Stop Stressing, Get Happy, and Watch Your Work Performance Turn Around

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Exercising, eating well, finding some inner peace; it all helps put you in a better state of mind at work and become a better leader.

Head to the self-help section in any bookstore and you’ll find no shortage of titles on the value of positive thinking. An entire industry exists to remind us that if we can just reorient our mindset, the possibilities are endless.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace, says Alexander Caillet, an organizational psychologist on the faculty of Georgetown University’s Institute of Transformational Leadership and co-author of the Harvard Business Review article, “How Your State of Mind Affects Your Work Performance.” 

“Ninety-four percent of the leaders surveyed report that the top three states of mind for effective performance and relationships are calm, happy and energized,” said Caillet to WNYC’s Charlie Herman, host of Money Talking.

He’s referring to research he conducted with Jeremy Hirshberg and Stefano Petti on how the state of mind of those in leadership roles impacts the entire organization. Leaders admit that stress and anxiety can sometimes help in the short-term to motivate people into action. Over the long-term, however, it’s simply not a workable approach to achieving an organization’s objectives. And it’s especially bad for relationship building.

Leaders with lower states of mind, defined as frustrated, disappointed and tired, are aware of these limitations, but get trapped into repeating patterns. Caillet recommends three practices leaders can adopt to shift to a higher state of mind, which he defines as happy, content and optimistic. 

  1. Biology. When we workout, eat well and feel good physically, we can take on more stress without being pushed to our limits.
  2. Physiology. “The ability to stop, the ability to take a pause or to take a break, or to engage in breathing are actually ways that we can immediately shift into a quieter and clearer state of mind,” said Caillet.
  3. Acknowledge / Reframe / Refocus. “Calling out an emotion has the effect of reducing its intensity,” explained Caillet.  Refocus your attention to another project. Reframe the situation by breaking it down into smaller parts that can be addressed independently.

“Leadership is a public act,” says Caillet. If leaders are anxious and stressed, so is everyone else at work. States of mind are contagious.

Caillet says that leaders report that under higher states of mind, “they get better results, decisions get made, the meetings are quicker and people tend to collaborate more and be less defensive and reactive.”

We’re all going to be in a lower state from time to time, but acknowledging it and using these tools to break out of it are critical for organizational success.