Monday, May 27, 2013

What it Takes to be Happy

In light of the increasing focus in recent years on Positive Psychology (see Martin Seligman's work in
particular), there is a growing emphasis on research into Happiness.  Apparently, everyone wants to arrive at the definitive 6-step formula for how you too can guarantee a Happier life and existence. There'd likely be money in that!

Certainly, research has shown that happier people tend to...
  • live longer
  • experience better and more positive health
  • make more money
  • do better work
However, what has not been conclusively determined is whether people experience these things because they are happier OR whether they are happier because they have these things.  It comes down to a chicken and egg dilemma that continues to confound researchers.

Similarly, the findings into what 'makes' us happy can be surprising.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and well-known author, found that the happiest people are those facing the toughest but most worthwhile challenges.  If they are engaged in activities in which they feel they are making a difference, their happiness levels rise.  

However, Leadership IQ found that in 42% of the companies they studied, it was the lowest performing employees that were happier in their jobs, typically because they were left alone to get things done and could quietly go about doing their own thing.  However, the higher performers had to pick up the slack and were therefore more in demand.  They had more pressure on them to perform and more people watching and checking in on their progress.  Generally they were left feeling undervalued and underpaid.  Not a combination that heightened their happiness levels.

In some respects, these first two research results would seem contrary to one another, given that those working on tough (but worthwhile) challenges would likely be your highest performers.  Perhaps the caveat is that you are not only engaged in work that you feel makes a difference but that you must be recognised and compensated well for it.

Additional research supports this.  It was previously believed, based on the work of Easterlin in the 1970's, that money could only buy us happiness to a certain point.  Once we reached that threshold, money would no longer have an impact on our sense of well-being.  This effect is known as the Easterlin-paradox.  However, in re-testing this paradox, across countries and time, Stevenson and Wolfers, two U.S. economists, have found that our sense of happiness and well-being continues to rise with income, with no satiation point or threshold.  Every dollar brought a greater level of measured happiness, dispelling the myth that money can't buy happiness.

Apparently though, it can't buy ALL of our happiness because there are yet further studies, (Sonja Lyubomirsky - widely known as the most knowledgeable expert on happiness), that indicates we have a pre-established genetic happiness set-point.  This set-point rises and falls based on our reaction to circumstances but it will reset itself to our set-point as we get used to the situation.  This is why an increase in our salary can raise our current level of happiness and well-being but that, over time, we are less satisfied with it, requiring more.  

And yet further studies that indicate...
  • the more we compare ourselves to others the less happy we likely will be (someone always has 'more'!!)
  • the stronger our social connections with others the happier we are
  • the more engaged we are with 'activities' rather than accumulating 'stuff' the happier we are...
All in all it seems that happiness is confusing stuff.  Right now it appears that a good mix is to... make as much money as you can, as many good friends as you can, do work that makes a difference and don't pay any attention to what people think of you.  Pretty much how most of us are trying to lead our lives now, isn't it?  Seems we've known the magic formula all along.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

The key to having, being and doing more...

I have been spending this long weekend landscaping the yard of our new house.  This has meant we have
been busy building new fencing, digging new garden beds, planting trees, shrubs and flowering plants, creating the layout for the new patio still to be laid.  A lot of work but... all permanent changes that enhance the usability of the backyard and enhance the value of the home.  All in all...  a good investment.

It got me wondering about many of my clients though.  How much time do they invest in themselves, in enhancing their marketability?  In today's workplace, if you aren't learning then you aren't increasing your earning power.  You will, at best, stay where you are but, more likely, fall behind those willing to do what it takes to get ahead.

I often hear from clients that there just aren't enough hours in the day or week to be able to spend time on developing themselves, whether working out their brain or their bodies.  I simply don't understand how you can afford not to.  My frustration certainly increases when these self-same people have little difficulty in finding the time to keep up with the plot of their favourite television shows.  I don't have anything against you kicking back and enjoying your favourite show, but don't lose hours a day to the television and then lament your lack of time.  The time you spend in front of the television is your current investment in yourself.  How serious are you about developing your skills, getting ahead and earning more?

I understand that you might work for an organization that does not invest in the training and development of its employees.  Budgets are tight all over.  However, you should care about you enough to make an investment in you.  You might not have the ability to take time off work to attend a training program, or the money to pay for it yourself, but you can afford a book and you can certainly afford a library card to go and borrow one.

You want to be more successful?  Read.
You want to make more money?  Read.

The solution is simple.  To have more, to be more, to do more... Read more.

The easiest way to get better at anything is to emulate those already doing it.  Many of them are generous enough to put their path down on paper, to help guide those that are willing to learn to follow.  Read those books.  Follow their steps.

Here's my challenge. Set a goal to read a little every day, to read one book a month.  One business/career enhancing book a month!  As you read you are looking for that one insight, that one AHA nugget of information that you can apply to your life, your job, that gives you a 1% advantage over those around you that have not read or learned this truth.  At the end of the year those nuggets add up to give you a serious competitive advantage over those around you not investing in themselves.

I have no shortage of books that have opened me to new ideas and concepts, that have introduced me to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, that have helped me to learn from someone else's mistakes so that I didn't need to repeat them, that have shifted me in profound ways to being more than I was before opening its pages.  I want this for you.  You need to want it for you.

1 book a month.   Your competitive advantage.

To help get you started, here are my most recent book purchases that I am convinced will be great reads for you, giving you more than a nugget of information and truth to follow...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Setting your Life GPS

I may have many skills in life but having a good sense of direction is definitely not one of them!  My son, at
age 4, was already correcting and directing me when driving together.  It means that, for someone like me, the GPS proves to be one of the greatest inventions of all time.  It helps me to get where I'm going, and to arrive on time, without needless detours.  When heading out the door on a business trip, especially somewhere I've never been, my family will ask if 'Hugh' is accompanying me.  (yes... I have named my GPS Hugh, given that I have it on the Australian man's voice setting!)

When I'm just driving in familiar surroundings my GPS is all but useless to me.  (sorry Hugh)  It lets me know where I am, but I don't need to know that if I already know where I am.  The only time that it proves its worth is when I've told it where I want to go and it helps me to get there.  This is especially helpful when I've lost my way.  If I know where I want to go, Hugh is there to help put me on the right path.

Life is not all that different.  If we know where we are already then we have little need for assistance from anyone else.  We are operating in the familiar and comfortable, in the 'known'.  It is when we step off the beaten path though, and begin to venture out into the unknown that we could use some help in finding our way.  However, we need one essential piece of information if others are going to truly be of assistance.  We have to be able to tell them where we want to go.

The GPS in our car is all but useless if we do not let it know our destination.  So too the receipt of any life advice.  We need to, in essence, GPS our life.  We need to take the time to determine our desired destination and then seek out the help and advice we need to get there.  Without that clear understanding of where we want to end up, people's advice (well meaning though it may be) will often serve to steer us off course.  Moving, perhaps, to a destination of their choosing, but not to our own.

Taking the time to set our Life GPS helps to ensure that the actions and steps that we take move us in our desired direction, and help to keep us on course.  The only downfall with my Life GPS, unlike the one in my car of course, is that it doesn't sound like Hugh Jackman!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Top 5 Tips for Interview Success

There are a lot of great tips out there that can serve a job-hunter well but there are also a lot of bad tips to wade through.  Over my career I have likely interviewed thousands of candidates and consulted with hundreds (if not also up to a thousand or more) job-seekers.  Certainly, as a Body Language expert I could offer you suggestions as to your posture, eye contact, gestures, positioning... but, quite honestly, most people are concerned enough with having answers to the interviewers questions to concern themselves with this level of detail.

Instead,  I'd like to share my all-time, Top 5 Tips for ensuring that your interview is a success.  These five things will help you to stand out from the crowd and be favourably remembered.  Each tip gives you a slight and subtle edge that is often more than enough to distinguish you from others and help to position you positively.

Tip #1.  Arrive early and be Prepared.  I know that this seems particularly basic but it is surprising how few candidates follow this tip.  Do not put yourself in the position of having to explain why you were delayed.  The interviewer doesn't know you yet, which means they don't care about you, which means they simply don't care.  Plan ahead.  Know your route.  Leave more than enough extra time to cover for all contingencies.  As for being prepared... do NOT think that you know yourself well enough to 'wing' an interview.  If you have not been out job-searching for a while then you need to spend some time determining what stories you will share, what accomplishments you will highlight.  Think about the job in questions and determine what you would be looking for in someone for that role, if you were the interviewer, and ensure that you are able to address those needs.  Finally... in this age of the Internet and Google, there is no excuse for not being familiar with the company.  You should have done a search on the organization, on the interviewer and read over the company website from beginning to end at the very least.

Tip #2.  Don't oversell, but don't undersell.  People often skew too far in either of these directions.  Share your stories clearly, succinctly and comfortably.  You are speaking about yourself, so you are speaking about something you know well.  As a result, your voice tone will convey; knowledgeable, confident, and comfortable. Let that work for you.  If you oversell you will sound pushy, arrogant and possibly desperate or unbelievable.  Underselling will serve to make you forgettable.  Instead, consider that you are sharing facts, information that you know to be true.  This will always sound genuine, natural and believable.

Tip #3.  Take on the role of the Host, not the Guest.  As soon as we go out to spend time with someone in their offices we unconsciously adopt the role of a Guest.  As a guest we are focused internally, on ourselves, and expect others to make us feel comfortable.  The other party now assumes the role of Host and is responsible for us.  This is perhaps fine if our interviewer is an extrovert and likes making small talk but the odds are not in favour of this being the case.  You now are just 'work' for them and they are beginning their time with you from a place of discomfort.  Additionally, as a guest, you are now focused on yourself, your needs and your comfort.  You are 'in your head', assessing your answers, whether you've done a good job, what the interviewer is likely thinking about you, how do you seem to be doing.  All of this internal dialogue typically leads to external behavioural 'leakage' which serves to undermine your delivery of strength, confidence and credibility.  Instead, subtly take on the role of Host.  Initiate the handshake and the small talk.  Work to make the interviewer feel comfortable.  Stay out of your head and continue to focus on their comfort.  This external orientation means that you are not in your head to hear your 'inner voice' (which rarely is being supportive) and therefore your behavioural leakage will be more controlled and comfortable.  It is much easier to control the focus of your mind (and therefore the behaviours) than it is to try to manage all of the behaviours!

Tip #4.  Yes... clothes matter!  Give due consideration to what you plan to wear, prepare it ahead and make sure it is in order.  Hems are up, shoes are polished, buttons are in place, everything is clean.  Again, this may sound as though this is a given but, trust me, many candidates often seem as though they simply rolled out of bed and jumped into whatever was handy. You should also ensure that the outfit or suit you are planning on wearing fits.  The morning of the interview is not the time to discover that the suit you haven't worn in six months fits the body you had then, not the one you have now!  Consider also your briefcase and purse because they are also extensions of you.  Ensure that they are clean, in good shape and not overstuffed to bursting.  Take into your interview only what you need for the interview, leaving the rest of your world at home or in the car.  Details like having a pad of paper and pen available (and their condition) are also small clues to your organizational skills.

Tip #5.  Follow up. Most candidates only follow up with their interviewer to find out if a decision has been made.  In which case, the contact is all about you.  To stand out favourably, make your follow up about the interviewer.  Certainly a simple note thanking them for their time is a step in the right direction but it is far better to personalize the contact more.  Reference a small tidbit of information relating to your conversation that demonstrates you were paying attention to and were focused on them.  Even better?  Give them something.  Provide them with a link to an article or site you thought they would be interested in, a contact to add to their network, a piece of information that relates back to your conversation but that you hadn't had time to mention.  For example...  "You mentioned that you were going to be travelling to New Orleans shortly.  I have a great friend who grew up in the city.  I took the liberty of contacting him for some suggested restaurants that the locals know and love but that most tourists typically 'miss'.  He recommended you try..."  Or perhaps... "Here is the link to that TED Talk I mentioned.  I thought you would enjoy it..."  It needn't be big, it should have no dollar value attached and should simply show that you were listening to them and were willing to help them in some way.  Even if you don't end up getting the job you likely have gained another advocate and network contact.