Levine Communications Office

One of America's Premier Public Relations Firms

  • April 2011
    M T W T F S S

Archive for April 27th, 2011

Five top tips on staying happy at work

Posted by Levine Communications Office on April 27, 2011

Five top tips on staying happy at work

Being positive is key to a successful career in IT

By Meridith Levinson | CIO US | Published: 16:46 GMT, 20 April 11

All of us cynical, sardonic, too-smart-for-our-own-and-everyone-else’s-good IT professionals who think we can get ahead in our careers based purely on our blazing intellects will surely question the following stat: Only 25 percent of job success stems from intelligence and technical skills, according to research conducted in the field of emotional intelligence.

“Intelligence does predict some success, but it doesn’t predict even the majority of it,” says corporate strategy consultant Shawn Achor, a former Harvard psychology professor and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work (Crown Business 2010).

“You can take individuals of equal levels of intelligence, and you find there’s dramatic variance in their success rates.”

If career success isn’t primarily a function of intelligence, then what causes it? Three factors likely to revile our sick, scornful hearts are larger indicators of success, according to Achor: optimism, social support and whether we view stress as an opportunity or threat.

I know what you’re thinking: Of course researchers in the namby-pamby field of emotional intelligence would conclude that looking on the bright side (seriously?) and friendships (gag us with a spoon!) play more important roles in our career achievements than measurable qualities like intelligence and hard skills.

But, in fact, a growing body of scientific research reveals an indisputable connection between a positive mental attitude and that ever-elusive, most subjective notion we call success.

“Our brains are designed to work better when they’re in a positive state as opposed to a negative or neutral one,” says Achor, citing numerous studies on positive psychology. “We find that when people are positive, it raises their productivity rate by 31 percent compared to when they’re in a negative state of mind. Positive sales people sell 37 percent more than their negative counterparts. We know that doctors, when they’re positive, perform diagnoses 19 percent more accurately.”

The reason that our brains function more effectively when we’re in a positive state is largely chemical. When our brains are positive, they produce dopamine, the neurochemical related to pleasure, says Achor. Dopamine makes us feel good, activates the learning sensors in our brains and gives our minds more energy. Consequently, positive brains see more possibilities and productivity rises.

“The brain is like a single processor in a computer with a finite amount of resources for experiencing the world,” adds Achor. “If your brain is using those resources to scan for negatives or for visualising all the problems that could arise, then your brain has fewer resources leftover for doing actual work.”

By contrast, when you’re in a positive state of mind, your brain devotes its resources more fully to the task at hand.

The good news for all of us hopeless pessimists is that we can improve our outlook – and our happiness – by engaging in certain habits that promote positivity and optimism, according to Achor. And in so doing, we can increase our productivity and be more successful. So in the spirit of spoiling a sour mood, here are Achor’s five tips.

1. Practice gratefulness

Every morning for 21 days, write down three things for which you are grateful. The list needs to be different every day. Achor had 200 tax audit managers at KPMG do this during the 2009 tax season, which was expected to be the worst tax season on record. After 21 days, Achor measured their emotional outlook using various psychological assessment tools and found that their levels of optimism rose.

“Two days after the [positive psychology] training, they felt significantly higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction,” says Achor. “Four months later, the group we exposed to positive psychology had significantly higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than the control group. We innoculated them from the stresses of the worst tax season.”

2. Be social

Achor says that when he’s researched happiness inside companies, he’s found that the greatest predictor of happiness and success during a challenging time is one’s social support network.

“The correlation [between success and social support] is 0.7, which is significantly higher than the correlation between smoking and cancer,” says Achor. “The problem is that when most people get stressed, they divorce themselves from their social support network: They eat lunch at their desk. They stop sending nice emails or talking to people in the hallways. They spend less time with family and friends.”

Consequently their stress levels skyrocket and productivity burns out, he adds.

Meanwhile, the people who are the most productive or optimistic in organisations increase their “social investment”- the amount they invest in their social support network – when they get stressed, notes Achor. “This doesn’t mean they’re spending hours with friends when they’re really busy at work, but they make sure they connect to their social support network.”

3. Praise others

Another way to increase your social investment is by making a concerted effort to be kind to those around you. While consulting at Adobe, Achor encouraged the senior leadership team to write one positive email each morning for 21 days when they opened their inboxes, praising or thanking someone for good work. Achor says the levels of social support the executives felt increased because the act of writing these emails each day made them realize that they had 21 people with whom they just connected.

The other advantageous effect of sending these emails was that they created a positive ripple effect. Seeing a nice email made the recipients feel good about themselves, which made them more likely to be complimentary to others. “It changed the social script so that more people were praising one another for their accomplishments,” notes Achor.

“That email only takes two minutes to write,” he adds. “It’s just a two sentence email. You can increase social investment without spending a lot of time.”

4. Apply the 20 second rule

Breaking bad habits (like procrastinating) or starting good habits (like learning to play a musical instrument) are hard because they require a specific kind of energy – activation energy – to get started.

“This is why we procrastinate – because we wait for our stress level to rise higher than the energy it takes to start the task,” says Achor.

You can make it easier to break bad habits and adopt positive ones by decreasing the amount of activation energy needed to start the new habit.

Enter the 20 second rule: To break a bad habit, add 20 seconds to the time it takes to engage in that bad habit. For example, if your bad habit is checking news sites or stock quotes instead of starting your work, make it more time consuming for you to access those sites by removing those sites from your browser bookmarks or by deleting your saved passwords to those sites, says Achor.

Similarly, adds Achor, “If there’s a report you need to work on, put it right on your desk. If there are forms you need to fill out, put a pen right on top of the forms. You’re decreasing the activation energy necessary to start that task.

“If you decrease the activation energy just slightly, your brain magnifies the change, making it easier to create a positive habit. The goal of the 20 second rule is to tilt the path of least resistance toward a positive habit.”

5. Set small goals

It’s fine to set daring goals, such as becoming a CIO by age 35, running a marathon or losing 60 lbs – but there’s a drawback: Goals that are too big paralyse you. They literally shut off your brain, says Achor.

Here’s what happens to your brain when faced with a daunting goal or project:

The amygdala, the part of the brain that responds to fear and threats, hijacks the “thinker” part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, says Achor. The amygdala steals resources from the prefrontal cortex, the creative part of the brain that makes decisions and sees possibilities.

“We watch this on a brain scan,” he says. “The more the amygdala lights up, the less the prefrontal cortex does.”

Breaking a big goal into smaller, more achievable goals prevents the fear part of your brain from hijacking your thinking cap and gives you victories.

“When you see you’ve been successful, your brain believes your action matters,” adds Achor.

Posted in Clients, LCO PR | 1 Comment »

Choosing Happy

Posted by Levine Communications Office on April 27, 2011

Choosing Happy

Popular science supports it and business leaders are catching on: Deliberate happiness can reap countless physical, mental and emotional rewards—both now and in the future.

Pauline  Estrem  April 16, 2011

Once upon a time, the Peanuts gang sang to us about “Happiness,” describing it as “finding a pencil,” “knowing a secret,” “telling the time.” Today, the alternative rock band The Fray describes happiness as “a firecracker sitting on my headboard.” Even the very source of definitions, Merriam-Webster, fails to offer perfect clarity, with a definition of happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.”

Perhaps the true meaning of happiness will always remain elusive—probably because it is not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing—yet, we can tell you with utmost certainty one thing that happiness is: a choice.

You need only look to the recent worldwide recession for proof. While some greedy CEOs were busy lamenting the loss of benefits and bonuses, other Americans were facing lost jobs, lost homes, lost dreams. But it didn’t kill their spirits or their smiles, as they refused to be victims of their circumstances. Instead, many of these people were downright happy to still have their health, their families and their lives. They chose happiness over unhappiness, refusing to let the latter get the best of them.

Now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the economy is on the rebound, it seems more and more Americans not only want happiness but also realize it is within reach. At Harvard, where studies show an average four in five students suffer from depression, one of the most popular courses is positive psychology. And books centered on happiness quickly jump to the top of the New York Times Best-Seller list, including Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

As Ann Hampton Callaway sings, “It’s hip to be happy”— and isn’t it about time? Of course, this doesn’t mean we should forget the lessons learned in recent years or that we shouldn’t sympathize with people still feeling economic burdens. But, if you’re reading this, you survived one of the worst crises in recent history, and that’s certainly something to celebrate.

In fact, it’s not just hip to be happy; it’s an inalienable right, according to the founding document of our country. And the exact wording—“the pursuit of happiness”—is apropos, as happiness is a state that we must constantly strive to achieve. But you can catch it—if you choose to try.

Happiness Is… a Physical Reaction

While the jury may still be out on the definition of happiness from spiritual and emotional standpoints, recent science has made huge breakthroughs in pinning down the physiological definition of happiness.

In Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and Dr. Richard Mendius focus on two questions: “What brain states underlie happiness, love and wisdom?” and “How can you stimulate and strengthen these positive brain states?”

Only within the last 40 years has the scientific community accepted the theory of neuroplasticity—that the brain can change over time. And that philosophy is at the heart of Buddha’s Brain: “We can actually use the mind to change the brain. The simple truth is that how we focus our attention, how we intentionally direct the flow of energy and information through our neural circuits, can directly alter the brain’s activity and its structure.”

Much of what changes the brain over time are our experiences, so Hanson and Mendius argue that if we embrace and focus on positive experiences instead of negative ones, these will become part of the landscape of our brains.

“Every time you take in the good, you build a little bit of neural structure,” they say. “Doing this a few times a day—for months and even years—will gradually change your brain, how you feel and act, in far-reaching ways.”

They also point to the powerful effects of meditation, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system in several ways, including “withdrawing attention from stressful matters, relaxing and bringing awareness to the body.” In the long term, regular meditation can actually increase gray matter in key parts of the brain, in turn improving “psychological functions associated with these regions, including attention, compassion and empathy.” It can also lift mood, decrease stress-related cortisol, strengthen the immune system and help a variety of medical conditions.

If you’re puzzled about those four out of five depressed students at Harvard, so was Shawn Achor, a student and later a teacher at the Ivy League institution. But he focused on the one out of five, “the individuals who were truly flourishing, to see what exactly was giving them such an advantage over their peers. What was it that allowed these people to escape the gravitational pull of the norm? Could patterns be teased out of their lives and experience to help others in all walks of life to be more successful in an increasingly stressful and negative world?”

His findings are The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Through his exposure to and research in positive psychology (one of his mentors was Tal Ben-Shahar, the professor of the aforementioned psychology class), Achor concluded that the popular belief that success leads to happiness is actually true in the reverse, “that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy.”

From a physical standpoint, Achor says this is because “our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.” Achor cites Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory, which states that positive emotions “broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative and open to new ideas” and “help us build more intellectual, social and physical resources we can rely upon in the future.”

The biological explanation is that feeling happy releases dopamine and serotonin, which “dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer and retrieve it faster later on.”

Happiness Is… Self-Reinforcing

When Peanuts’ Lucy and Linus sang about the simple everyday activities—“climbing a tree” or “learning to whistle”—that can bring happiness, they were actually onto something. As Hanson and Mendius write in Buddha’s Brain, “Small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures.”

That’s what Rubin discovered in The Happiness Project, which has the subtitle, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun. One dreary day on a city bus, the wife, mother and writer realized she wasn’t focusing on the important things in life and decided to spend a year making her life—and herself—happier. But, since she couldn’t uproot her existence for some Walden-esque sojourn, she committed to taking small steps.

“Making little changes in your ordinary day can have a dramatic impact on the happiness you feel on an everyday basis,” she says. “Be mindful about your life and your choices. [These changes have] to be manageable.”

Over the course of a year, Rubin found that the smallest things made the biggest difference. “For example, I started my kids’ literature reading group, and I started my own blog,” she says. “I have been struck by the number of people who say that making their bed made a huge difference, and that is about as small as it can get. If they make their bed, they start out the day on the right foot.” She also found these seemingly minor accomplishments had a snowball effect, boosting her mood and building momentum to achieve even more positive feats.

Tony Hsieh also knows how important the little things can be. As CEO of Zappos, he helped grow the online company from almost no sales in 1999 to more than $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually—and he counts company culture as his No. 1 priority.

In Delivering Happiness, he outlines how guests on the Zappos headquarters tour in Las Vegas (yes, they offer an open tour of their offices to the general public) are likely to see anything from “a popcorn machine or a coffee machine dressed up as a robot” to “employees dressed up as pirates, employees karaokeing, a nap room, a petting zoo or a hot dog social.” After all, one of the company’s 10 core values is, “Create fun and a little weirdness.”

“Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service or building a great long-term brand or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own,” says Hsieh, who was named 2009 SUCCESS Achiever of the Year primarily because of these principles.

Jamie Naughton, who leads Zappos’ Cruise Ship Operations Department within Human Resources, agrees. “I think it matters a great deal if employees are happy because happy employees tend to do better work,” she says of the “culture extras” she administers, such as employee recognition programs, parties and events, community involvement and employee communications. “Zappos takes happiness seriously, and it creates a more positive work environment, less absenteeism—people aren’t having the Monday blues because they’re excited about being at their job.”

At the end of her yearlong experiment, Rubin was sold that happiness is indeed voluntary—and always within reach. “I really am happier,” she says. “After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out for them, I found that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along; the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Science Behind Being Happy: What It Means for Your Self-Storage Business

Posted by Levine Communications Office on April 27, 2011

Check out this article

The Science Behind Being Happy: What It Means for Your Self-Storage Business.

By Matthew Van Horn where he refers to LCO Client Shawn Achor’s book “The happiness Advantage.”

Click here to view article.

Posted in Clients, LCO PR, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »