At my firm, CEG Worldwide, we strive to emphasize having a great quality of life along with achieving business success. The reason: The happier and more positive you are in life, the more success you will achieve for yourself, your team and your clients.
That's why our company has been working with Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think and an expert in the field of positive psychology. Through his research at Harvard and elsewhere, he has proved that when our brains are in positive states, the outcomes we achieve in business improve. Contrary to popular belief, happiness isn't ancillary to success - it actually generates and magnifies the success you and your clients can enjoy.
The upshot: The investment you make in your happiness and that of your clients generates a demonstrable return. Achor calls it "the happiness advantage."
A LINK TO SUCCESS
When people are happier and more positive, Achor says, they become more intelligent, more creative and ultimately more productive. Consider a couple of the experiments he discussed recently with participants in CEG's coaching program:
* Some 4-year-olds were split into two groups, one of which was primed to be extremely happy and positive. That group later put blocks together 50% faster and more accurately than the group that wasn't encouraged to be positive.
* Doctors who were primed to be more positive before meeting with patients were 19% faster and more accurate with their diagnoses than another group that wasn't encouraged to be positive.
Happiness has a special function. When our moods are elevated, dopamine, a neurochemical that makes us happy, is released in our brains. Dopamine also activates the learning centers in our brains. Those moments when we feel positive and happy are also moments when our brains are most capable of taking in information and adapting to changes in the world around us. When we feel stressed out, or even neutral, our brains prevent us from learning and adapting. If you're stressed out and unhappy and you change your mind-set to be more happy, you will achieve greater success.
This is true regardless of whether you are already successful or not. Happiness can help underperforming financial advisors do better, as well as hugely successful advisors.
Clearly, this idea has important implications for you and your clients when it comes to having conversations about investing. There's a part of our brains (which Achor calls "the Thinker") that kicks into gear and makes good decisions during a crisis or threat. But if the perceived level of the threat keeps rising, another part of the brain (which Achor calls "the Jerk") overwhelms the thinking capability. The ability to make smart decisions plummets. By watching TV for hours or constantly checking investment websites for information during market turbulence, your clients will shut down the part of their brains that allows them to make good investment decisions.
Obviously, it's great to know that you'll be smarter and more productive if your brain is happy. But what does it mean to actually be happy and positive? Having a ton of assets under management? Or, maybe, having a staff that when you say "jump" asks "how high?" Happiness does not necessarily mean what you think it does; achieving a happy, positive mind-set may require you to rethink your fundamental views.
The research by Achor and others reveals that people who succeed at keeping the Jerk at bay during tough times emphasize process over results. Most of us think that a great end result of our efforts is what makes us happy, but this is a flawed approach. Every time you achieve a successful outcome - for instance, you get a new client or you hit a sales target - your brain essentially "moves the goalpost" for what success looks like. When you get that new client, your brain says, "Don't get excited - now you need to go out and get five more!"
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If you view happiness as being on the opposite side of success, your brain never actually gets to a place of true happiness. The only way to achieve it is to hit a target that doesn't stop moving. It's why many advisors and other professionals who are at the top of their game say they still aren't very satisfied. Instead, try thinking of happiness as a precursor to success, not the result of success. When your brain is positive and trained to emphasize happiness while you are in the process of achieving goals - not waiting until the end result - your eventual outcome will improve.
If you wait for happiness to come after you achieve success, you will miss out on both. This applies to how you run your practice, of course, but it also applies to how you discuss financial issues with your clients, especially those who think they'll be satisfied if they beat the market.
As it turns out, 90% of our happiness is determined by how we view the world. Reality can predict only 10% of our happiness. Change the lens through which you view your situation and you can increase your level of happiness and, ultimately, your level of success in business and in life.
Achor's research has important implications for financial advisors. You can choose to be more successful by choosing to be happier and more positive. What's more, you can steer your clients toward greater success by helping them view the world in more positive ways. He suggests five ways to start imprinting lasting positive patterns on yourself, your team and your clients. Don't attempt all five at once. Rather, choose one and implement it every day for 21 consecutive days.
List three gratitudes. Write down three things that happened in the last 24 hours for which you're grateful. By looking for gratitudes rather than stressors, the brain builds new pathways that turn pessimists into optimists - and turn optimists into even greater optimists. Achor worked with bankers to implement this strategy, and their teams' efficiency and effectiveness rose within three weeks and remained elevated six months later. (This approach also caused people to report that their spouses had become more attractive than before - not a bad bonus.)
Journal. This is helpful for people who dive into their to-do lists and get frustrated when they don't get to everything. Task-based thinking has been shown to lead to lower job satisfaction. To combat it, each day think back over the past 24 hours for one meaningful experience you had and spend two minutes writing down every detail you can remember. This helps the brain connect the dots. The result is that you starts to look for meaning in each of the many tasks on your list, recognizing the happiness that comes from the process instead of the results.
Exercise. Exercise does more than release happiness-generating endorphins. It tells your brain that you've been successful in one area and that you can probably be successful in other areas, too.
Meditate. Our brains can multitask, but our success rate drops significantly when we try to do two or more things at once - even if we excel at doing each task separately. The best way to correct this is to sit quietly for two minutes a day and observe your breath going in and out. That's it. Over a three-week period, this trains your brain to focus on the task at hand.
Say thank you. Social support is a huge driver of happiness and success, especially during challenging times. Yet our friends and other people close to us are often the first people we jettison when things get busy or stressful. We eat lunch at our desks and stop connecting with people, and end up feeling cut off and unhappy. You don't need to go out for dinner with people every night to maintain effective social support. Instead, when you get into work, write a quick email (spend two minutes or less) praising or thanking someone in your social support network - such as a client, co-worker, boss, family member or friend. Pick a different person each day. In 21 days, your brain's perception of your social support will skyrocket - and improve your odds of being successful in all your actions.
Achor admits that none of these strategies is new. Most of us know that being grateful is good for us, for example. And yet, ask yourself: How often do you do any of these things? The fact is common sense doesn't mean common action. These five steps will generate an ROI that can ultimately influence your bottom line and the relationships you build and maintain with your clients and your team for years to come.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planningcolumnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.