Close your eyes and imagine a work environment that motivates and inspires you, an environment that unleashes your potential and lets you use your strengths to the fullest. Imagine a job where Mondays become your favorite day and where you are not looking forward to Fridays.
While all this sounds very good our eyes closed (I hope you have had your eyes closed while thinking about all this), the reality can be quite different.
According to recent research, only 34% of Americans feel engaged at work, i.e. 2 out of 3 Americans lack motivation and desire to go to work and excel in their jobs. Even though this sounds like a very sad reality, there is good news – there is at least one thing you can do to change this reality for the better.
And that is … (drums) positive thinking!
Although many people consider positive thinking a fluffy cheering term and confuse it with being overly optimistic, recent research has shown that besides positive effects on health, motivation and confidence, positive thinking directly affects work performance.
It might sound biased to say that all successful and engaged-in-their-work employees are positive people, but it is improbable that any of them moved forward in their career with anything less than a go-getting attitude.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” — Paul J. Meyer
First, How do our positive thoughts influence our brain?
Barbara Fredrickson, a leading positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, was one of the firsts to study the effect of positive thoughts on our brain and our skills.
According to Fredrickson, when we experience positive thoughts and feelings like joy, contentment, love, we see more possibilities in our life. Our brain opens up to more options when we have positive thoughts. That is what she called the broaden-and-build theory.
Apparently, positive thoughts do not only broaden our sense of possibility, but they also help us build a new skill set and find resources that we can use later on in our life. That is what she calls the biggest benefit of having positive thoughts.
When we have positive thoughts and emotions, the skills that we create tend to last long and can be exploited in other areas of our life. As research shows, we cannot say the same about negative emotions.
Negative thoughts and emotions prevent our brain from seeing other options and from building a lifelong skillset. It is more of a survival instinct that comes into play when we experience fear for example. If we are afraid of dogs, and we see a dog in the street, we most probably try to avoid it by changing our way. Usually, we do not even consider other options.
You would most probably ask, “But what does positive thinking have to do with work?”
Another leading expert on positive psychology, Shawn Anchor, studied the connection between our thoughts and job success. His research has shown that when we are in a positive state of mind, our brain work is 31% more productive than when we experience negative or neutral emotions.
Positive thoughts and emotions do not only influence our productivity; their positive influence extends to all the levels of work performance like engagement, creativity, effectiveness.
Let’s take a closer look at how positive thinking affects work performance.
When we are in a positive state of mind, our brain tends to find solutions to every single problem or challenge. Just like Barbara Fredrickson mentioned, we tend to explore more options, we do not limit ourselves to just one-two logical solutions.
Positive thinking might not find the best answer immediately, but it will help you think out-of-the-box when your superior gives you a challenging task, for example, or suggests you work on a big project.
Energy and resilience:
Studies have shown that people with a positive attitude and mindset have more energy and more enthusiasm than those with a negative one. Moreover, positive thoughts help us recover soon from negative emotions and become more resilient.
When you have a long-term project with many milestones to achieve, positive thinking will help you keep your energy up and continue up until the completion of your project. It is not a magic stick but it will undoubtedly support you more than negative thinking.
Collaboration and support:
It is no surprise that we perform well when we collaborate with our colleagues and when we get their support. Who does not like some motivation boost from their colleagues? But, surprisingly, it is when we provide support that we tend to be more engaged at work and perform better.
When we are in a positive mindset, we want to improve things and processes around us. More importantly, we want to help people do their job better which, in its turn, affects positively our work performance.
However useful positive thinking might seem for our work performance, it should be accompanied by positive action in order to have a real impact. If we only think positively and do not transform it into positive action, change and improvement are not possible.
So how can we adopt positive action at our work?
Take some time for small thank-you actions
Start your day with a thank-you note or email to a colleague that helped you, to your partner who asked how you were doing at work, or to your manager who helped you out with a challenging project. There is no better way than starting a day with positive action.
Know your strengths and try to use them
One of the most important steps towards positive action is knowing one’s strengths. 2 out of 3 people have a hard time naming their top 5 strengths, whereas those who know their strengths and have a chance to use them are on average 74% more engaged and 34% more productive at work.
Use a strengths finder or ask your friends and colleagues to help you discover your top strengths and start to use them at work. Once you do so, you will feel happier and more satisfied.
Meditate and take time to exercise
People who meditate are more likely to succeed in their efforts towards positive thinking and positive action. Furthermore, continuous meditation helps facilitate the process of foundation of long-lasting skills, purposeful work and social support.
If you want to maximize the effect of positive thinking, in addition to meditating engage in a 15-minute mindful cardio exercise every day. It will help you feel better and be ready for a positive change.
Visualize your positive thoughts and emotions
At the end of every working day, take two minutes to write down three positive thoughts, emotions and actions that you had during that day. Do not forget to also mention the strength that helped you in those situations. By doing so, you will reinforce the circuits for the positive and will start seeing the results of your positive thoughts.
Keep in mind that positive thinking and positive action are not going to happen in one day. It is a continuous process of a paradigm shift that requires everyday efforts and a great deal of resilience.
By doing all these 4 steps, you will gradually feel the shift towards positive thinking and positive action. When we think positively, we see things differently and we explore other ways of making our work more enjoyable for ourselves and for our colleagues.
So are you ready for a change?
If you would like to know more about successful career building, take a look at this guide to first steps in dream career building.