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The happy secret to better work

This is one of my all time favorite Ted-talk. Here I include the transcript of the talk for better understanding of the talk.

When I was seven years old and my sister was just five years old, we were playing on top of a bunk bed. I was two years older than my sister at the time — I mean, I’m two years older than her now — but at the time it meant she had to do everything that I wanted to do, and I wanted to play war. So we were up on top of our bunk beds. And on one side of the bunk bed, I had put out all of my G.I. Joe soldiers and weaponry. And on the other side were all my sister’s My Little Ponies ready for a cavalry charge.

There are differing accounts of what actually happened that afternoon, but since my sister is not here with us today, let me tell you the true story —

which is my sister’s a little on the clumsy side. Somehow, without any help or push from her older brother at all, Amy disappeared off of the top of the bunk bed and landed with this crash on the floor. I nervously peered over the side of the bed to see what had befallen my fallen sister and saw that she had landed painfully on her hands and knees on all fours on the ground.

I was nervous because my parents had charged me with making sure that my sister and I played as safely and as quietly as possible.And seeing as how I had accidentally broken Amy’s arm just one week before —

heroically pushing her out of the way of an oncoming imaginary sniper bullet,

 (Laughter) for which I have yet to be thanked, I was trying as hard as I could — she didn’t even see it coming — I was trying hard to be on my best behavior.

And I saw my sister’s face, this wail of pain and suffering and surprise threatening to erupt from her mouth and wake my parents from the long winter’s nap for which they had settled. So I did the only thing my frantic seven year-old brain could think to do to avert this tragedy. And if you have children, you’ve seen this hundreds of times. I said, “Amy, wait. Don’t cry. Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy, I think this means you’re a unicorn.”

Now, that was cheating, because there was nothing she would want more than not to be Amy the hurt five year-old little sister, but Amy the special unicorn. Of course, this option was open to her brain at no point in the past. And you could see how my poor, manipulated sister faced conflict, as her little brain attempted to devote resources to feeling the pain and suffering and surprise she just experienced, or contemplating her new-found identity as a unicorn. And the latter won. Instead of crying or ceasing our play,instead of waking my parents, with all the negative consequences for me, a smile spread across her face and she scrambled back up onto the bunk bed with all the grace of a baby unicorn –with one broken leg.

What we stumbled across at this tender age of just five and seven — we had no idea at the time — was was going be at the vanguard of a scientific revolution occurring two decades later in the way that we look at the human brain. We had stumbled across something called positive psychology, which is the reason I’m here today and the reason that I wake up every morning.

When I started talking about this research outside of academia, with companies and schools, the first thing they said to never do is to start with a graph. The first thing I want to do is start with a graph. This graph looks boring, but it is the reason I get excited and wake up every morning. And this graph doesn’t even mean anything; it’s fake data. What we found is —

If I got this data studying you, I would be thrilled, because there’s a trend there, and that means that I can get published, which is all that really matters. There is one weird red dot above the curve, there’s one weirdo in the room — I know who you are, I saw you earlier — that’s no problem. That’s no problem, as most of you know, because I can just delete that dot. I can delete that dot because that’s clearly a measurement error. And we know that’s a measurement error because it’s messing up my data.

So one of the first things we teach people in economics, statistics, business and psychology courses is how, in a statistically valid way, do we eliminate the weirdos. How do we eliminate the outliers so we can find the line of best fit? Which is fantastic if I’m trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking — two.

But if I’m interested in your potential, or for happiness or productivity or energy or creativity, we’re creating the cult of the average with science. If I asked a question like, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” scientists change the answer to “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” and we tailor the class towards the average. If you fall below the average, then psychologists get thrilled, because that means you’re depressed or have a disorder, or hopefully both. We’re hoping for both because our business model is, if you come into a therapy session with one problem, we want to make sure you leave knowing you have ten, so you keep coming back. We’ll go back into your childhood if necessary, but eventually we want to make you normal again. But normal is merely average.

And positive psychology posits that if we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average. Then instead of deleting those positive outliers, what I intentionally do is come into a population like this one and say, why? Why are some of you high above the curve in terms of intellectual, athletic, musical ability, creativity, energy levels, resiliency in the face of challenge, sense of humor?Whatever it is, instead of deleting you, what I want to do is study you. Because maybe we can glean information, not just how to move people up to the average, but move the entire average up in our companies and schools worldwide.

The reason this graph is important to me is, on the news, the majority of the information is not positive. in fact it’s negative. Most of it’s about murder, corruption, diseases, natural disasters. And very quickly, my brain starts to think that’s the accurate ratio of negative to positive in the world. This creates “the medical school syndrome.” During the first year of medical training, as you read through a list of all the symptoms and diseases, suddenly you realize you have all of them.

I have a brother in-law named Bobo, which is a whole other story. Bobo married Amy the unicorn. Bobo called me on the phone —

from Yale Medical School, and Bobo said, “Shawn, I have leprosy.”

Which, even at Yale, is extraordinarily rare. But I had no idea how to console poor Bobo because he had just gotten over an entire week of menopause.

We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.

I applied to Harvard on a dare. I didn’t expect to get in, and my family had no money for college. When I got a military scholarship two weeks later, they let me go. Something that wasn’t even a possibility became a reality. I assumed everyone there would see it as a privilege as well, that they’d be excited to be there. Even in a classroom full of people smarter than you, I felt you’d be happy just to be in that classroom. But what I found is, while some people experience that, when I graduated after my four years and then spent the next eight years living in the dorms with the students — Harvard asked me to; I wasn’t that guy.

I was an officer to counsel students through the difficult four years. And in my research and my teaching, I found that these students, no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there, nor on their philosophy or physics, but on the competition, the workload, the hassles, stresses, complaints.

When I first went in there, I walked into the freshmen dining hall, which is where my friends from Waco, Texas, which is where I grew up — I know some of you know this. When they’d visit, they’d look around, and say, “This dining hall looks like something out of Hogwart’s.” It does, because that was Hogwart’s and that’s Harvard. And when they see this, they say, “Why do you waste your time studying happiness at Harvard? What does a Harvard student possibly have to be unhappy about?”

Embedded within that question is the key to understanding the science of happiness. Because what that question assumes is that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels, when in reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10% of your long-term happiness. 90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality. What we found is that only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ, 75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.

I talked to a New England boarding school, probably the most prestigious one, and they said, “We already know that. So every year, instead of just teaching our students, we have a wellness week. And we’re so excited. Monday night we have the world’s leading expert will speak about adolescent depression. Tuesday night it’s school violence and bullying. Wednesday night is eating disorders.Thursday night is illicit drug use. And Friday night we’re trying to decide between risky sex or happiness.”

I said, “That’s most people’s Friday nights.”

Which I’m glad you liked, but they did not like that at all. Silence on the phone. And into the silence, I said, “I’d be happy to speak at your school, but that’s not a wellness week, that’s a sickness week. You’ve outlined all the negative things that can happen, but not talked about the positive.”

The absence of disease is not health. Here’s how we get to health: We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success. In the last three years, I’ve traveled to 45 countries, working with schools and companies in the midst of an economic downturn. And I found that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier. That undergirds most of our parenting and managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior.

And the problem is it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. We’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon, as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.

But our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37% better at sales.Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed.

Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently. We need to be able to reverse this formula so we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of. Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

We’ve found there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully.We’ve done these things in research now in every company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative, but for the positive first.

Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand. And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness. We get people, when they open up their inbox, to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their support network.

And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but a real revolution.

Thank you very much.

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How to motivate difficult employee

To help a problem employee change their behavior, you’ll need to understand what drives them, what prevents them from feeling inspired, and what resolution you could reach. This by no means is not a quick process. But when you take the time to help problem employees, you boost everyone’s morale. You signal that you are a proactive leader who addresses rather than ignores difficulties. And it also shows that you actually care and willing to take definite action for the betterment of the whole group.

Step 1: Investigate the underlying issue

To take effective action, you’ll need as complete a picture of the employee as possible. Gather information through informal conversations with the employee and coworkers who know them. Get better perspective of the situation and different point of views, especially of the difficult employee.

In order to better understand a problem employee, find out –

  • What motivates this person? Find out the employee’s interests, drives, and where they’ve excelled in the past. Is there something in their personal life that’s difficult? Is there any way to work around any impediments?
  • What is the context? Has anything caused unusual tension between you and this employee? A tough restructuring, for instance, might have increased their stress, as well as lessened your tolerance for certain behaviors.
  • Could your actions be part of the problem? Is there any lack of trust, micromanagement, or some other issue you may have caused? Even something basic—like the way you delegate—may be wrong for the person, though fine for others.

Step 2: Consider a range of outcomes

You may come to some quick conclusions and have considered specific actions for dealing with a problem employee. However, set aside any predetermined solutions for the moment. Instead, brainstorm different possibilities. Could this employee be successful in a different role? Do they need coaching? Create a menu of possibilities.

You aren’t “giving in” when you consider other options. Basic standards must be met, and the employee will need to make some changes. However, flexibility on both your parts often yields the most innovative solutions.

Step 3: Address the issue

Finally, meet face-to-face with the employee in a neutral space to discuss and resolve the problem. Let them know this is not a formal performance appraisal, but a chance to review and revise your working relationship. Schedule an hour for the first meeting. Depending on how much you accomplish, you may need to continue the conversation later.

During a meeting with a problem employee:

  • Affirm the person’s value. Acknowledge the person’s contribution to your team and to your organization. Thank the person for meeting with you.
  • Describe the problem. Outline the situation as you see it, and indicate the problem cannot continue. Connect the problem behavior to the success of both the individual and the team.
  • Ask probing questions. Is the person clear on what’s expected, in terms of their work assignments and behavior? Is anything preventing the person from doing their best work? These questions will both surface your differences and reveal areas of agreement. Persist even if your employee is evasive, hostile, or noncommittal. Avoid trying to “sell” your employee on any particular plan of action.
  • Ask for input. Invite the employee to put forth a proposal for resolving the issue. The resolution needs to satisfy both parties’ needs and motivate the problem employee.

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Internal Motivation

Researchers have found that internal motivation is an even more powerful driver of people’s behavior than previously thought. In today’s organizations, much of the work is not routine and requires focused attention and creative approaches. In this setting, creating the conditions for employees to exercise autonomy, pursue mastery, and have a sense of purpose is an important leadership skill.

Here’s how internal motivation works:


Skillful leaders do more than just address universal human needs and desires. They figure out what specifically inspires individual team members and then look for opportunities that fulfill those team members’ interests and passions.

If you know what inspires each of your team members, you can customize plans to keep people committed for the long term.

In summary, lead them as a group but treat them individually.

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5 Tips for Staying Motivated at Work

While everyone understands that work is what brings the money in, some people have a hard time staying motivated during a long eight to ten-hour day at the office. Everyone has their days where they are extremely motivated and get a ton done and then there are the days when you just feel ‘blah’ and won’t to do nothing but hit the door at 5 pm. If you are finding yourself having many more blah days than days where you are extremely motivated, this article is for you. With that in mind, read on below for a few of the top tips to help you stay motivated when you’re at the office.

Regardless of the list that follow, motivation and fulfillment comes from a sense of progress and passion.

Grab a Quick Cup of Coffee

There is nothing better than office coffee machines to keep you motivated. If your office has one, then take a quick break when you start to feel like you are lagging behind, and grab a quick cup of coffee. You would be surprised at how much of a pick-me-up a cup of coffee can be in the middle of a shift. Coffee is a natural anti-depression, you light you up considerably.

Take a Quick Walk Around the Building

Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting out and getting some fresh air. If you find yourself sleepy and unmotivated in the middle of the day, clock out for a break and take a quick stroll around your office building. Often the fresh air and brisk walk will give you the motivation you need to make it through the rest of the day with ease.

I would recommend a 5-15 minutes walk every 45 minutes of sitting.

Take a Bathroom Break

Taking a fast bathroom break to splash some water on your face or just get away from your desk for a few minutes can work wonders. Instead of just trying to ride it out until the 5 pm clock out time, take a bathroom break, replenish your energy and get motivated to get the job done before it’s time to clock out instead.

Get Enough Sleep

One of the main reasons for many people being un-motivated at the office is that they aren’t getting enough sleep the night before. You can’t expect to stay up partying all night and then be motivated to get through the day at work on Monday morning. Make sure that you get the amount of sleep required to get you through the workday and you will be much better off in the long run.

Stay Positive

Phrases like “Ugh, I hate this job” and “I can’t wait until this day is over” or “I’m so tired and bored,” will do nothing to help you stay motivated and do your job well. Instead, write out your goals to stay motivated and hang them on the wall above your desk. Make sure to think positive thoughts and even speak them out loud if they help you to stay motivated to get the job done.

These are just a few of the top tips to help you stay positive when you are feeling unmotivated at the office. Instead of being negative, stay positive, make sure to get enough sleep and take a trip to the office coffee machine when needed and you should be motivated every day from 9 to 5.


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5 Secrets to Motivating Yourself

There is really no other type of motivation other than self-motivation. Never rely on others to motivate you because if they don’t, you really are in deep trouble !

So, Here are five ways to inspire yourself to get moving again when things get tough:

1. Focus on the Future & dwell not in the Past

If you dwell on the past, or even your current problems or situation, it’s easy to get down on yourself. Why not shift gears and focus on the future? Remember that the Final Messengger said,

And in a hadith, the Prophet (bpuh) said:

 “Wonderful is the affair of the believer! His affairs in their entirety are good for him: if good befalls him. he is thankful, and that is good for him. And if harm befalls him, he is patient, and that is good for him. And this (prosperous state of being) is only for the believer.”

 In an authentic hadith, the Prophet (bpuh) said:

“If you ask, then ask of Allah, and if you seek help, then seek it from Allah. And know that if the whole of the nation were to rally together in order to bring benefit to you in anything, they would not benefit you except with that which Allah has written for you. And if they were to gather together in order to inflict harm upon you with something, they would not harm you except with that which Allah has written upon you. The pens have been raised and the pages have dried.”

 The Prophet (Blessings and Peace be upon him) also said:

“And know that what has befallen you was not going to miss you, and that which missed you was not meant to befall you.”

If today is not going so well, what can you do tomorrow to make it better? When you switch your focus to the future, you begin to see the world of possibilities that are open to you. Possibilities can lead to positivity, and that can lead to hope, which is what can inspire us and lift us up when we’re feeling down.

But just don’t dream about the future. Make a plan to make the bright future that you aspire to come into reality. That process of visioning and planning and action always works to bring results.

It may not bring you that dream job right away, but you will be moving in the right direction toward it if you start focusing on what is possible.

2. Read All About it

There are so many inspirational people who have written their stories and pointed the way for all of us. And at some point they were down on themselves and could not see the way forward.

One of the greatest leaders of our times, Nelson Mandela, spent 27 years in prison, most of it in the notorious Robbin Island prison until his release in 1990 after an international campaign against apartheid and his imprisonment.

If you read his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, you will hear about his long time in prison and the deprivations he suffered. But he never gave up his hope for freedom for himself and his people.

Now that’s inspiring. And there are thousands of books that tell similar stories of remarkable courage and inner strength that can help you find what you need inside of yourself to move forward.

There are people who rose out of the slums to become millionaires and women and men who were severely injured in accidents or wars who became world class athletes. Find a story that resonates with you and draw from their inspiration to inspire yourself.

3. Find a Role Model

When we were kids we often looked up and even admired certain people who inspired us. This might have included professional football stars or famous musicians or actors.

But it also probably included someone who was a little bit older than us who seemed like they had things together. It may have even been our parents or an older brother or sister.

We closely watched what they did, and we mimicked their actions and behavior because we wanted to be just like them. Having a role model as an adult is kind of the same thing, except for the hero worship. And it too can work to help inspire us.

Find someone in your life, or maybe at work, who seems like they have everything that you want. Then ask them how they got where they are today.

They will probably be happy to talk about themselves for a few minutes, but don’t be surprised to hear them say that they were exactly where you are at one point in their life. Take their story and their success with you and use it as your inspiration.

4. Act as If

One of the best ways to inspire yourself is to start acting as if you were already successful, popular, slimmer or whatever you would like to be. This time the self-inspiration might actually come from perspiration as you take actions that you hope will lead you where you want to go.

Let’s say you want to be in better physical shape. You can start with the motivation of good health and feeling better about yourself. But what might actually get you to the gym will be acting as if you were already healthier, and a healthy person just goes to the gym naturally.

It’s a bit of a ninja mind trick, but it can work to give you that spark of inspiration and when you add the perspiration you have the formula for success. As you make better choices, your self-worth rises.

When that happens, you automatically take the actions that you know you should be doing. That’s the magic of inspiring yourself.

5. Take a Break and Re-energize

Sometimes a completely different tactic is required in order to inspire yourself. If you are feeling down, you may be just tired and overwhelmed. Try taking a weekend off, just for yourself.

If you have to go away to make that happen, take the time off. You are worth it. While you’re away or just relaxing, you can take stock of your life — the good and the bad. You can examine what is working well and what needs to be fixed.

Try to have as much alone time as you can during this respite, and listen to your inner voice. It may be telling you to slow down or change careers to fix your relationships.

Just listen. You don’t have to do anything. Sometimes the inspiration to fix our problems or embark on a new adventure is already there waiting for us to pay attention. You may already have the inspiration you need inside of you. All you have to do is to let it out.

Inspiring yourself helps you grow and change. It can also just get you through a tough task. Regardless, it’s a great skill to have. How do you inspire yourself?

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7 Spiritual Productivity Habits to Develop

As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah…… Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim…


The following 7 Spiritually Productive activities you should try to develop as Habits. I consider these activities as the spiritual ‘bread and butter’ of any Muslim, and to develop them as habits is the essence of starting your journey towards the love of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) and constantly increasing in your eman inshaAllah:

1) Praying the Sunnah Prayers before and/or after Prayer:

I know it’s easier to just pray the obligatory prayers and rush out of the mosque, however, when we realise the rewards we’re missing from not praying these sunnah prayers, we won’t leave them. Over the years I learnt there’s only ONE way of getting yourself to pray these Sunnah prayers constantly: Get into the habit of praying them! Soon they’ll become part and parcel of your Salah.

2) Remembrance of Allah after Salah:

Again, it’s easier to rush out of Salah to our busy lives, but honestly, how long does it take to recite the supplications after Salah? (answer: 5-7 minutes!). If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, you may find the supplications here. Nowadays you’ll find pocket notebooks/or phone applications with these supplications. Again, get into the habit of reciting them daily after each Salah and they’ll become part of your Salah experience.

3) Morning/Evening Remembrance of Allah:

These are beautiful set of duas/remembrances from the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) which he used to say before sunrise and before sunset. They are true stress relievers, and energy boosters, and never fail to make my day/evening feel blessed. [You can find the duas here]

4) Night Prayer:

Hamdulillah, during Ramadan we’ve the wonderful Taraweeh prayers to attend. These are of course part of the Night prayer or tahajjud of the Night. If you’re new to night prayer or don’t pray it constantly during the year, make sure you attend taraweeh prayers each and every night, and give yourself a ‘no-excuse’ policy. Continuing to pray them for the entire 30 days, will set you on better footing to continue with Night Prayer after Ramadan inshaAllah.

5) Duha Prayer:

If you want a Muslim’s secret to a productive day, it’s these 2 rak’ahs, known as Duha prayer which you may pray at anytime between after sunrise all the way till before the sun reaches it’s zenith (around 30 minutes before Dhuhur). The reward of this prayer is similar to giving charity on behalf of every bone in your body, and the energy and buzz you feel during the day is amazing.

6) Supplications before you Sleep:

You just had a long day, and you’re super tired. You climb into bed and you want to hit the sack… but wait! Before you do, can you give yourself just 10 more minutes to recite the supplications before sleep? That’s all. Try them and watch your yourself have the most beautiful sleep ever and waking up for Fajr easily inshaAllah

7) Reciting one hour of Quran each day:

Notice: I said here recite one hour of Quran each day and not one juz’ or one surah. The amount of Quran you read here is not as important as the quality of your understanding. If you spend one hour reciting one verse but understand it fully, that’s more important and beneficial then reciting lots of Quran at break-neck speed and not understanding a word.