So we’re a little way into the new year now: those January gym goers have perhaps fallen by the wayside, the healthy eating plan is getting less stringent and our ‘only drink wine on weekends’ rule has grown to include Thursday (and the occasional Monday).
However, at the end of my last article I set you a new year’s resolution of a different kind: try to take yourself less seriously. I’m hoping that this has not only been a much more successful target to focus on for 2015 but has also been a fun one in the process. Reflecting on this, and some of the facts about the effects of something as simple as laughter that I included in last month’s feature, made me think about what we could all do in a broader sense to make for happier workplaces.
Now I don’t want you to think I’m some crazed entrepreneur that masquerades as a clown trying to make people laugh and be happy every minute of every day. Those who know me actually find me quite serious, focused and demanding. However, I do genuinely believe in the power of positivity and the impact that this has on productivity, satisfaction and results. So this month, I am exploring ‘positive psychology’ from an entrepreneur’s perspective, its uses in business and the implications it can have on individuals at work.
The term is attributed to a chap by the name of Martin Seligman, who developed this particular branch of psychology in 1998 whilst a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The thinking behind this concept is to use small yet significant interventions in an individual’s day-to-day thinking in order to create a more balanced, satisfied life. When applied to the business world, this can have astounding consequences.
The positives of positive psychology
We’re all guilty of dramatising a diagnosis at one point or another, focusing on the negatives of a situation instead of the positives. Whether that’s travelling for two hours to find that your meeting is cancelled on arrival or that big piece of work you were expecting to pitch for this week has been put on hold for a month. The power of positive thinking aims to do the exact opposite of most people’s natural inclination – to see the positives these changes have afforded you rather than leap to the negatives. In high-performance sport, a positive mindset is credited with making a crucial 1% difference in achieving peak performance. Athletes have even reported reaching a mental state known as ‘flow’, whereby high levels of energy and concentration are complemented by intense enjoyment of the task. Using similar practices in a business environment has shown to create a much more autonomous workforce, reporting higher levels of job satisfaction. Additionally, positive emotions have shown to increase creativity, stress management and decision-making abilities.
Changing the way you think
The easiest and quickest way to start utilising the power of positive thinking is to play to your strengths. Not just your own, but the strengths of the marketplace and your workforce. Start turning your strengths into super-strengths rather than focusing on just improving your weaknesses which may just bring you up to everyone else’s average. Think about how this can translate to actions across your business. For example, most companies’ performance management processes look at an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and performance over the previous period and then look forward with a development plan where they look to address their weaknesses. Instead, shift the forward focus to 90% looking at their key strengths and how they can be honed into super-strengths and only 10% addressing one key weakness/development area.
Likewise, when positioning your company in the market, fall back to the USP marketing approach. Just sell on your super-strengths – your points of difference to everyone else; don’t compete on hygiene factors that every other competitor can also match you on. There are also some simple tasks you can use to start reformulating the way you, and your teams, think to begin harnessing the power of positive thinking. A great example of these can be found all over popular social media sites, such as the #100DaysOfHappy challenge on twitter. Those who chose to accept the challenge are required to find and publicise one thing (at least!) that made them happy that day. The aim of the challenge is that eventually these things, and this way of thinking will become habit, perhaps even innate. You could run a similar challenge internally in your company.
Does it work?
Research says yes. Over 35 years of Gallup surveys have found that successful companies are the ones where employees believe they get to do what they do best every day – i.e. they play to their strengths. This is versus the stat that only one third of people actually play to their strengths. If you are not sure what your strengths are or are looking for a free and initial tool for your teams to test theirs, there is a free 15-minute online survey at http://www.viacharacter.org/www/ which measures the 24 personality attributes so you can look at your top 5-10 personality strengths out of the 24 to compare with those around you or to help your own focus on developing your super-strengths.
Sticking to those pesky new year’s resolutions
So whether you’re trying to go to the gym every day, eat healthier or hoping to create the environment you always wanted for your organisation, try harnessing the power of positive thinking. List positives instead of negatives. Search for an individual’s strengths instead of their weaknesses. Positive thinking leads to positive actions, which turn into positive habits and end up in positive results. Good luck and let me know how you get on at [email protected] or via Twitter @lyndseydsimpson.