The Challenge: You’re exhausting yourself by trying to succeed in all the wrong ways.
The Science: The stress you think is so crucial for your success is actually doing far more harm than good.
The Solution: Allow yourself time for yourself to relax and focus on things other than work, as well as branch out and try new things.
In the last year, have you felt stressed, burnt out, or exhausted? You’re not alone. Burnout levels are on the increase across professions, and a Gallup poll shows that more than 70% of the Americans feel disengaged at work. In our pursuit of success, we are wearing ourselves out. But everyone seems to be moving at the same alarming speed. Our health and well-being suffers, but it feels like there simply is no choice and no alternative: We just have to keep going. So we pour ourselves more coffee and keep at it.
However, research shows that we have it all wrong. We have the misconception that, in order to be successful, we have to postpone our happiness and well-being. Here are the six myths of success that we tend to fall for.
Never stop accomplishing. Stay continuously focused on getting things done. To achieve more and stay competitive, you’ve got to move quickly from one to-do to another, always keeping an eye on what’s next.
You can’t have success without stress. Stress is inevitable if you want success. Living in overdrive is the inescapable byproduct of a fast-paced life. Adrenaline (and caffeine) are necessary to get the job done.
Persevere at all costs. Despite your fatigue, you have to keep going. You have to spend every drop of mental energy you have staying on task, despite distractions and temptations—even if it means exhausting yourself.
Focus on your niche. Immerse yourself exclusively in one area of knowledge. By focusing narrowly on your field and becoming an expert in it, you’ll know how to best solve its problems.
Play to your strengths. Align your work with your talents. Do what you do best, and stay away from your weaknesses. To discover your talents and weaknesses, be your own toughest critic. Self-criticism is key to self-improvement.
Look out for No. 1. Look out first and foremost for yourself and your interests, so you can successfully outperform the competition. It’s a dog-eat-dog, sink-or-swim world out there. If you don’t focus on you, no one else will either.
You probably nodded your head as you read through some if not all of these. They’re reflect our current cultural view of what it takes to be successful. Yet they are wrong. Hundreds of studies that I researched for my book show just the opposite. And that’s good news. These studies suggest that if you spend more time actually taking care of yourself and being happy, you will end up more successful than you ever knew possible.
Instead of always focusing on the future and the next to-do, stay present. Research shows that when our mind is constantly in the future, not only are we less happy, but we’re also far less productive and focused. Moreover, we fail to connect with others. Whether colleagues, employees, or clients, those human connections are essential to success. Instead of always thinking about what’s next on your to-do list, focus on the task or conversation at hand. You will not only see your work performance improve; you’ll also become more magnetic and charismatic.
Instead of always operating in high-adrenaline mode, build your resilience. More than 80% of doctors’ visits result from stress, but we all believe we can’t have success without stress. We drink caffeine and overschedule ourselves, living in a constant state of overdrive and burning ourselves out. While we can’t change the work and life demands that come our way, what we can do is train our nervous system to become more resilient without burnout and to thrive in the face of difficulties and challenges. Breathing exercises and other ways to calm your nervous system help make you more resilient to stress, leading you toward recovering and restoring yourself.
Instead of persevering at all costs, manage your energy. Research shows that Western societies value high-intensity emotions like excitement. That may be why we value always being go-go-go and high-adrenaline. The problem is that both excitement and stress exhaust our physiology. They burn our energy fast. Instead of engaging in states of mind that exhaust you, learn to manage your stamina by remaining calm and centered. You’ll be able to save precious mental energy for the tasks that need it most.
Instead of always being focused, make time to be idle. That may not sound like a route to productivity, but research shows that taking time off from work to unfocus promotes creativity and insight. Instead of spending all your time focused intently on your job, make time for idleness, fun, and irrelevant interests. You will become more creative and innovative and more likely to come up with breakthrough ideas.
Instead of sticking only to your strengths and being self-critical, step outside your niche and be good to yourself. Many people believe they should work only at things they are good at. They also think self-criticism is important. However, our brain is wired to learn new things, and research shows that self-criticism makes you less resilient in the face of failure and less likely to grow from your mistakes. Instead of playing only to your strengths and being self-critical, be compassionate with yourself and understand that your brain is built to learn new things. That will improve your ability to excel in the face of challenges, to develop new skills, and to learn from mistakes.
Instead of focusing on yourself, show compassion for others. We often believe that to be successful we have to “look out for No. 1.” Instead of remaining focused on yourself, express compassion for those around you, and create supportive relationships with your coworkers, boss, and employees. That will dramatically increase their loyalty and commitment to you, thereby improving everyone’s productivity, performance, and influence.
Excerpt from the book The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success (HarperOne, 2-16)
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