Happiness Advantage..Principle #2..The Fulcrum and the Lever

“Change your performance by changing your mindset”…Shawn Achor  I know that may sound very simplistic, but it really is that easy….and science has proven it!  Okay, it’s not easy, but with practice I think it becomes one’s norm.

After listening to the 12 chapters on the Fulcrum and the Lever it occurred to me that my signature quote on emails and at the end of every blog post embodies this principle…You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails!”

Everyone has the choice and free will to adjust their attitude from a negative mindset (pain, stress, uncertainty) to a positive mindset (gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism).  Achor uses the see-saw to explain this principle.  If two boys are on a see-saw and one is larger than the other you can change the position of the fulcrum to even out their weights and make it easier for the lighter boy to lift the heavier boy….or the boulder in the above picture.  By adjusting your brain with more positive thoughts, which translates into actions, you can change your reality (I underlined that because you’re perception is almost definitely different than someone else’s and therefore becomes YOUR reality..not the only reality).  The world changes based on the observer.

Because this is the basic premise of the this principle I thought I’d just cite some of the studies that Achor cites, to show you how powerful the mind is and how your mindset can change your reality.

  • Ellen Langer did a study in which she took a group of 75 year old men and told them they were going on a week-long retreat.  They were not allowed to bring any current magazines, books, newspapers…no cell phones or internet.  When they got there they were told to make believe they were back in 1959, when most of the men were in their mid 50’s.  There were magazines from 1959 on the coffee tables and i.d. badges with a picture of themselves at 55.  They were told to talk about current events…Eisenhower, etc… that were taking place at the time.  Some of the men started dressing as they would have back in 1959 and even referring to their jobs in the present tense.  Before they went on the retreat Langer tested them on age related conditions…strength, perception, cognition, short term memory…to name a few.  The were tested again after the retreat and they improved on every test, and for some even on eyesight!  Whaaaaaat?  Langer also asked random people to look at a picture of each participant before the retreat and after.  These random people, on average, guessed 3 years younger on the after pictures.  Whaaaaat?  Come on, that’s some pretty powerful shit!

  • Placebo and nocebo affect:  A group of Japanese researchers did a study in which a group of boys were blindfolded and told that one arm was being brushed with a poisonous tree (similar to poison ivy) and the other brushed with just any old bush.  All of the participants had some form of a rash, boils and itching associated with the poisonous plant…BUT on the arm that was brushed with the basic bush.  The other arm, which had been brushed with a poisonous plant, had almost no reaction, except for a couple of the boys.  Whaaaat? That is the power of suggestion!

  • more power of suggestion: Another Langer study (along with colleague Alia J. Crum) was done using the cleaning staff at seven hotels.  Half the group was told that their work involves a lot of exercise and that they were burning “x” amount of calories just by doing the job they’d been doing for years. The other half of the group was not given this information.  At the end of the 4 week study the “informed” group had lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and BMI. In reality they hadn’t done anything different, but the power of suggestion made it so. Whaaaaat?

  • A group of Asian women were given a math test of two separate occasions. The first time they were primed with the suggestion that they might not do as well as men because men are usually better at math.  The second time they were told to focus on their Asian heritage and that they were typically thought to be better at math.  Guess what? Yup…they tested higher on the 2nd test.  Whaaaat?

These are just a few of the studies Achor sites to prove his point.  Your mindset predicts your future and your brain reacts to what you think will happen even before it happens.  He then goes on to explain that when you change your mindset as it pertains to unpleasant activities, it can change your perception of them and hopefully make them less unpleasant.  I used his strategy on one of my least favorite things to do…laundry. Instead of thinking “ugh, I have to do laundry today!” I said to myself “how lucky am I that I have a washer/dryer right in my garage that makes it easy to do my laundry!”  I know it may sound silly, but it really did make the task more pleasant and I seemed to get it done faster.  I didn’t have a washer/dryer for over 3 years (except for my good friend Renee!) and it is easier now to do my laundry….and for that I’m grateful!

The more you believe you will succeed, the more likely that you will. I can actually use my kids as an example on this one. My son is not a tall man (he’s taller than the 5’2″ was-band, but he wouldn’t be confused with a basketball player), yet I don’t think it ever occurred to him that he couldn’t play a sport that he wanted to play. He had never played football until his freshman year of high school, yet he was the starting center and given the “un-sung” hero award at their banquet because, as the coach said, “this line-up shouldn’t have worked, but it did.” He had also never played lacrosse before high school, but ended up as goalie, played four years in college and went on to coach it for a year in England after college.  My daughter got A’s in math in 5th grade, but her 5th grade teacher recommended her for 6th grade math instead of pre-algebra, where all of her friends were placed. She was so crushed that we had to petition for her to be in pre-algebra, which is where, against her counselor’s recommendation, she ended up in 6th grade. She then went on to take Geometry in summer school between 7th & 8th grade, had to walk over to the high school to take Algebra in 8th, went to the local college for her senior year math class and minored in Math in college. Her determination to succeed…and also probably to prove her 5th grade teacher wrong…made it happen. They both remember me saying to them on more than one occasion, when they’d say to me “I can’t” I’d usually say, “well, with that attitude you’ll be right!”

Now, Achor goes on to say that it doesn’t mean that you should have false or unrealistic affirmations or belief in your abilities, like “I’m the greatest thing in the world”….I think that’s called narcissism….but it does mean that it’s important to believe that you can improve your abilities.  Which brings me to a growth mindset…the belief that allows you to change through experience and the application of skills…as opposed to a fixed mindset…the belief that this is as good as it gets and that’s it, period.  Self doubt and the belief that something can’t happen starts you out at a dis-advantage.  Focus on the successes, not what might, or did, go wrong….learn from the failures, and you should fail in order to know what NOT to do next time.

There are many more chapters on fulcrum/lever as it pertains to the workplace, focusing on finding your calling using this principle…and how managers and bosses can use this positive mindset to create a pleasant, more productive work environment.  As I’ve said before…get the book or download it on audible (it’s great to listen to in the car)..this is just a synopsis…although it is quite a long post!

Lastly, I like that Achor references Sonja Lyubomirsky’s belief that we ‘create or construct happiness, as opposed to the more popular pursuit of happiness’ because it is something we can create if we put our mind to it.

You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails!”


  1. I loved this post!!! I am going to get the book (since I am supposed to do more reading!) lol. Keep up the great blog!

  2. I love the direction you are going with your blog. It is sad that they’re many people that do not understand these principles of life!
    Have a great day!
    Another day in paradise!!!

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