When I was sixteen years old and my cousin was just five years old, I was racing up and down the isles with him in a shopping trolley. I was eleven years older than my cousin at the time. I am eleven years older than him now, but it was a quiet Saturday morning and after each successful sideways drift past a pallet of fast moving consumer goods, I got bolder and we went faster.
There are differing accounts of what happened that morning, but seeing that I am the one sharing this, let me tell you what really happened.
Which is that a little old lady just jumped in front of me, like in a good MiWay advert. Somehow, without any interference from the little old lady, the back wheel of the trolley caught on the tip of her cane and we went crashing into a colorful display of Simba chips.
Managing to stay on my feet, I righted the trolley, rushed over to my cousin – sprawled face down between the packets of chips – quickly yanked him up, brushed him off and placed him back in the trolley.
His lip was quivering and his hair was a mess, so I did the first thing that came to mind. If you have children you’ve seen this hundreds of times before.
I said, “No wait Eckhard, don’t cry. Did you see how you crashed through that chips display without even a scratch? I think you must be Batman!”
This wasn’t even an option that was open to my cousin at any point in the past, but on his little face I could see conflict as his little brain tried to devote resources to the feeling of pain and surprise he just experienced and contemplating his new found identity as Batman. And the latter won.
Instead of crying, instead of attracting the attention of his parents, or even worse, the store manager and all the negative consequences that would’ve insued for me, a smile spread across his face, and we were off to the races.
Although what I did and generations of parents before me had done is cheating, psychologists call this positive psychology.
When I first started blogging, the first thing the blogging 101 sites said to never do is start your blog-post with a graph. What I would like to do is start this post with a graph.
This graph looks boring, but it is the reason that you’re currently reading this. And this graph doesn’t even mean anything. It’s fake data.
The fact that we have that weird little red dot up above the curve, that’s not a problem, because all of you know I can just delete that dot. I can delete that dot because that is clearly a measurement error. And we know that it is a measurement error, because it is messing up my data.
A topic covered early on in psychology, business and economics courses is how to go about in a statistically valid way to eliminate the weirdos. How to eliminate the outliers, in order to find the line that best fit. Which is fantastic if I’m trying to find out how many cups of coffee or glasses of wine the average South African should be drinking.
Though a whole new world of opportunities open if I’m interested in your potential. Or your happiness, optimism, energy or creativity.
What we’re currently doing is we’re merely measuring the average of science. Science asks the question of how fast does the average child read in a classroom. Then we tailor the class towards the average.
If you fall below the average on this curve psychologists get thrilled. Because that means you’re either depressed, you have a disorder, or hopefully both.
Psychologists are hoping for both, because their business model is if you come into a therapy session with one problem they want you to leave knowing you have 10.
So you’ll keep coming back over and over again – they’ll go back to your childhood if necessary – but what they want to do is make you normal.
But what I propose and positive psychology propose is: Why not change the model? Because if we study what is merely average we will remain merely average.
Instead of deleting those positive outliers why don’t we rather ask a question of why?
Why is it that some of you is so high above the curve in terms of your intellectual ability, athletic ability, musical ability, creativity, energy, your risilience in the face of challenge, your sense of humor?
Whatever it is, instead of deleting you, scientists and psychologists should rather study you. Because maybe we can gather information. Not only on how to move people up to the average, but how we can move the entire average up at our companies and schools worldwide.
There is a reason this graph is important to me. Because when I turn on the news, the majority of the information is not positive. In fact it’s negative. Most of it is about murder, corruption, deseases, disasters and very quickly my brain starts to think that this is the accurate ratio of negative to positive in the world.
What that’s doing is it’s creating something called the medical school syndrome. Which if you know people who’ve been to medical school, in the first year of medical training when you read through all the symptoms and deseases that could happen, suddenly you realize you have all of them.
The truth is that it isn’t reality that shapes you, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if you can change this lens, not only can you change your happiness you can change every single personal and professional outcome at the same time.
Research has shown that new employees, no matter how happy they were of the success of landing a prestigious job, after two weeks the brain stopped focusing on the privilege of being there. The brain rather focused on the competition, the workload the hassles the stresses and the complaints.
Embedded in that question is the key to understanding the science of happiness. Because what that question assumes is that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels. When in reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10% of your happiness.
90% of your longterm happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if you change it, if you change your formula for happiness and success, what you can do is change the way you affect reality.
Did you know that only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ? 75% of job success is predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.
What we need to do is reverse the formula for happiness and success. For all of us, in our personal and professional lives, the formula for success is this:
This underpins most of our parenting styles, our managing styles, the way we motivate our behavior, and the problem is that it is scientifically broken and backwards.
Every time your brain has a success, you just change the goal post of what success looks like. You got your grades, now you need to get better grades. You’ve gone to a good school, now you need to go to a better school. You got a good job, now you need to get a better job. You hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target.
If happiness is on the other side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society.
It’s because we think if we’re successfull, then we’ll be happier. The real problem is our brains work in the opposite order.
If you can raise your level of positivity in the present then the brain experiences what psychologists call a happiness advantage. Which is your brain at positive, performs significantly better compared to negative, neutral or stressed.
You are better at securing jobs, better at keeping jobs, you have superior productivity, you are more resilient and experience less burnout. Your intellegence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise, the fact is that every single personal and professional outcome improves.
Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative neutral or stressed. You are 37% better at sales, Dr’s are 19% faster and more accurate. Which means we can reverse the formula.
If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully, as we can work harder, faster and more intelligently.
What we need to do is be able to reverse this formula so that we can see what our brains are actually capable of.
Because dopamine which floods into your system when you’re positive has two functions:
It not only makes you happier, but it turns on all the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.
There are ways to train your brain to become more positive:
By just Spending 2 minutes a day for 21 days, you can rewire your brain, allowing your brain to work more optimistically and more successfully. Note 3 things a day that you are grateful for, for 21 days, your brain will identify a pattern to start scanning the world for the positive instead of the negative.
Journaling of one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.
Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
Meditation helps your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by doing multiple tasks at once, and helps our brains to focus on the task at hand.
Random Acts of Kindness are conscious acts of kindness.
Get people to open up their inbox to write one positive email praising or thanking someone in their social support network.
And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, we can reverse the formula for hapiness and success and in doing so not only create a ripple of positivity, but create a real revolution.
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