Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work


Shawn Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc., where he researches and teaches about positive psychology.


As a child, while playing a game with his little sister she fell from a bunk bed and landed on all fours. Shawn made her better by telling her she looked just like a unicorn – instead of crying she immediately got back on the bunk bed happy.

When studying people, we tend to look for excuses to discard ‘outliers’, and focus only on the average to find a line of best fit. This is the cult of the average – we look only at the baseline. Instead we should look more at the positive outliers: what makes them different? If we study outliers, we can move the ‘average’ upwards.

Shawn is an advocate of ‘positive psychology’: studying the positive side rather than focussing on the negative. For example studying happy people on why they are happy, rather than on how to make depressed people happier. “The absence of disease is not health”: you can’t talk about wellness by only focussing on alcoholism, risky sex, bullying.

Looking at someone’s surroundings only explains 10% of their happiness levels. 90% is based on how your brain sees the world around it. Only 25% of job performance is based on intelligence, with 75% based on support networks, positivity, and ability to perceive stress as a challenge.

Currently most people believe that if they are successful they will become happy. This is flawed because:

  1. When you achieve success, you immediately shift the goal posts further. If you get good grades, you need to get better grades next time. So you will never achieve success and always push it over the horizon into the future.
  2. Happiness makes someone more successful. “The Happiness Advantage” means you are better at getting a job, 31% more productive, more resilient.

In 21 days you can rewire your brain to see things more positively. Shawn suggests writing down 3 things you are grateful for, perform random acts of kindness, meditate to clear your mind.

My Thoughts

Shawn speaks well, with plenty of clever stories. However this is a talk that makes me a little wary: it often sounded a lot like a sales pitch rather than purely informative. There’s a few numbers mixed in, but they are vague percentages without a clear source. Some of the ideas are well established: Happiness does make people more successful and people never really see themselves as ‘successful’. However the rest feels like an eclectic mix of ideas to help sell his books or consulting.

It is worth watching, I’m curious if others got the same vibe I did…

Joachim de Posada: Don’t eat the marshmallow!


Joachim de Posada is a motivational speaker, best known as co-author of the book Don’t Eat the Marshmallow…Yet.


In this experiment, a 4 year old child is presented with a marshmallow. If they can stay in the same room as the marshmallow for 15 minutes without eating it, they get a second marshmallow. 2/3 of children ate the marshmallow, while the remaining third were rewarded for delaying gratification. This experiment can be used as a predictor of future success – all of the children who delayed eating the marshmallow were successful at the age of 18. The others were less successful, with lower grades, poorer relationships, and less had plans for future or entry to university.

Joachim repeated the marshmallow test in Columbia. He wanted to see if Hispanic children acted the same way and also found 2/3 of children ate the marshmallow. One girl was interesting – she hollowed out the inside of the marshmallow and ate that, but still left the outside intact (so it looked like she hadn’t eaten it).

My Thoughts

Not the greatest talk – about Joachim taking an experiment and repeating it in a different country. I was also not left convinced that such a simple experiment would predict success – it seems like there would be too many variables. Rather than delayed gratification, it may show the child’s ability to comprehend that 2 marshmallows is more than 1, and understanding of the experiment. Again, the ones who understand the experiment at a younger age are probably more likely to be successful but they would also learn more about delayed gratification as they get older.

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success


Alain de Botton is a Swiss-British writer, philosopher, and television presenter resident in the United Kingdom.


We live in an age where our lives are regularly punctuated by career crises – it is easier to make a living, but harder to avoid an anxiety about what we do. The reasons are

  • We are surrounded by snobbery – people who will imply everything about you based on your career. “What do you do?” is a common question to rank you when you first meet someone. This flows on to a need for material goods – to makes you feel more valued. This is true for a lot of conspicuous consumption – if you see someone with a Ferrari, assume they are vulnerable and in need of love & sympathy, rather than contempt or greed.
  • Expectations are high about what we can achieve – there is no class system, anyone can do anything with a spirit of equality. This clashes with envy – which is felt harder by people who are from similar backgrounds. We have a feeling that everyone comes from a similar background as everyone else, but the result is not equal. By telling people they can do anything, it is linked with low self-esteem.
  • Everyone encourages the idea of a meritocracy – it implies that the most skilled and driven will get to the top. However it also implies that anyone at the bottom deserves to be there – they are the worst. In the middle ages a poor person was called an ‘unfortunate’, whereas now they’d probably be called a ‘loser’.

These result in higher suicide rates in developed, individualistic countries than any other region. How can we change our mindsets to tackle these issues?

  • Meritocracy: We need to recognise it is impossible to create a perfect meritocracy – there are too many random factors in play.
  • Failure: when we fail, we don’t fear the loss of income or position so much as the ridicule. Newspapers are full of stories of people’s failures, and often presented salaciously without sympathy. At the other end of the spectrum is tragedy in art: Shakespeare makes us sympathetic to the flaws of his characters. Hamlet is not a loser, but he has lost.
  • We worship humanity: All our heroes are human, we are excited by human achievements and the concept of a spiritual has started to disappear. It could be why people are now so drawn to nature – one of the few non-human forces left.

We have a lot of ideas about success – that someone successful will be rich or renowned in their field. However, noone is successful in every aspect of their life – someone renowned in one field has sacrificed another. Most people’s ideas of success are not their own – taken from family, friends, marketing. Rather than giving up on success, we need to make sure that the ideas are our own. Because it feels bad to fail to achieve success, but much worse to achieve it and realise it wasn’t really what you wanted.


The Discipline of Finishing: Conor Neill

Speaker: Conor Neill

Length: 23:41


Imagine you are in a room with 200 of the people you know best. You’re given a deal: In exchange for 1000 pounds you will receive 10% of one person’s income every month for the rest of their lives. Who would you pick? Warren Buffet asked the same question to Conor Neill 7 years ago. Buffet has spent his whole career making this decision of who to invest in and has obviously had some success (he has a net worth of $60 billion).

Conor talks through some potential decision making criteria with the audience. Would you choose rank everyone’s grades from school and pick the best one? Definitely not. What you pick your best friend? Probably not. Although, it doesn’t work for adults, there is a psychology test that has proven to be the best indicator of future success. Its known as the Marshmallow Test and given to children usually aged 4 or 5. The child is given a marshmallow and told that if they can wait 5 minutes without eating it, they will get another one. The kids that can last the 5 minutes end up living lives that are qualitatively and quantitatively better.

Warren Buffet has his own criteria that he uses to make this prediction:

  1. Energy
  • Is this person in overall good health and wellbeing?
  • Does this person have a tendency to take action over thinking about action?
  1. Adaptive Intelligence
  • How quickly does this person notice the lamp post that is in their path?
  1. Integrity
  • How aligned are what this person means to do and what they actually do?

So if these are 3 criteria you can use to make your decision, who would you chose? The obvious answer is yourself. Not only do you get 100% of the income you earn, but you have control over your own energy, intelligence, and integrity.

Conor concludes the talk by leaving the audience with some tools to develop each of these traits.

The easiest way to improve your intelligence is to write stuff down, something he has done for the past 14 years. By documenting your life, you will have the accumulated knowledge of everything you’ve experienced. To learn how to improve energy, Conor tried to find out how endurance athletes manage to run for seemingly inhuman distances. By being present, he says, and focusing on the steps instead of the big picture. A horse has no concept of the finish; they will run until they collapse. Likewise, whenever you are running a metaphorical (or literal) marathon, ask yourself, “can I take one more step?” And if you can, take it, and then ask the same question again. The key takeaway to improve your integrity is to practice resisting temptation. Don’t stare at the marshmallow in front of you, ignore it. Success is a result of repeated good habits and it’s important to understand this. We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.