Following on the accidental theme of happiness in Orlando today, I wonder if The Universe is trying to tell me something.. Time to get happy? As a fan of Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Happier” and the unpronounceable Hungarian-American’s “Flow” I am intrigued to see what session SU31XD has to offer.
Dick Ruhe has taken the stage to tell us what the latest research on positive psychology can do for the workplace. (Tip number one: If anyone is looking unhappy, just slap ’em!)
Ruhe starts by noting that most organisations seems to have the happiness formula backwards. We tend to think: Work hard -> Get success -> Get happy. But actually, it’s the happiness we need first. When we can find ways to get happy, we will work better and get better results. And when we keep this in mind people produce better business results. According to Ruhe, there are 7 principles we need to bear in mind if we want intrinsic motivation and increased engagement…
The happiness advantage
Organisations need to know this: Happy people get better results and attrition goes down. Ruhe cites how the brain creates endorphins and people feel better. But he adds that studies of successful organisations show that happy people are more satisfied and tend to stick around.
Do you believe this?
The fulcrum and the lever
The lens through which we see the world (the fulcrum) doesn’t shape us. It’s the way we see things that shape us. Two people can see the same situation completely differently. And if we can do something with that (the lever) we can influence our happiness and our results. Ruhe says that will require effort from leaders. We need to look for and embed positive (happy) experiences and work towards getting more of that.
Are you doing this?
The Tetris Effect
These are the patterns we have for doing things in the organisations. After time, those patterns become habits and traditions and we continue to get more of the same things, over and over again. We need to see how the pieces are falling and what we can do about it to line things up better for happiness.
Are you doing this?
When people fail, falling-up is about how they focus and take action to move in a new direction to bounce back. The “on the other hand…” vibe. Ruhe mentioned a study where people were told to imagine they had walked into a bank which was being robbed and got shot in the arm. They were asked: We’re you lucky or unlucky? 70% said “unlucky”.
What would you say?
The brain perceives big movements and big changes as overwhelming, which limits forward progress. But if we can start off small and see results, the brain can record the “win” and maintain the belief that their efforts can have an impact.
Are you helping your people see their results?
The 20 second rule
This is all about doing something that easily will move us forward. The next concrete (easy) action. For example, if you are thinking “I need to run more”, you might start making a big plan with a SMART objective and some challenges in there. But when it comes to actually running, if it’s easier to turn on the television than go running, no change is going to happen. We need to make it possible in 20 seconds to take some easy action towards are goal. Whatever it is.
How can you move forward now?
Connecting with the people around us makes everyone more happy. Ruhe suggests that we take more time to do this, everyday.
Reading back my notes, some of the points seem so obvious, I wonder what I get from it. But if I’m honest, I know I can do better.
Thanks for reading
There is an idea that “time flies when you are having fun”.
* (see below post for disclaimer)
But time flies for other reasons too: When you are stressed or under time-pressure, when you are doing addictive chores, when you are asleep…
So don’t think that just because time flies, you are having fun.
I have spent a lot of time flying through time not having enough fun, so my first New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to regularly re-do an exercise proposed by Marcus Buckingham in his book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work”. It’s simple and you can do it too…
Step 1: Note what gives you energy
As you go through your working day, any time you are having fun or feeling energetic, make a note of what you are doing. Use seperate post-it notes of bits of paper for each idea – this will help when you get to step 3 later.
I have already noted the following in the last few days:
- Chasing new ideas, researching things that get my attention
- Blogging and writing ideas in order to try and communicate them well to other people
- Hospitality and welcoming people
..and the last time I did this exercise, I had also noted:
- Developing a presentation for a large audience
- Speaking to a group of people about a topic on which I am an expert
- Editing an article to ensure the minimum effective dose of content
- Consulting with new potential clients, by phone or face-to-face, asking questions in order to understand their situation, values and needs
Step 2: Note what drains your energy or makes you unhappy
As with step 1, any time you feel drained or unhappy in what you are doing, note it down. Again, use separate notes.
My own ideas:
- Working with particular people … I noted their names, but won’t share here 🙂
- Raising invoices
- Writing administrative emails to tick-off silly little tasks in preparation for a training or conference
- Booking hotels, flights and travel
Step 3: Categorise wherever possible in order to see the thin-red-line
If I remember well, Buckingham proposes to do the exercises (steps 1+2) for about a week. At the end of the week, see if you can find common points between the different notes. Spread them all out on a table and re-arrange them in order to see how they fit together.
This should give you an idea of what really turns you on … and off.
Step 4: The hardest part = Create strategies to maximise the energisers and minimise the drainers
Although I won’t get into this here and now, if you have an idea of when turns you on and what turns you off AND if you are truly willing to invest in your own happiness (so that time flies) then you must work on this step.
Bear in mind that there is always a way to improve your working experience, even if you don’t work for yourself. If you are not sure how to actually make it happen, consider the following ideas to get you started:
- Share your ideas with your manager. If this person is worth their job, they should be interested in your working happiness.
- Do a SWOT analysis, using “be happy” as your mission in order to create strategic action.
- Read “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss or “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
- Kill your sacred cows (as Tim Ferriss would say)
- Look for a new job!
I know very well that this last step may seem a bit dreamy and some people will read and think “It’s not that easy” but that doesn’t mean the exercise is worthless in itself. Think about what gives you strength, what drains your energy and then make the choice to have a Happy New Year!
Thanks for reading,
* The idea that “time flies when you having fun” is almost true, but in fact there is a mistake in this phrase which is both philosophically interesting and also, I believe, quite dangerous for the fast-moving, entrepreneurial, recognition-seeking type of folk (like me) that are rather desperately on the road to dissatisfaction and burn-out.
In fact, time doesn’t fly when you are having fun. It stops. It disappears. This is important because our obsession with time as an entity or currency leads to lots of attempts to save it, redistribute it or make it move faster or slower than it actually does.
But even my previous paragraph is faulty, because there is no such thing as time. At least not as it is intended in the phrase “time flies when you are having fun”. In that phrase, the time referred to is “clock time” and in reality, we just stop thinking about “clock time” when we are really having fun. We live in the moment, without regard for what will come later or what came earlier. That is indeed why it is fun. Because we are truly alive in the “now” instead of “thinking” and getting caught up in other ego-led desires. And when we do start thinking about it (“clock time”) again, we see that it has flown by. We are much “later” than we thought.
If this little philosophical suffix interests you even in the slightest, read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.
A young woman was dissatisfied with her garden. She didn’t find it pretty.
One day, she stumbled upon the local garden centre and went inside.
Hearing her unhappiness, the garden centre employee proposed: “Why don’t you add some flowers?”
So the young lady bought roses and begonias, daffodils to plant and many other varieties of colourful flowers. She went home and planted them and waited a while, but even when all the flowers were in bloom, she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.
Some time later, she went back to the garden-centre. A new employee suggested flowers and the young lady explained what she had already planted. In reply, the new employee said: “Perhaps you could put a bench and some other furniture and ornaments?”
So the young lady bought a bench, an ornamental watering can, some solar-lighting and many other things to fill up her garden. She went home and put everything in place, sat back and looked at her new garden. But she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.
In despair, she drove back to the garden centre the next day, only to find it shut. As she walked back to her car, she stumbled upon a little old lady and explained her situation. She told how she didn’t find her garden pretty, how dissatisfied she was and all she had done with the flowers and the ornamental furtniture.
The lady replied: “Why don’t you try a little weeding ?”
Look at this picture. What’s wrong with it?
Looks tidy, right? Nice Paul McCartney poster? Nobody died..
This is the small room at the bottom of the stairs in my house. Opposite the sofa you can find my guitars. Sometimes I sit and play there. The door goes through to the entrance of the house and my wife’s office.
But what is that pile of DVDs doing there? We don’t have a television in that room and “all my other DVDs” are nicely organised in their own little space.
THAT pile of DVDs is what is wrong with my life and what is wrong with the lives of many other people. THAT pile of DVDs is unfinished, indecision and procrastination. It is the annoying remains of a DVD-classifying and tidying job. No-one knows where to put them and no-one has made a decision. Every time someone sees them, small silent curses are made about what the hell they are doing there, followed (in my case) by mini-anxiety about having to deal with them, but not being sure what to do and where to put them.
In life, many people have their own “pile of DVDs”: The thing at the bottom of the to-do list that isn’t getting done, the dripping tap in the bathroom or the CV that still hasn’t been posted for that job opportunity.
These things remain unfinished and undecided as we procrastinate our way around them. It seems easier to ignore them than to take action. But they niggle away at our souls because they are not in their right place. When I wake up and come down the stairs, the first thing I see is those damn DVDs. And when I go to bed, they are the last thing that crosses my path before sleep.
In some cases, the consequences of inaction are quite small: The untuned piano and out of place DVDs will not change much. I don’t lose any sleep and nothing bad will come of it.
But in others cases, the consequences of inaction can be far worse: That niggling image of more important unfinished business eats away at you, causing insomnia and anxiety. What will I do about the wall that looks like it might fall down? How will I pay my credit-card bill? When will I finally get started on living my dreams?
In all cases, until there is a boldness, decision and action, nothing will change. The boldness is about daring to move forward with things. The decision is about what matters most, your priorities, the things you want out of life and how you want to feel about yourself. And action is about taking small steps towards satisfaction, one-at-a-time.
Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to force you into action: The wall falls down, the bank freezes your credit-card or burnout leaves you depressed and out of work.
In many cases, one of the following ideas might help:
- Seth Godin says in “LinchPin” that our lack of boldness is an evolutionary leftover designed to keep us “safe”: When we are frozen in inaction, it is because our reptile brain is scared of what will happen if we actually take the action we are considering. It is easier to stay in the status-quo than try something new.
- Tony Robbins’ TED talk on “Why we do what we do” suggests asking 3 questions about “focus” in order to actually make a decision: Ask yourself what this thing means to you, what you are focussing on and what you are going to do about it.
- In his book “Getting Things Done”, David Allen proposes asking 2 questions to figure out what the next action should be.
Regarding my DVDs, it was Tony Robbins’ idea that got me started: I have been focussing on almost everything else in my life but those DVDs and what that means to me is the same as what my ever-fattening belly means: I am letting some other things go to shit. Action? [Pause from writing]
…OK… 30 minutes later they are gone. Some have been put in the children’s rooms.. Disney and The Gruffalo. The music ones have been put with my CDs. And the rest are in the big cupboard with things to sell on eBay. (That last idea is my answer to David Allen’s question: “What is the next concrete action I will take?”)
Whilst tidying, I contemplate the importance of Seth Godin’s idea and realise that it often seems easier to do nothing, plod along and get the same results. Going for gold is scary. What will it look like? How will it work? What if I fail?
But if you want to tidy those DVDs, fix the scary threatening wall or find the job of your dreams, you need a little boldness, decision and action to get you on track.
Over the last few years, I have occasionally bumped into a very happy looking man during French-speaking learning conferences like the Epsilon Forum+ 2012. I also saw him once at a well-being conference I attended with my wife in Namur. His name: Michel Schwarz. His mission: Help make people happy. His company: Happiness (Inside Me). His tools: Neuro-science, open-mindedness and a little bit of gamification…
Michel. Thanks for taking the time to do this blog-interview with me. You are interested in happiness and you help people in companies to find their own inner happiness. How does that work?
According to many studies and some basic common sense, every human being wants to be happy. But outside of religious instruction and science of brainwaves there hasn’t been any solid training on how to get happy. As a result, for centuries people have been pushing a whole load of different products, services, movies, jobs etc.. as the source of happiness. But that always leads to a circle of deception and frustration: We feel we deserve happiness but don’t have it, then we have it and lose it again…. back to the next frustration!
So my trainings are based on neurosciences and giving each individual a simple understanding of how our brain, spirit and body create this feeling of happiness. Starting from that new awareness, participants start to better manage their own energy and motivation, understanding that the real sources of happiness are internal. They can make the difference between primitive and successful behaviour, discover what makes themselves work most efficiently, collaborate better… And this leads to better mental and physical health, cooperation, creativity, adaptability, leadership…
You mention this frustration people have and I think it is possibly a result of the fact that, living in 2012, we feel almost obliged to be happy. In my mind, it’s not as if life is particularly difficult. Certainly not compared to, for example, my Nan’s life during the second world war. Not being happy is like a “luxury problem”. So what can we do about it?
To get happier is certainly neither compulsory, nor easy. It has never been a priority for human beings to be happy in the past, because for centuries our entire (short) life was dedicated to survival. But in the new world of 2012, for those who have food, drink and warmth it’s important to understand the next step to reach a better life. We have many chances in 2012 that are new to humans: We can look inside heads and see how a brain works! We can see what’s in our blood and which behaviour and lifestyles make people happier. And we can compare this things with others, all around the world.
The main conclusion of all this is that happiness can be reached by all kinds of people: rich or poor, healthy or not, single or married.. We can all learn how to get happier, change our habits and even our brain, to feel more positive emotions and serenity! So I think the first important advice I can give is to encourage people to get involved in the pursuit of happiness themselves. Try to see, feel and understand what “turns you on” and seek out more of it.
You followed my Epsilon 2012 session on the gamification of learning and afterwards told me that you think the approach could be useful for learning how to be happy. How is that?
By its own nature, gaming creates happiness (unless you forget the pleasure of playing by only focusing on winning). Games are fundamentaly fun, even around serious topics. Fun creates open-mindedness. And open-mindedness allows for the creation and integration of new ideas. As you play, you feel secure. You are totally focused, in the present moment, so you stop brooding. Games are natural (ask your kids!). They help create pleasant emotions.
But in addition to these immediate gains, game-playing can help to create to anchor behaviour via positive emotions. If we can learn what makes us happy through game-playing and the play itself creates all these positive feelings, it is more likely that we will anchor that learning, remember and come back to it later.
Graduate in economic sciences and “neuro-comportementalisme” and passionate about psychology, Michel Schwarz is an entrepreneur renowned for his application of new technologies and his ability to share his knowledge. In his career spanning so far over 20 years, he has directed and inspired teams of 4 to 100 people without ever having the impression of working. Since 2010, Michel Schwarz has been sharing his experience via training and consultancy.