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Before Happiness by Shawn Achor

photo of beach, sand, sea and rocks

In ‘Before Happiness’, Achor puts his focus on people who are not yet happy. He seeks to connect a range of academic and real-world research that shows how we can all move towards happiness. This is not about having a perfect life but experiencing joy in the life you are living.

He tries to uncover why people in similar circumstances can have such differing responses. He refers, for example, to children without toys, MS sufferers, high pressured employees and soldiers in combat. This lead to the realisation that people can live in different realities (in the brain) regardless of the facts in the real world.

Before we can achieve success and happiness we need to believe in the possibility for both. Not simply wishing it but summoning all our cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources “to create positive change because you believe true change is possible.” This, known as positive genius, “is the greatest precursor to success, performance, and even happiness.”

Achor follows the public discourse on what predicts success. First, we thought it was IQ or intellect. Then research suggested emotional intelligence (our ability to regulate ourselves) was most important and more recent research has pointed towards social intelligence (our ability to relate to others). Achor seeks to explore “how our brain knits these together” to support happiness and success. The key to everything is seeing a reality where success is a possibility.

For Achor these three areas form a triangle of success where I.Q. tells us what to do, emotional intelligence tells us how to do it and social intelligence tells us with whom.

Achor suggests that if we add in his five practical research-based steps to the three above then we have a 3-dimensional prism for happiness and success.

His 5 steps are:-

1 Choose the most valuable reality
Recognise the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain focuses on and then experiment with different vantage points. See the world from a broader perspective, select the most valuable perspective that is both positive and true.

2. Map your meaning markers – how to identify and chart the best route to accomplishing your goals
Use mental cartography, mapping paths to success, identify and set better goals by highlighting markers of meaning in your life and learning to distinguish these from decoys and mental hijackers. Chart more direct routes to goals by reorienting your mental map along markers of meaning. Keep yourself squarely on the path by mapping success routes before escape routes.

3. Find the X spot – how to use success accelerants to propel you more quickly towards your goal
Zoom in on the target and make your goals seem closer by building in a head-start. Set incremental sub-goals and highlight progress to date instead of what is left to accomplish. Magnify the target size and increase the likelihood of success by creating champion moments that remind you of success in similar situations. Decrease your perception of your competitors and choose goals you have a chance of reaching.
Think about tasks as objective units rather than the effort involved, decrease your focus on things you worry about or fear.

4. Cancel the noise – how to boost the signal that points towards greater opportunities, possibilities and resources

Boosting the signal by eliminating the noise. Learn to cancel any distracting messages that stops you from reaching your fullest potential, hone your ability to distinguish the noise from the signal. Cancel our internal noise of worry, anxiety, fear and pessimism.

5. Create positive inception – how to amplify the effect of a positive mindset by transferring your positive realities to others
Transfer your reality to others and reap the exponential benefits by sharing simple, easy to replicate patterns and habits and helping to spread them in your network.

Achor gather’s results to show how this can help individuals meet success and happiness goals but also teams and organisations. If we don’t see the possibility of a positive outcome then we won’t attempt to set a goal or solve a problem, we must believe that our behaviour matters

From soldiers in combat to every day stresses the research shows how our perceptions of reality affects what action we take.

What’s interesting in all of this for me is how it helps to encourage us to fully live our life. I am generally a positive person but it is good to know that the evidence supports this as the best way towards happiness and success. The challenge with ‘meaning markers’ is finding what is important to you. Similarly, cancelling the noise is particularly apt as we are now even more consumed by social media.

If the suggestions seem too simple to make a difference or too overwhelming for you to begin with then you will benefit from taking small steps in the right direction. I know from my work as a counsellor that the first step is to become aware of what you do and notice when you are doing it. Only then can you introduce changes.

The questions for you are many
Do you make use of all your emotional, social and intellectual abilities? Can you explore reality from different vantage points?
Do you know which goals have meaning for you?
Can you choose to hold on to the most positive reality and cancel the noise?
Are you able to infect others with your positivity?

Having read this to would you be interested in trying this approach? Let me know if you do and please share your results.

Shirley Anstis

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