Why Your Negative Outlook is Killing Your Career

Bad news, pessimists: A growing body of scientific research reveals an indisputable connection between a positive attitude and career success. Take these five actions to start seeing your glass as half-full and watch your productivity and prospects rise, experts say.

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Tue, April 19, 2011
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1. Practice gratefulness. Every morning for 21 days, write down three things for which you are grateful. The list needs to be different every day. Achor had 200 tax audit managers at KPMG do this during the 2009 tax season, which was expected to be the worst tax season on record. After 21 days, Achor measured their emotional outlook using various psychological assessment tools and found that their levels of optimism rose.

"Two days after the [positive psychology] training, they felt significantly higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction," says Achor. "Four months later, the group we exposed to positive psychology had significantly higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than the control group. We innoculated them from the stresses of the worst tax season."

2. Be social. Achor says that when he's researched happiness inside companies, he's found that the greatest predictor of happiness and success during a challenging time is one's social support network.

"The correlation [between success and social support] is .7, which is significantly higher than the correlation between smoking and cancer," says Achor. "The problem is that when most people get stressed, they divorce themselves from their social support network: They eat lunch at their desk. They stop sending nice e-mails or talking to people in the hallways. They spend less time with family and friends."

Consequently, he adds, their stress levels skyrocket and their productivity burns out.

Meanwhile, the people who are the most productive or optimistic in organizations increase their "social investment"—the amount they invest in their social support network—when they get stressed, notes Achor. "This doesn't mean they're spending hours with friends when they're really busy at work, but they make sure they connect to their social support network."

3. Praise others. Another way to increase your social investment is by making a concerted effort to be kind to those around you. While consulting at Adobe (ADBE), Achor encouraged the senior leadership team to write one positive e-mail each morning for 21 days when they opened their inboxes, praising or thanking someone for good work. Achor says the levels of social support the executives felt increased because the act of writing these e-mails each day made them realize that they had 21 people with whom they just connected.

The other advantageous effect of sending these e-mails was that they created a positive ripple effect. Seeing a nice e-mail made the recipients feel good about themselves, which made them more likely to be complimentary to others. "It changed the social script so that more people were praising one another for their accomplishments," notes Achor.

"That e-mail only takes two minutes to write," he adds. "It's just a two sentence e-mail. You can increase social investment without spending a lot of time."

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