The Progress Paradox: Three Things We Need for Feeling Successful (Part 2 of 3)

By: Patrick Williams

In the work I do as a coach, I speak with many amazing clients who have achieved a lot in their work and in their lives. And yet, some are dissatisfied and don't feel successful. By other people's standards, they could feel really good about themselves, yet they don't.

What does make us feel good about ourselves?

  1. The ability to manage energy and stress in positive ways
  2. A strong social support network
  3. Most importantly, believing that what we do matters

Research from the field of positive psychology also demonstrates that if we feel positive while performing a task, we can dramatically increase our level of success. Indeed, happiness is a precursor to success—not the result.

Unfortunately, our expectations are often reversed, which begs the question: How do we create feelings of happiness before we are successful?

The Psychology of Success

Positive psychologists seek to find and nurture genius and talent and to make normal life more fulfilling, not simply to treat mental illness. By scientifically studying how things go right in individuals and societies, we can unlock the mysteries of peak performance to gain more satisfaction from our work and lives.

Here’s what many people believe about work:

If I work hard, I’ll be smarter. If I’m smarter, people will notice and I’ll get promoted. With more responsibility, I’ll be even more successful. If I’m more successful, I’ll be happy.

But it doesn’t work this way.

Instead, our brain chemistry kicks into gear when triggered by a stimulus. Perhaps we’re working on a challenge that particularly intrigues us. We’re in a positive mood. Biochemically, we feel pleasure when the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the brain. As a result:

  1. The brain turns on its learning centers.
  2. We are more open to exploring new ideas.
  3. We build new solutions.

If we feel positive while performing a task, we dramatically increase our levels of intelligence, creativity and productivity, while lowering levels of negativity, boredom, proneness to errors and disengagement.

Thus, positive feelings prime the pump for success. Which begs the question, "How do you turn on positive feelings before you achieve success?"