Psychologist Shawn Achor has urged Australian business leaders to be more “rationally optimistic” based on his findings that happier people are more successful at work.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Bank’s Wired for Wonder event in Sydney today, Achor explained that the human brain had the ability to process 40-50 pieces of information a second, but received 11 million pieces of information in that timeframe.
“Your brain picks and chooses a few small facts to reflect the reality around us,” he said, warning against an overly negative outlook where someone might “scan the environment for the negatives – the hassles, the complaints, the frustrations, stresses – first”.
“Because our brains are limited, what we attend to first in reality becomes our reality, which means their brains have no resources left over to scan reality for things they are grateful for in the present moment, meaning, and ways of transforming this reality into a better reality not only for us, but for other people as well.”
Here are 5 daily exercises that Achor recommends you try for 21 days for a more positive mindset:
1. Write down 3 new things you’re grateful for every day. A 2003 experiment by US psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough found that this act of “counting blessings” made people more optimistic for more than 6 months.
2. Relive your best experiences. Think of one meaningful experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours and spend 2 minutes writing down every detail you can remember about it.
Citing a 2006 experiment by University of Texas researchers Richard Slatcher and James Pennebaker, Achor said the exercise was the fastest intervention for raising people’s engagement.
“The brain can’t tell the difference between visualisation and an actual experience, so you’ve literally just doubled the most meaningful experience of your day.”
3. Spend 15 minutes on fun, physical activity. According to a team of researchers led by Michael Babyak in 2000, this is the equivalent to taking one antidepressant.
4. Meditate. Achor asked Googlers to take their hands off their keyboards for 2 minutes a day. At the end of the experiment, he said Googlers were better able to focus and their levels of stress dropped, along with the stress levels of people around them.
5. Write a nice email to someone you know. Achor recommends people spend 2 minutes a day performing a “conscious act of kindness”, like telling a friend, co-worker or family member just how great they are.
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