You Can Be Happier At Work: 3 Steps To Make It Happen Today

How Happy Are You At Work?

Are you happy at work? Odds are you aren’t. A recent study on work stress conducted by Harris Interactive found that 8 of 10 employees are over-stressed by at least one thing at work. Some common stressers include poor work relationships, low pay, and increased workloads.

Another study by CNN found that 50% of people say they are unhappy at work. Wouldn’t you agree that we spend way too much time at work to be unhappy and over-stressed?

Are you happy or unhappy at work?

What is your dominant emotion right now? Can you identify it? Are you feeling numb, distracted, anxious, sad, overwhelmed, hurried, pressured, or over-stressed? Are you feeling joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness? Seriously, I want you to pause and connect with you inner experience.

The alarming part of these studies showed that there was a 10% increase in stress in the work place from the previous year. Only 17% of employees said they were not stressed. (Most likely these people need to be drug tested, right?)

Interestingly, of all the groups surveyed, millennials (ages 18 to 29) reported having more stress than other groups. It is clear that stress takes a toll on our health. Stress increases our risks of heart attack, accelerated aging, and diabetes.  When we are over-stressed, we are not our happiest.

Your Focus Determines Your Happiness

The truth is, whether you are happy or over-stressed, you move in the direction of what you focus on. 

For example, two people ride a roller coaster. One is has the time of their life, while the other has a full-blown panic attack.

They are both in the same place, having the same experience, but with very different results. One person focuses on the adventure and exhilaration of the moment while the other focuses on gripping fear.

Here is another example of moving in the direction you focus on. Research shows that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and are more likely to end up divorced? Why? They have a habit of focusing on the negative because that’s how they succeed as an attorney.

Years ago on the slope while skiing a black diamond run, I had a “toddler tantrum” with all the trimmings–stomping, kicking and yelling.

I was out of control and gripped by fear. If you can imagine what Bambi skiing on banana peels would look like, you would have an idea of what I looked like on the slope that day. Just imagine all 6’5” of me with arms and legs flailing, going over Volkswagen sized moguls at what seemed to be at least 109 mph. Not only did I look like a complete fool with every jolt, I felt angry, embarrassed, and increasingly out of control.

When you feel chronically over stressed you feel out of control of your life!

To make things worse, the friend I was with, who typically skied at the same level I did, looked like an Olympic skier–effortlessly gliding over the bumps. Embarrassingly, I came to an abrupt stop after being launched off of one mogul and into another head first with my skis digging 3 feet into the snow. I was in a ridiculously precarious position.

My buddy saw what happened. Trying not to laugh he asked,”What are you doing? You don’t like you are having fun.” I yelled back, “What do you think I am doing. I am trying to live. I have had two near death experiences in less than a minute on this run. I have made up my mind that I am going to walk the two miles back to the lodge. This skiing stuff is for the birds”

He asked “What are you focusing on?” Again I replied, “Living! You see that tree over there, I nearly hit it.” Pointing to another tree I said, “You see that tree over there, I nearly hit it too.”

Then he said something that I will never forget. “Yep, and that’s precisely where you are going. You move in the direction of what you focus on. Great skiers know this. They pick a linefocus on where they want to go and take on one mogul at a time. You might want to try it. It surely won’t hurt.”

After I regained my composure, I gave it a whirl and guess what, it worked. “Pick your line, focus on it, and take one mogul at a time.”

Do you remember the instructor in Driver’s Ed saying, “Never look at the headlights of the oncoming car?” Why? Because you will steer where you look.

If you focus on things you have no control over (stress), you will feel out of control. The reticular activating system of the brain (RAS) makes sure of it. It works to bring about whatever you focus on be it positive or negative. It is part of the goal orienting system of the brain.

What are you telling your brain to focus on? I told my brain that I did not want to hit the trees and the only message my mind registered was “Hit the trees.” The brain has a hard time understanding negatives like “don’t.” What it hears is, “Hit the trees.”

Another example is, “Don’t think of a bright pink elephant that is 15,000 pounds overweight, wearing a purple tutu that is 3 times too small, blowing a horn while doing cartwheels…whatever you do, don’t think of a bright pink elephant that is 15,000 pounds…don’t think of it…don’t…that is overweight, wearing a purple tutu that’s 3 times too small…don’t think about it…blowing a mini horn…don’t you dare think about this huge elephant doing cartwheels!”

Admit it, you thought about it!

So can you tell yourself not to think about not thinking about an elephant, without thinking about it?  No, you can’t.

Instead of telling yourself what you don’t want, get in the habit of focusing on what you do want and watch what happens.  

The Power of Your Brain

The brain (RAS) will focus on what you want and find a way to achieve it. In fact, the brain was designed to help you overcome challenges and accomplish your goals. So whether you consciously decide where you want to go (pick your line), or focus on where you don’t want to go, you will head in that direction. It’s up to you. That day on the slope I told myself, “Don’t hit the tree,” and that’s exactly where I went.

So how do you increase happiness at work?  Use your brain (RAS) to overcome stressful situations and break free from negative loops that focus you in the wrong direction.

Three Steps to Happiness

Step One:  Identify what you are currently focusing on– what you want verses what you don’t. Remember, feeling over-stressed is normal at times and is caused by where you dominantly focus your thoughts. Write down the top three thoughts you are having related to what you don’t want to have happen.

Step Two:  Next, change your focus and align with truth. The quickest way to change how you feel is to change your focus. Show your mind precisely where you want to go (pick your line…where you want to go in the big picture) the more clarity of focus the better. Ask yourself, “What are three better options for viewing this situation?” See them in your mind, and write them down.

Step Three:  Throughout the day, when you feel overly stressed, remind yourself to focus on what you want. Create a mini video in your mind’s eye of how you want to handle challenges and stress (pick your line). Make it a goal to play this video in your mind’s eye at least 5 times a day. Take clear action today (one mogul at a time) to make it happen. The brain can then help you accomplish it. In fact the brain loves helping you accomplish what you desire. The problem is, in the absence of clear direction, the brain’s negative default mode kicks into gear.

Practice these steps today and you will find yourself happier, calmer, more focused, more creative, more productive, and able to face challenges with ease. So, you have a choice– pick your line and take one mogul at a time, as skiers would say, or allow it to be picked for you by default. Your focus, determines your outcomes.


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