3 questions to ask yourself for more happiness at work

questionWe gain much of our happiness at work (and in life) by appreciating the good things we have and do.

Sure, you should also make sure to improve your circumstances and address any problems but it is just as important to be able to appreciate the things that work.

This is hard. Negativity bias is one of the most well-established psychological phenomena and it means quite simply that our minds devote more mental focus and cognition to the bad than the good.

Simply put, our thoughts automatically go to problems, annoyances, threats and fears but remembering and appreciating the good in our lives takes effort and focus.

With that in mind, here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to help focus on the positive in your work life.

1: What have you done recently that you’re proud of?
This can be deadlines met and goals achieved or maybe a time where you helped a coworker or customer.

Research shows that one of the main drivers of happiness at work is measurable, meaningful progress.

2: What have you learned recently?
How have you grown professionally or personally? What new knowledge have you gathered? What can you do better or faster today compared to previously?

3: Who has helped you?
Who has been there for you? How have your coworkers or your boss helped you out and been there for you?

I suggest making it a ritual to answer these questions at the end of every month.

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5 things businesses should NEVER copy from sports – and 3 they should

Many companies look to sports for cues on motivations and performance and star athletes and coaches and make big bucks as corporate speakers. There is this unquestioned assumption that if you’re successful in sports, you can teach workplaces something that will make them more effective.

I’d like to challenge that assumption :)

In fact, I believe there are so many fundamental differences between running a business and (say) coaching a football team that it becomes almost impossible to transfer any principles or practices.

Here are 5 things businesses should definitely not copy from sports:

5: Abrasive coaches

It seems like sports team coaches are given license to be complete jerks. They can throw tantrums, yell at referees, badmouth opposing players (or even their own players) in public – and be celebrated for all of this because it shows “passion”.

Nobody wants that kind of behavior from their manager at work. Steve Ballmer tried this sort of thing as CEO of Microsoft and has been deservedly ridiculed for it.

4: Adulation for star players
Sports teams have a few stars and many supporting players. In a workplace you need everyone to perform at their best.

3: Intense competition
It’s a common belief that competition makes people perform better, but research shows that it’s actually the other way around – competition makes people achieve worse results.

2: Rewards for results
Athletes are almost always rewarded for results – win that tournament and there’s prize money. Again, research shows that bonuses in the workplace make people less productive on any task that requires creativity and independent thinking.

1: Focus only on the next game
In sports, the focus is often only on the next game. In business, you need to be able to think long-term and create success not just for this week but for years in the future.

Each of those 5 practices are very common in sports but just don’t work in business.  That being said, there are a few practices in sports that businesses should absolutely emulate. Here are three:

3: Make time for training
Athletes spend many more hours training for matches than actually in matches. This gives them a chance to improve their skills and a risk-free environment where they can try out new approaches and plays and see how they work.

In the workplace however, there is rarely a chance to try out new ideas without risking failure. Employees are always playing for points and never playing to learn.

2: Celebrate success
Athletes are very good at celebrating wins. They even celebrate partial progress towards a win when they score a goal or similar.

In many workplaces, success is met with a shrug and wins are rarely celebrated.

1: Include restitution
Every successful athlete know that you get stronger by training and THEN RESTING. Without restitution, you’re actually just continually weakening yourself.

Workplaces on the other hand consistently underestimate the need for restitution. Employees are worked hard constantly and breaks and time off work are seen as a necessary evil. In fact, employees are implicitly told that they can show “commitment” by giving up weekends and vacations and working more hours.

There is no reason why we should try to follow the lead of athletes and coaches in our efforts to create better and more successful workplaces. Many of the practices from sports just won’t work in a workplace – you could even argue that many of them don’t even work that well in sports.

And don’t even get me started on copying practices from the military :)

Your take

Has your company ever had a star coach or an athlete come in and speak? What did they say, that you found useful? What do you think workplaces should or shouldn’t copy from sports? Write a comment and let me know your take.

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Natural and Synthetic happiness at work – Here’s why you need both

This article was written byTais Lyager Rasmussen and Woohoo inc’s newest employee Thomas Christensen .

What do you do when you do not get the happiness you wanted? You make it yourself!

As a child growing up, you quickly learn that you do not always get what you want. This is pretty much a fact of life. You wanted the red electronic toy car but instead you got told to use your imagination and go play outside. Your favorite band is playing tomorrow night – sorry, you have to work late.

Everyone experiences these kinds of situations and everyone hates them. When life fails to match your expectations, for whatever reason, a gap is created between the expectations of your life and the realities of your life.  Obviously, this makes you unhappy, life was revealed to be less than you thought it was. But is this always the case? Research has shown that our ability to cope with unfavorable situations is greater than previously thought – because of a mechanism called synthetic happiness. Synthetic happiness is a form of personal psychological happiness.

According to Professor of Psychology at Harvard University Dan Gilbert there exist two different kinds of psychological happiness, the natural kind and the synthetic kind. Gilbert explains that: “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted”. Hang on; is happiness not just the result of getting what you want? Surely it is not something you can just make up yourself. People that say that they are happier about the outcome they did not want are just fooling themselves, right? Well it turns out that it is actually possible to create your own happiness, called synthetic happiness, and that this form of happiness is equally as good as natural happiness.

The name “synthetic” carries with it some associations that are less than ideal.  A more fitting name would be personal happiness, because the internal validation that adds value to a choice you have already made is just that, internal and personal.

Dan Gilbert’s fascinating experiment

Gilbert did an experiment with individuals suffering from anterograde amnesia, a condition making it impossible for them to acquire new memories – think of the movies “50-first dates” or “Memento”. Gilbert approached these individuals and asked them to rank 6 paintings from the one they liked the most to the one they liked the least.

The idea of synthetic happiness

Gilbert explained that they would receive a poster of one of the paintings. They could choose between number 3 and 4. Almost all individuals chose number 3, because they liked it a little more than number 4. Gilbert then went out of the room and came back moments later. Since these individuals have anterograde amnesia they could not remember who he was, that he was just in the room or that they owned a poster of painting number 3. He asked them to rank the 6 paintings from the one they liked the most to the one they liked the least. Surely they would rank the paintings in the same general order?

Actually, individuals now ranked the poster they owned at number 2 (previously ranked 3) and the poster they had said no to (previously number 4) was now ranked number 5. Indicating that these individuals liked the poster they now own more than before they owned it, even when they do not remember that they own it!

They also like the poster they gave up less, even when they do not remember that they gave it up!

These startling results indicate that not only can individuals make their own synthetic happiness but they do this unconsciously. Gilbert also found that this unconscious ability to synthesize happiness happens more often in situations where you do not have a say in the matter.

Dan Gilbert talks about the experiment in this TED talk:

4 reasons why this is important when thinking about happiness at work

Before going into the 4 points, a crucial observation must be made. In the experiment presented above, the choice of the pictures is presented in a low risk environment. There are no wrong choices, and no one to criticize their choice once it is made. Obviously this situation does not reflect the reality of most peoples lives. Rather than considering this to be just a criticism, it would be much more prudent to consider it an argument for fostering a low risk environment, so people are less likely to second guess themselves, because it is okay to be wrong.

1: A happy life is not always about getting what you want. It is about learning to enjoy what you get.

While this might read like “Don’t worry – be happy”, Gilbert’s experiment allows us to dig a little deeper. When your boss hands you a crappy assignment it is possible to end up feeling genuine personal happiness. Even if you have no choice in accepting the assignment or not because of #2.

2: Synthetic happiness is not “cheating” yourself to happier. The experiment with the amnesiac patients demonstrates that the happiness created by themselves is true and genuine.

The idea of “Synthetic” happiness sounds like you are somehow cheating. How can you be happy when your life does not match up to expectations, or the expectations of others. Thinking of “synthetic” happiness as  “personal” or “private” happiness is a much better metaphor. If you find yourself enjoying the crappy assignment your boss gave you, do not think of it as cheating or selling out.  Do not worry, it is allowed to enjoy things you did not choose.

3: Natural happiness primarily relies on external factors whereas Synthetic happiness primarily relies on internal factors. As such, Synthetic happiness can be a more long-term, stable form of happiness than natural happiness.

If you have to rely on always getting what you want to be happy there is a good chance that you will be unhappy, since life is unpredictable. Happiness derived from learning to live with any outcome is much more stable in that it is applicable to every outcome and not only those where you obtain what you want.

4: General happiness in life comes from the relationship between Natural happiness and Synthetic happiness.

This is probably the most important point. The idea of synthetic or personal happiness is not to suggest that you should be less involved in your decisions or just go with the flow. There is absolutely a time and place to stand your ground. The idea behind the division of happiness is to be more reflective of the idea of happiness. If you know that you can be happy from getting what you want but also from not getting what you want, it will take some of the pressure off on always having to achieve. Enjoying something you were told to do without feeling shameful, or like a quitter, has to go hand in hand with the ability to proactively seek out what you want. This is going to take a lot of practice. Thinking of happiness in these two metaphors can be really difficult, but ultimately rewarding. Having a sense of “personal” happiness that is removed from external factors requires discipline and practice, but it will lead to a happier life.

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Roosevelt on making mistakes

rooseveltlaughingIt is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

― Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve been writing recently about making mistakes. One irrefutable fact about doing awesome things is that sometimes you’ll get it wrong and some people may criticize you for that.

And that’s where the above quote comes in :)

I screwed up. Choose my punishment.

We currently have 500 people around the world beta-testing HeartCount, a better way to measure team happiness, and last Friday the system had a couple of fairly serious bugs.

That sucks. We’re only two weeks into the beta period and my biggest fear is that this will make users lose faith in the system.

However, we’ve also previously written about why we should celebrate mistakes at work and this is no exception.

So I just sent out an email to the users where I apologized for the mistake AND asked them to vote on a suitable punishment. Here are the options:

Vote on a punishment

Currently “Sing a song” is in the lead :)

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Why corporate values often have no value

A CEO of a large Norwegian company once told me that “you know a corporate values program is doomed to fail, when they start distributing mouse mats with the values printed on them.”

Many companies today have taken great pains to identify and communicate their core values, but often this kind of thing sinks below the surface like a stone, leaving very few ripples.

In this short video that I shot for one of our clients a while back, I talk about what it takes to create corporate values that have value and I give a great example from one workplace that’s done so very successfully.

The #1 mistake – or your happiness is not (only) about you

The most common mistake people make when they seek happiness (at work or in life) is that they focus on making themselves happy here and now.

This almost always fails because it becomes a meaningless, shallow pursuit of their own short-term pleasure.

True happiness on the other hand, comes from doing things to make many people (including yourself) happier in the long term.

This is illustrated by one of the most consistent findings in positive psychology, namely that if you want to be happier yourself, the best way is to make someone else happier. Not as a quid-pro-quo, but from a realization that we are social beings and that your happiness cannot be meaningfully extracted from the happiness of everyone around you.

And that goes in the workplace as well. If you want to be happy at work, focus more on making others (co-workers, customers, employees, vendors, random passers-by) happy by doing awesome work and by being an awesome person. If your workplace doesn’t let you do that, you will never be happy there.