If you’re an artist or an executive, a father, a mother, or a working professional, life is jam-packed with deadlines, playdates, meetings, and frantic emails. Maybe the first thing you do in the morning is checking your social media, make a grocery list while you drive, and catch up with your voicemails while you cook. Perhaps you scroll through your emails as you watch your child’s recital, proofread a budget report as you watch your favorite television shows, and stay up late tackling your endless to-do list. The failure to multitask now seems like a sign of irresponsibility. In this new culture of constant productivity, the speed of life leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and under satisfied.
The following strategies will help you to harness the power of happiness and increase your overall success. By improving your psychological state and increasing your positive emotions, you will be able to simplify your life and step away from the culture of overextension. In its place, you will experience more happiness, a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction, and increased productivity throughout the many spheres of your life. Happiness will become your pathway to success.
Strategy 1: Live and Work in the Moment
The myths of success tell you that you’ll know that you’re on the right track when you’re working yourself into misery. Most high-achievers, whether they’re Ivy League students or CEOs, have learned the importance of delayed gratification, and they choose to turn off the TV or stay in on a Friday night to attain their bigger goals.
In itself, delaying gratification in order to reach your highest goals is a good thing. But this mindset becomes a vicious trap when you become too focused on the future to enjoy the present. Psychologist Martin Seligman refers to this trap as anticipatory joy. Anticipatory joy is the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction that comes from daydreaming about future rewards. Anticipatory joy can be a motivating tool, but it can also be a hindrance to happiness. For example, if the fantasy of becoming a published author is more enjoyable than the actual writing, you’ll never finish writing your book. If you’re a workaholic, you’ll neglect your relationships and personal health in order to get your productivity rush.
While being in the moment will help you feel more relaxed and happier, it will also help your productivity. If you’re grounded in the present, you’ll improve your ability to concentrate completely on a given task, or truly pay attention when you’re conferring with colleagues. Neuroscience research reveals that when your gaze wanders, your mind does the same thing, so grounding yourself in the present will help you maintain good eye contact when talking to your boss, and communicate effectively with your co-workers when you’re planning for a big presentation.
Strategy 2: Manage Your Energy
The myths of success reinforce the assumption that high productivity comes from going all-out and exerting as much energy as possible at all times. But the result of sustained intensity is burnout, not a success. Overexertion might cause you to become cynical about your work or struggle with self-motivation. Burnout means that you don’t have the necessary energy to complete your work, and even if you can complete assigned tasks, you don’t feel satisfied with your gains.
Exhaustion is often the consequence of your many attempts at self-control: forcing yourself to remain productive throughout your 12-hour workday or trying to push through your feelings in order to complete your assignments.
While self-control can deplete your energy, cultivating a sense of personal calm can make self-control effortless. When you’re calm, it’s easier to distance yourself from your emotions and recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Above all, staying calm helps you maintain distance between yourself and the activity of your mind. When you are calm, you are less reactive and you’re more capable of acting in ways that are intentional, not impulsive.
In order to make calm a part of your life, begin a daily meditation practice. For just a few minutes, listen to your breathing. Instead of running away with each thought that enters your mind, simply observe your emotions objectively.
Strategy 3: Do Nothing
While the myths of success teach that breakthroughs are the result of persistence and strain, you can access your creativity by simply doing nothing. The following acts of creative idleness can lay the foundation for dreaming up your best ideas:
If you’re struggling with a work-related problem, diversify. Spend time with a totally different activity, like painting in your basement, washing the dishes, or going for a run. A new activity can break up your normal patterns of thinking and get you out of your rut.
Practice stillness and silence: Let your mind wander and give yourself some space from the nut you’re trying to crack. New solutions will emerge if you can give your mind a break.
Have fun: Ingenuity and innovation are the products of play. You’ll come up with new ideas if you give yourself a safe space for lighthearted trial and error. There’s a reason why Facebook headquarters has pool tables in the office, and why the Italian clothing company Convert has its own skateboard rink for employees. The freedom to play is essential for coming up with good ideas.
Strategy 4: Be Good to Yourself
As you seek to improve your personal happiness and productivity, remember to treat yourself with compassion and love. In order to be kind to yourself, pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Resist the urge to punish yourself or quit something entirely because of failure. Remember that Bill Gates’ first company failed and that Dr. Seuss’s first manuscript was rejected over 20 times. Had these innovators allowed failure to deter them, they would have never founded Microsoft or become a successful author.
Personal beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe the
worst about yourself, your performance will meet that low expectation. But if you’re able to believe in your ability to develop and improve, you’re more likely to push through adversity, learn new skills, and come up with new ideas. True success requires that you believe the best about yourself, and give yourself a little slack when you don’t instantly accomplish your goals. Remind yourself that you are still valuable and capable of great things even if you don’t succeed right away. The result of this self-compassion will be long-term contentment and long-term success.