Psychologist Dan Goleman turned traditional assumptions about workplace success on their heads in the '90s when he observed in his groundbreaking books Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence that how well we manage our attitudes and behaviors is much more important to our career success than our actual intellectual abilities.
Now there's another essential book that proves how we manage our thoughts can make all the difference for our careers. Martin Seligman's “school” of positive psychology, as expressed in his book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, has major implications for workers.
In Authentic Happiness, Seligman offers three mandates:
You Can Learn to Be Happy
Even though there is a gene for “positive affectivity” that gives you a natural tendency to be cheerful or grouchy, you can still learn to be more optimistic by examining how you think about situations and resolving to chase away negative thoughts when they overcome you. This is called disputation. The less the biases of others affect you personally, the less likely they are to throw you off track and diminish your effectiveness in your work.
If You Expect to Succeed, You Will
Pessimists are much less likely to take even well-calculated risks and put the positive energy required to succeed into the tasks they face. They expect poor results, so why try? Positive emotion, on the other hand, has been proven to enhance intellectual, physical and social performance. Optimists are likely to be more “expansive, tolerant and creative” than their grumpier peers, according to Seligman. Of course, the catch-22 is that if you're pessimistic and expect to fail in the end, then you'll perform less well, disappoint yourself and your supervisors, and end up proving your negative expectations. I usually tell counseling and coaching clients frequently to ask a good friend or family member in addition to a colleague at work, “On a scale of one to 10, how optimistic do I seem most days?” If the answer is less than eight, then they're probably doing a number on their own performance.
Work with Your Signature Strengths
All of us have signature strengths, the skills and attributes we really enjoy using, which in turn put us in a state of “flow.” Being in flow means that what you're doing feels so wonderful at that moment, you could do it forever. Seligman lists 24 flow-producing signature strengths in six categories:
- Wisdom and knowledge
The majority of “definitely not in a state of flow” people who come to me looking for career relief report there is no room in their current work situations for what really matters to them.
For example, the lawyer working 90 hours a week for whom “appreciation of beauty” and “integrity” happened to be signature strengths had to conclude that the demanding New York law firm she was in was not a place where she'd ever have the time to be creative or have the freedom to take the kinds of cases that really mattered to her. She redesigned her law career to work with several partners doing different kinds of law with a niche in representing artists and musicians in particular.
How to Get Started
If you feel you're in need of an attitudinal makeover, you need to meet two requirements for making use of Seligman's ideas: You need self-awareness and a willingness to change. If you have these, you have already taken the first step.
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