Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change

Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change

by Shawn Achor


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Why are some people able to make positive change while others remain the same? 

In his international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage, Harvard trained researcher Shawn Achor described why happiness is the precursor to greater success. This book is about what comes before both. Because before we can be happy or successful, we need to first develop the ability to see that positive change is possible. Only once we learn to see the world through a more positive lens can we summon all our motivation, emotion, and intelligence to achieve our personal and professional goals.

In Before Happiness, Achor reveals five actionable, proven strategies for changing our lens to positive:
- The Most Valuable Reality: See a broader range of ideas and solutions by changing the details on which your brain chooses to focus 
- Success Mapping: Set goals oriented around the things in life that matter to you most, whether career advancement or family or making a difference in the world
- The X-spot: Use success accelerants to propel you more quickly towards those goals, whether finishing a marathon, reaching a sales target, learning a language, or losing 10 pounds
- Noise-Canceling: Boost the signal pointing you to opportunities and possibilities that others miss
- Positive Inception: Transfer these skills to your team, your employees, and everyone around you 
By mastering these strategies, you’ll create an renewable source of positivity, motivation, and engagement that will allow you to reach your fullest potential in everything you do.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780770436735
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 273,319
Product dimensions: 6.48(w) x 9.34(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Shawn Achor, a member of Oprah's SuperSoul 100, is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard. Shawn has become one of the world's leading expert on the connection between happiness and success. His research on happiness made the cover of Harvard Business Review, his TED talk is one of the most popular all time with over 7 million views, and his lecture airing on PBS has been seen by millions. Shawn teaches for the Advanced Management Program at Wharton Business School, and collaborates on research with Yale and Columbia University.
In 2007, Shawn founded Good Think to share his research with the world. Subsequently, Shawn has lectured or researched in 51 countries, speaking to CEOs in China, school children in South Africa, doctors in Dubai, and farmers in Zimbabwe. He has spoken to the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi, doctors at St. Jude Children's Hospital, and worked with the U.S. Department of Health to promote happiness. In 2012, Shawn helped lead the Everyday Matters campaign with the National MS Society and Genzyme to show how happiness remains a choice for those struggling with a chronic illness. 

Shawn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a Masters degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics. For seven years, Shawn also served as an Officer of Harvard, living in Harvard Yard and counseling students through the stresses of their first year. Though he now travels extensively for his work, Shawn continues to conduct original psychology research on happiness and organizational achievement in collaboration with Yale University and the Institute for Applied Positive Research.

Read an Excerpt

the power of positive genius

Before I was born, my father, who was a neuroscientist at UCLA at the time, made me an unwilling subject of one of the very first EEG experiments conducted on an unborn child. He and his colleagues hooked up electrodes to the belly of my very pregnant (and clearly very patient) mom to see if they could detect and analyze my brain wave patterns. The tests failed (I’m not sure what that says about my brain), but some influences in our lives run deep. Even before birth, I was wired for a love of psychology and science.

A mere six years later, I willingly volunteered for another neuro­science experiment, which, though of course I had no way of knowing it at the time, would ultimately lead to the writing of this book. By that point my father was a professor at Baylor University. All of my babysitters happened to be students from his introductory psychology classes, and I was in love with all of them. But as I slowly started realizing that my relationships with them weren’t going as well as I’d hoped (for instance, my parents had to pay the girls at the end of the date), I decided—after observing the successes of Ariel in The Little Mermaid—that I would need to become part of their world. So I asked my dad if I could be part of one his classroom demonstrations. He was so excited that his son might be following in his footsteps that he didn’t stop to wonder if I had ulterior motives—as indeed I did.

Regardless, he brought me to Baylor University for one of his famous lectures. I remember sitting in the bulky, brown brain wave machine in front of the class as he attached electrode after electrode to my scalp with conductive jelly. I didn’t care; I was just happy because all of my girlfriends’ eyes were on me.

But in his excitement about having his son in class, my dad made a simple mistake. He forgot to ground the wire and left it lying across a copper strip on the floor. When he turned on the machine, the current passed right through me—it was as though I had stuck my finger in a socket. To this day, I don’t blame my dad for shocking me. I do blame him for laughing along with the entire class as I angrily pulled off all my electrodes and strode off with as much indignation as a six-year-old could muster.

Not surprisingly, I never did get to date any of his students. But I am grateful to my dad nonetheless for hooking me up to that torture machine, because his experiments gave me a lifelong fascination with studying how the brain perceives the world. That evil instrument was a primitive evoked potential machine, a device that records the electrical activity along the scalp, thus allowing neuroscientists to measure and record levels of activity in the brain as it processes stimuli from the external world.

Look around at the people in your office, on the subway, sitting across from you at the cafe. Have you ever wondered if the world you see is the same one they see? Have you worked with a stressed manager who constantly points out only the flaws and none of the good, or spent time with a relative during the holidays who complains about everything despite being surrounded by love, and thought to yourself: How could they possibly see the world that way?

The reason some people see the world so differently from others is that the human brain doesn’t just take a picture of the external world like a camera; it is constantly interpreting and processing the information it receives. Every time the world provides us with information, whether the report of a down stock market, a stressful e-mail, or a smiling coworker, our brains expend energy creating our understanding of this information. This energy is called “evoked potential,” and EEGs were some of the first instruments that allowed us to peek behind the curtain and better understand this process.

While the human brain receives eleven million pieces of information every second from your environment, it can process only forty bits per second, which means it has to choose what tiny percentage of this input to process and attend to, and what huge chunk to dismiss or ignore.1 Thus your reality is a choice; what you choose to focus on shapes how you perceive and interpret your world.

Today, using EEGs, fMRIs, and eye-tracking machines, we have the ability to measure and study those energy patterns. And more important, we are now learning how to change these energy patterns to help us create a more positive interpretation of the world around us.

This is key, because the better your brain is at using its energy to focus on the positives, the greater your chances at success.

This book is all about how to evoke your potential, by changing your mindset.

Evoking Potential

The goal of science is prediction. If you take vitamin C, doctors want to be able to predict whether it will lower your chances of getting a cold. If you drop a bowling ball at one hundred feet, physicists want to predict how hard it will hit the ground.

The goal of business is to build revenue and create sustainable, growing income. Since a business can only be as successful as the people working in it, companies have long sought a way to use science to predict high performance in individuals. Yet for all the research that has been done on the topic, no theory has ever been able to fully explain the science of human potential—until now.

Back in the nineteenth century, Sir Francis Galton was among the first to study how our brains’ energy patterns predicted performance. Without the aid of EEGs, of course, he posited that intelligence could be quantified and predicted by the speed of the brain’s processing system.2 The faster your brain is at discerning sensory stimuli and reacting, he hypothesized, the smarter you are. But of course, reaction time is only one small piece of the complex equation of human intelligence.

From the 1920s through the 1980s, scientists thought potential could be measured by IQ, which was basically just a measure of one’s verbal and math skills. So businesses and governments poured money into pumping up math and reading in public schools and shut down the arts and music programs. HR departments designed tests based upon IQ, then hired everyone from salespeople to CEOs using those same yardsticks of intelligence.

Problem was, they had it all wrong. As it turns out, IQ and technical skills combined predict only 20 to 25 percent of job success.3 That means that over 75 percent of your career outcome has nothing to do with your intelligence and training—which is a huge problem because in a down economy companies spend a majority of their training budgets attempting to raise employee intelligence and technical skills. This money, scientifically speaking, is irresponsibly spent.

So how else can we predict professional success? If IQ is a bad predictor, maybe SAT scores, a more modern testing tool, would be better? Not the case. As a matter of fact, they are much worse. SAT scores predict only 8 to 15 percent of college freshmen’s GPA, which means that for around 88.5 percent of college students SAT scores are no better at predicting academic success than a pair of dice.4 (Again, it is a shame that we waste hours and hours preparing for predictive tests that are not actually predictive.)

The next metric businesses tried to use to predict prospective employees’ performance was grades. High school grades are twice as predictive of college success as SAT scores. Great, grades must predict potential for future success in the workplace too, right? Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, author of The Millionaire Mind, begs to differ. After a decade of research, he found no correlation between grades and professional success: a coin flip would be as predictive of greatness as grades.5 This explains the oft-cited paradox that so many C students in business school end up running companies and so many A students end up working for them.

Enter researchers like Howard Gardner and Peter Salovey. Gardner was the first to argue that the ability to understand one’s own feelings as well as the feelings of others was more important than IQ. In 1990, two psychologists, Peter Salovey at Yale (whom you will read more about later) and John D. Mayer at the University of New Hampshire, published an earth-shattering paper arguing that IQ was worthless and that the ability to understand feelings was a far greater predictor of human potential.6 They dubbed this emotional intelligence.

Most of you are probably familiar with emotional intelligence. It refers to your ability to regulate your emotions, and for the past two decades it has been thought to be the key to succeeding in the often stressful and volatile world of business. Spurred on by Daniel Goleman’s internationally bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, which popularized research like Salovey’s, companies all over the world began testing employees’ and potential employees’ emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) instead of IQ. The big debate among academics and at companies became, Which is more important, IQ or EQ? This is where society and science took a major wrong turn. Now, please do not misunderstand, I think emotional intelligence was one of the best theories to come out of psychology labs in the 1990s. But the question of which kind of intelligence was more important was the wrong one.

Soon, Gardner introduced his second main category of intelligence, the ability to understand and relate to other people. He called it “social intelligence,” and again, Goleman introduced it to the business world with his bestselling book Social Intelligence. Again, the science was valid, but its value as a predictor of potential was undercut by the misguided “which is most important” debate.

Companies and researchers have been arguing this question ever since. Which is most important: IQ, emotional intelligence, or social intelligence? This is talking in circles. It’s like asking which is more important in sports, offense or defense, or who is more important to a business, clients or employees. To be truly successful, instead of thinking about intelligence in isolation, we need to focus on how to combine all our intelligences.

Once I immersed myself in the research, it couldn’t have been clearer. Yes, all these intelligences matter, but what matters most is how your brain knits them together. Thus the question should not be, which intelligence is most important, but how can we learn to harness and amplify them. And how can we?

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Beyond Happiness xiii

The Power of Positive Genius 1

Skill 1 Reality Architecture: Choosing the Most Valuable Reality 21

Skill 2 Mental Cartography: Mapping Your Success Route 64

Skill 3 The X-Spot: Finding Success Accelerants 107

Skill 4 Noise Canceling: Boosting Your Positive Signal by Eliminating the Negative Noise 146

Skill 5 Positive Inception: Transferring Your Positive Reality to Others 182

Positive Inspiration: A Case for Change 226

Notes 233

Index 245

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