Hopefully this statement is self-evident – if you feel, think and act like everybody else – you will be like everybody else.
The video below is a TED talk by researcher and author Shawn Achor. I had the privilege of sitting down recently with Rob Davidson who put me on to Shawn’s research, and so I promptly jumped online to take a peek at what kind of things he was talking about.
Hopefully you take a useful 12 minutes out of your day and watch it, because it will provide some context for what I want to say in this article: don’t aspire to mediocrity.
Now I’ve mentioned this basic principle before in a different context (I encouraged you to be amazing, which at the very least shows I’m consistent, even if you still disagree with me). On this occasion I want to try and offer you some strategies to keep yourself out of, or get out of, the quagmire of average.
Step 1 – Understand that Positivity Leads to Success – but not vice versa
As Shawn mentions, so many people look to their success to feed their emotions. The pay rise makes me happy. My colleagues being nicer makes me happy. Promotion, new office, better staff, more responsibility – these things make me happy.
The problem with this method is that it doesn’t work (a regrettably comprehensive problem). The reason it doesn’t work is because equating happiness to external factors means that you will never actually have what you need to be happy. After all, there is always more money, more power, more relationships, more office space to be attained. History has demonstrated time and again that people who rely upon external factors to feed positive emotion are perpetually dissatisfied. The reality is that it simply never happens.
What happens, though, if you forget about all that other stuff, and create in yourself a positive framework to operate? Well, Shawn would say that the positivity you bring to the table will, in fact, lead to more success. You will work better, faster, harder. You will be more personable, more responsive, more creative and more energetic. That in itself will lead to greater workplace success. Your superiors will notice you, your entrepreneurial spirit will be refreshed and you will have far more to bring to the table at every level.
So don’t tell yourself “I’ll be content/satisfied/happy/positive when [certain event happens]”. Start now.
Step 2 – Other People Should Not Control Your Emotions
The circumstances around you should not be responsible for your overall state of wellbeing. Sure, there will be events which will bring you down for a time, make you angry, sad or distressed. However, these will be temporary states before you should be returning to an overall state of satisfaction, contentment and joy.
Creating a sense of contentment and joy is not to say you need be mindlessly oblivious to negative events – of course you will still be sad, angry, frustrated. But the question is whether these events affect your core, rather than your temporary emotions.
The positive cannot, however, be a result of “stuff that happens”. If it is, how fragile and easily disrupted your wellbeing would be. If Bob in the corner office can shout out you and leave you in an emotional slump for the rest of the week, then you are letting yourself be unnecessarily powerless. After all – why should other people or other events, which you cannot possibly control, be able to affect you so much?
Watch the video again – look at Shawn’s explanation of how you might go about re-training your brain to default to positive, rather than negative. Isn’t a few minutes a day worth a go?
If you are a lawyer or are in the process of becoming one, you need to know that lawyers have around 3 times the average rate of depression (which is, of course, more complicated than just being “sad”). The reasons for that are too complex for here, but it means that you need protective strategies in place now, not remedial strategies later.
Step 3 – Look at Potential, not at Averages
In yourself and in others, the question should not be about keeping up with expectations or averages but always about fulfilling potential.
Look at the bored child in school, forced to go through the motions in grade 1 when they mastered all of the tasks the year before. They are not meeting their potential by any stretch, but on paper they’re doing just fine. Nobody except the child and maybe her parents would appreciate that she is going nowhere – she is far from her potential.
Similarly, if you are making budget, doing the rounds on marketing, friendly with your bosses and generally meeting expectations of your firm – that’s great. But is that really all you want – to meet expectation? Where is the desire to confound expectation? If meeting those things really takes you to your limit, then so be it. But so often what we do is to tell ourselves that meeting expectation is all that’s required.
What if you shifted the goalposts on expectation – what if you looked at your potential? What could you be achieving for the community, for your firm, and for your personal goals?
Put it All Together
So let’s look at the steps we just considered and see what it is like to put them together:
- You’re going to appreciate that your success will follow your positivity. That, in itself, should be a good motivator to get you started;
- You’re going to appreciate that your emotions are your own – other people can’t own them. This will help you with step one, but also get you in control rather than leaving others in control of you;
- Finally you’re going to aim for your potential, not just for what is sufficient. If you’ve got your positivity nailed, and you’re in control of your emotions, then you’re in a good headspace to be taking on a real challenge – living up to your potential.
Take a minute now, since you’ve bothered reading this article to the end. Look at your career and your personal life – what areas are there where you fall short of your potential? How are you going to change that? Why not let me know below in the comments.