearly underestimated me. A few minutes later, clad in reflective sensors covering my elbows, wrists, and knees, I emerged looking like a bare-chested robot. They then explained the study: The researchers were examining how the elderly fall to the ground, so that they could eventually help senior citizens avoid injuries. Of course, they couldn't actually ask the elderly to fall repeatedly for the study, so they recruited college students instead. Made perfect sense to me.

I was told to walk down a padded hallway in the dark while a video camera recorded the position of the reflectors on my joints. As I walked, one of four things would happen: (1) The floor would suddenly slide to the left, and I would crash onto the lightly padded walkway; (2) The floor would suddenly slide to the right, throwing off my balance and sending me crashing down to the left; (3) A cord attached to my right leg would be yanked out behind me, pitching me face first onto the walkway; and (4) If none of those things happened by the time I got to the end of the walkway, I was just supposed to throw myself to the ground. That last one sounded especially ludicrous -- what kind of elderly person intentionally throws himself on the floor?

But 20 bucks was on the line, and so for the next hour I fell down about once ever thirty seconds. At 120 falls, the research assistants emerged, giggled sheepishly, and admitted they had forgotten to put the video in the recorder. They would need to retape all the falls again. "Do you want to proceed?" Again I said yes.

Another 120 falls later, I was bruised, battered, and exhausted. With all the gear I had on, merely picking myself up off the mats took an enormous amount of energy, and the whole ordeal had taken a painful toll on my body. When I finally stumbled into the hallway, the research assistants had been joined by a distinguished-looking professor, summoed to investigate a major irregularity: The experiment had never lasted this long.

The study, it turned out, had nothing to do with "helping the elderly". (Note to self: Never trust the name of a psych department study.) These researchers were actually studying motivation and resilience. They wanted to know: How much pain and discomfort could you put people through before they gave up? How much would a person withstand to get the reward he had set out to get? In my case, the answer was: a lot. The professor had come down to the hospital on a Saturday because I was the only one who had ever lasted the full three hours. As they stood there explaining all this to me, I couldn't help but wonder if I was supposed to feel stupid for withstanding all that abuse for a measly $20. But before I could say anything, the professor handed me ten crisp $20 bills. "It's the least we can do for putting you through that," he said. "The more subjects pick themselves up off the mats and keep going, the larger their reward. You've won the Grand Prize: $200."

What is happiness?
eudaimonia (Aristotle's definition): translates better to "human flourishing"
joy-gratitude-serenity-interest-hope-pride-amusement-inspiration-awe-love (Barbara Fredrickson)

You can study gravity forever without learning how to fly.

How many trillionaires do you know? (Zimbabwean currency)

"The Order of the Elephant"

Recognition can be given in traditional ways -- a complimentary email, or a pat on the back for a job well done. But you can also get creative with it... The elephant is a two-foot-tall stuffed animal that any employee can give to agnother as a reward for doing something exemplary. The benefits come not just in the delivery and reception of well-earned praise, but afterward as well. ...Other employees stopping by immediately notice the elephant and go, "Hey, you got the elephant. What'd you do?", which of course means that the good stories and best practices get told and re-told many times.

Our beliefs about our abilities are not necessarily innate, but can change, as our mindset is almost always in flux.

  • What identity are you wearing today?
  • Remind yourself of the relevant skills you have, rather than those you lack.
  • growth mindset: believe you can enhance basic qualities thru effort, as opposed to fixed mindset: capabilities are already set

What would your customers call your job title if they described it by the impact you have on their lives?

List three good things every day -- forces brain to scan for potential positives, small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment, strengthened connections, hope for the future. 5min/day trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth and seizing opportunities to act on them. (Also, b/c brain is focused there, small annoyances and frustrations are driven out of the field of view.

on deciding to lowball or highball an offer: mental "I am here" map -- the most successful decisions come when we are thinking clearly and creatively enough to recognize all the paths available to us, and accurately predict where that path will lead. The problem is that when we are stressed or in a crisis, most people miss the most important path of all: the path up.

Crisis as catalyst.

internal vs external locus of control

The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets.

We are drawn -- powerfully, magnetically -- to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort -- getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on.

Put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit.

We each have our own version of an offensive line: our spouses, our families, and our friends. Surrounded by these people, big challenges feel more manageable and small challenges don't even register on the radar.

Invest in something that continually plays dividends. Just as social support is a prescription for happiness and an antidote to stress, it also is a prime contributor of achievement in the workplace.

The people who actively invest in their relationships are the heart and soul of a thriving organization, the force that drives their teams forward. In sports, these people are called "glue guys" [because they] "quietly hold winning teams together".

"What's on the other side of your [business] card?" -- not your title but how you self-identify your responsibility or your passion or even your outside hobby.

foster high-quality connections -- relationally attentive -- managing by walking around

Most peole think this research is useful for them, but even more useful for all the people around them. The person we have the greatest power to change is ourselves.

Once we start capitalizing on the Happiness Advantage in our own lives, the positive changes quickly ripple out.

Mirror neurons: specialized brain cells that can actually sense and then mimic the feelings, actions, and physical sensations of another person.

Each workplace develops its own group emotion, or "group affective tone", which over time creates shared "emotion norms".

Butterfly Effect

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