The Happiness Track | Book Review

"The biggest influence you can have is to listen to your heart and your highest intention rather than letting the mind run rings around you. If you can do that, the ego takes a backseat and you can have a positive influence on others around you (p. 87)."

Dr. Emma Seppälä, Science Director of Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, offers in-depth research and many practical methods for creating a more motivational environment - at work, at home - for a better overall life.

Her reflective work is reminiscent of Hugh Hewitt's The Happiest Life and Clayton Christensen's How Will You Measure Your Life? -- challenging the modern, exquisitely busy lifestyle. Seppälä observes: Your weekdays are an endless race to complete the never-ending to-do list before you collapse into bed, exhausted, getting to sleep at a much later hour than your body would like. We have simply accepted overextension as a way of life (p. 3). Not only are we killing ourselves doing this, it's not effective.

Seppälä cites six major false theories that drive our current notions of success (p. 5):

• Never stop accomplishing
• You can't have success without stress
• Persevere at all costs
• Focus on your niche
• Play to your strengths
• Look out for number one

Have you ever worked somewhere with a prevailing culture like this? Or worse, have you fostered it? 58 percent of Americans claim that their stress is rising, and anxiety is the leading cause for mental health treatment in the United States, costing the nation over $42 billion per year (p. 7).

Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina found that happiness brings out our best potential in four concrete ways: Intellectually, psychologically, socially and physically (pp. 8-10). Recall our Personal Leadership Philosophy workshops, specifically that all of our personality dimensions require fuel for energetic leadership. Happiness isn't just about feeling good, it works. In particular, happy, friendly, and supportive co-workers tend to (pp. 9-10):

• build higher-quality relationships with others at work
• boost co-workers' productivity levels
• increase co-workers' feeling of social connection
• improve commitment to the workplace
• increase levels of engagement with their job
• provide superior customer service even if they don't stand to benefit

Stop Chasing the Future | Create Motivational Environments

Seppälä  describes "Stanford Duck Syndrome," where students look like peaceful ducks, but there is a dark underside: the ducks' legs are furiously pedaling as they struggle to stay afloat and to keep moving (pp. 17-18). Sounds like a typical prep school, especially during the college admissions semesters.

"Workaholic" is repeatedly described as one of the worst leader behaviors in Academy Leadership workshops. Research by Michael Treadway indicates the workhorse mentality -- unlike addictions involving alcohol or other substances -- is rewarded by our culture (with promotions, bonuses, praise, awards, and so on) and therefore considered a good thing despite its long-term negative impact on well-being (p. 21), specifically detrimental to health, work & relationships (p. 23).

We're terribly distracted. Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard find adults only spend about 50 percent of their time in the present moment (p. 28), and to be fully present, their study pointed to six elements of a charismatic person (p. 32):

• Empathy
• Good listening skills
• Eye contact
• Enthusiasm
• Self-confidence
• Skillful speaking

Notice each of these elements are also qualities of the best coaches. Or, we cannot coach well without being present and fully focused.

Step Out of Overdrive | Be Positive

According to the American Institute of Stress, a representative sample of Americans in 2014 shows these statistics (p. 40):

• Annual stress-related health-care costs for employers: $300 billion
• Percent of people who regularly experience physical costs caused by stress: 77
• Percent of people who regularly experience psychological costs of stress: 73
• Percent of people who report lying awake at night due to stress: 48

Nature provides us clues about how to balance short-term vs. chronic stress. Firdaus Dhabar of Stanford describes the key to a lion's resilience is her ability (p. 45):

• to quickly return to the restorative rest-and-digest state
• to remain in that state until an extreme life-threatening situation taxes her again
• to overcome the next challenge at full strength

Sounds like a SCRUM sprint, doesn't it? The fact that children and animals recover so quickly from stress shows just how naturally resilient our nervous system is (p. 46). Staying positive is also vital for energy conservation and good health. With just one or two negative thoughts, you can agitate your physiology to extremes (p. 48). And it's exhausting.

Daniel Wegner has shown in several studies that the intention to control a particular thought often breaks down under stress or mental overload and actually ends up triggering the unwanted thought, undermining our best intentions (p. 52). So, sheer willpower is not enough, we need to actually calm ourselves.

The finding that we can change how we feel by using our breath is revolutionary (p. 56). According to professor Stephen Porges, one reason slow breathing has an immediate effect is that it activates the vagus nerve -- the tenth cranial nerve, which is linked to our heart, lungs and digestive system -- and thus slows down the sympathetic (fight-or flight) and adrenal system (p. 58). Does this mean we should always be sedate, or relaxed? No, being calm and energized is not only possible through the breath but it is also the ideal state (p. 60).

Manage Your Energy | Think Energize2Lead (E2L)

Perhaps you have experienced some of the burnout symptoms outlined by the Mayo Clinic (p. 69):

• becoming cynical or critical at work
• dragging yourself to work and having a hard time motivating yourself once there
• becoming irritable or impatient with colleagues or clients
• lacking the energy needed to be productive
• lacking satisfaction when you achieve something
• feeling disillusioned about your work

Seppälä's Energy & Intensity graph is very similar to Tony Schwartz's Dynamics of Engagement diagram. Research shows that Westerners thrive on high-intensity positive emotions, and East Asian cultures value low-intensity positive emotions like serenity and peacefulness (p. 71).

Self-control is deeply exhausting, depleting our energies in four ways:

intensity quad.png

• Control your impulses. Staying on task as opposed to giving up or giving way to distractions (checking Facebook) or temptations (leaving work early to meet friends).
• Controlling your performance. Persisting and giving your best despite having worked an eighty-hour week on little sleep.
• Controlling your behavior (especially your emotional expressions). Maintaining a professional tone and demeanor even when the work atmosphere is hostile and your colleagues or manager make decisions you do not agree with.
• Controlling your thoughts. Focusing on your work despite the many thoughts that pop into your mind. For example, "I'm tired, I want to go home." Or "Maybe I should just quit my job." Or "I wonder if my significant other is upset about what I said." Or fantasizing about your next vacation (p. 74).

If we look at the left side of the graph, we don't associate either the high intensity or low intensity emotions as happy. Negativity is the ultimate enemy of both high energy and happiness.

Get More Done by Doing More of Nothing | Foster Creativity

We believe that the opposite of focus -- daydreaming, goofing off, spacing out -- is to be avoided (p. 97). It's not an accident that many successful and productive places to work have arcades and fun places to exercise. According to a 2010 IBM Survey of more than 1,500 CEOs spanning 60 countries and thirty-three industries, CEOs believe that the most important skill needed to navigate today's complex business world is creativity (p. 98). As leaders, not only do we need to foster the imagination, we need to prioritize it.

Seppälä'smentions George Land, author of Grow or Die (p. 103), who found that between three and five years of age, 98 percent of the children ranked as "divergent thinking geniuses." By age twenty-five, he found that only 2 percent could think divergently. This requires a paradigm shift, and there are three ways to access our potential for creativity (p. 107):

• Learning to unfocus through diversification
• Making time for stillness and silence
• Inviting fun back into our lives

Management experts Kimberly Elsbach and Andrew Hargadon suggest that -- for maximum creativity -- you should organize your workday schedule so that it alternates highly focused and demanding tasks with more mindless ones (p. 108). This is just what we've done in our new Energy Management Workshops.

Enjoy a Successful Relationship... With Yourself | Self-Compassion

According to Seppälä our brains have competing systems: one that seeks rewards and another that fears failure. Fear of failure, when excessive, stands directly in the way of success (p. 126):

• It hurts your performance
• It makes you give up
• It leads to poor decision making
• It makes you lose touch with what you really want

Fear of failure sounds a lot like conflict avoidance, and often associated with dominant blue E2L traits. On the other hand, self-compassion involves treating yourself as you would treat a colleague or friend who has failed (p. 132). Dr. Kristin Neff pioneered research on self-compassion and has outlined its three components:

• Being kind to yourself
• Understanding that you are part of humanity, that everyone makes mistakes
• Mindfulness

Some of the strongest and most authentic Personal Leadership Philosophies include statements of compassion and gratitude. Gratitude is a source of great strength, and not only boosts your well-being but also significantly strengthens professional skills (p. 136). Seppälä recommends these methods to become more self-compassionate:

• Notice your self-talk
• Write yourself a letter
• Develop a self-compassion phrase
• Make a daily gratitude list

Understand the Kindness Edge | Be Compassionate

... a self-interested approach may get you results in the short term, but over the long term it ends up failing you. Research suggests that self-focus harms you in four ways: It creates blind spots, ruins your relationships, makes you weak in the face of failure, and damages your health (pp. 143-144).

In our feedback and communications workshops, the importance of making connections is stressed. We often overlook the importance of social connection -- a feeling of positive connection with others (p. 148).

Kim Cameron, goes deeper, defining compassionate practices as (p. 154):

• Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends
• Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling
• Inspiring one another at work
• Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work
• Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes
• Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust and integrity

Does this matter in the workplace? Yes. Research shows that people prefer companionship and recognition over a large salary (p. 160). It matters at work and in life. Unlike self-focus, compassionate and positive relationships with others are associated with (p. 160):

• 50 percent increased likelihood of longevity
• buffering against the health effects of stress
• a strengthened immune system
• reduced inflammation
• lower rates of anxiety and depression

Final Thoughts

In the end, this all ties back to leadership. In addition to becoming more successful, you significantly boost your heath and psychological well-being. Your impact spreads, as you create a culture of positivity that benefits those around you and reaps great results for you (p. 164).

JE | February 2017