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Before Happiness Book Review

Book Review by: William Rees -

Book Title: Before Happiness

Author: Shawn Achor

As I get more comfortable in Learning Journeys’ gentle and non-prescriptive approach to aiding our coaching clients to uncover their own paths toward success simply by asking powerful questions (and never giving them advice), it was a slight shock to my system to read Before Happiness.

As a researcher, Happiness author Shawn Achor cited study after study, and offered dozens of anecdotes that seem to indicate there actually is a single, clearly defined recipe for happiness - simply follow Achor’s five data-supported approaches to achieving success! Just follow his advice.

Hmmm. A few pages into Achor’s book I anxiously realized that sooner or later I’d seemingly have to decide which philosophy I actually personally ascribed to: that of Learning Journeys’ or Shawn Achor’s?

Key Point 1:

Achor has his own terms for what I’m about to express, but I think the title of Learning Journeys’ foundational class, The Power of Possibility, actually sums it up quite well.

Achor examines the three types of intelligence; IQ, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. While strength in any or many of these areas is valuable, they are all useless without a key component to success: The belief that what you can do with your intelligence(s) truly matters.

Despite insecurities, it seems many people do recognize they possess an impressive amount of intelligence or talent in multiple areas. And yet the way their lives shake out, enough happens to them and inside them that they eventually believe their intelligence and talent doesn’t truly matter. That they are unlucky or cursed, that the system is rigged, that they lack some special password that would usher them into the life they enviously see others live.

Achor believes it is crucial to reframe thinking so that we fully believe our intelligence has purpose, and potential - that it has actual power. It’s basically the Power of Possibility, just with a different label attached to it, and people who are able to truly embrace and utilize that positive power have been dubbed by Achor as Positive Geniuses!

Key Point 2:

There are various ways Achor suggests a person can shape themselves from an intelligent yet unsatisfied person into a Positive Genius. To me, the most important concept was that of identifying and then pursuing “the most valuable reality”.

Achor explains how reality is a matter of perspective. There can be multiple perspectives and therefore realities for any given situation. By encouraging people to think of perspective as not set and singular, and train our brains to recognize multiple realities, a new fluidity emerges in our patterns of assessing our lives. In doing this we can unglue ourselves from what has been locking our thoughts into rigid pessimism or apathy.

Once multiple realities are recognized, (including negative realities, for they can indeed be true and are helpful to acknowledge), Achor then encourages us to choose the reality that is both positive and true.

This reality is always the most valuable one. By ascribing to the true and also most positive reality it will raise our motivation and engagement in making change, aid us in seeing opportunities we otherwise would miss, it will help us innovate, reduce our stress, and allow us to map clearer routes toward our goals.

Key Point 3:

I appreciated that one entire step of Achor’s no-fail five-part system was about transferring our positive realities to others; Positive Inception he calls it. In this step, Achor’s beliefs didn’t seem to contrast as strongly with Learning Journeys’ philosophies but aligned with them strongly.

There have been many discussions in our classes about what it does to the people around us when we embrace our own goals and happiness. Achor too believes in the contagious power of energy, of mind-set, and of purpose-driven living.

By aligning ourselves with other positive people in our circles, by mindfully choosing how to express ourselves about both positive and negative events, by being the first person to speak in a group, by using humor and even something as simple and silent as a smile, Achor’s research into all those techniques prove that companies, organizations, and communities can exponentially alter their culture, their productivity, their profitability - their entire reality!

Favorite Passage:

Achor describes his first time on a surfboard, where the instructor tells him clearly, “Where you look, the waves will take you.”

But dark jagged rocks are visible underneath the wild water’s surface, and Achor believes it’s actually best that he focus his gaze on the threatening rocks so he doesn’t tumble onto them and injure himself.

He knows he’s supposed to look to the safe, soft sand of the shore instead, but he doesn’t. Soon enough he tumbles into the ocean, onto the rocks, and narrowly avoids a possibly lethal injury.

“We spend our lives trying to avoid the rocks,” Achor writes. “As a result we end up steering right into them. The more we focus on the outcomes we fear…the more our brains dwell on and process this information, and we end up on a trajectory aimed straight for our pessimistic assumptions.”

Indeed. It’s best we keep our mind and eyes on where we’d like to be, and not crane our neck around toward all the distractions that threaten us.

Application to Life Coaching:

Although I initially thought of the Before Happiness book as some sort of contradictory philosophy to the rest of my education at Learning Journeys, there’s quite a bit within its pages I feel excited to incorporate into my training and my practice.

Although Achor’s approach to implementing his research into individuals’ real lives is quite prescriptive and sets him up as the expert on how one should live, (as opposed to respecting that a client is the expert on their own life), I do think his findings on perspective, empowerment, and positivity are all incredibly valuable and sound.

I think Achor’s methods to map success and use accelerants toward achieving goals are also powerful and probably quite effective.

I think to incorporate Achor’s research and tips into the Learning Journeys approach to coaching, I will look for models and tools (or perhaps develop new models and tools) that can help clients uncover for themselves the importance of identifying multiple perspectives and then identifying their most “true and most positive” realities.

I will employ tools and craft powerful questions that can help them discover more effective ways to map their paths toward success, utilize success accelerants, and illustrate the impact that their happiness and fulfillment will make not only in their increasingly happy lives, but in the lives of those around them.

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