Happiness & Positive Reinforcement

I’m happy right now and reflecting on so many aspects of my life. I think I’ll talk about it tomorrow, but for now I’m reading a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’m going to implore you to read it because it’s pretty life-changing. Anyway, I want to share an expert from the book.

It involves the power of being kind and enforcing positivity to your peers, co-workers, and anyone (if any) who works for you. And, how this power can drastically change your workforce for the better. Here we go…

The Expert

The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg

Chapter 5/6
Starbucks and the Habit of Success

Pages 149-152

Mark Muraven … professor at the University of Albany, set up a new experiment. He put undergraduates in a room that contained a place of warm, fresh cookies and asked them to ignore the treats. Half the participants were treated kindly. “We ask that you please don’t eat the cookies. Is that OK?” a researcher said. She then discussed the purpose of the experiment, explaining that it was to measure their ability to resist temptations. She thanked them for contributing their time. “If you have any suggestions or thoughts about how we can improve this experiment, please let me know. We want you to help us make this experience as good as possible.”

The other half of the participants weren’t coddled the same way. They were simply given orders.

“You must not eat the cookies,” the researcher told them. She didn’t explain the experiment’s goals, compliment them, or show any interest in their feedback. She told them to follow the same instructions. “We’ll start now,” she said.

The students from both groups had to ignore the warm cookies for five minutes after the researcher left the room. None gave in to the temptation.

Then the researcher returned. She asked each student to look at a computer monitor. It was programmed to flash numbers on the screen, one at a time, for five hundred milliseconds apiece. The participants were asked to hit the space bar every time they saw a “6” followed by a “4”. This has become a standard way to measure will power – paying attention to a boring sequence of flashing numbers requires a focus akin to working on an impossible puzzle.

Students who had been treated kindly did well on the computer test. Whenever a “6” flashed and a “4” followed, they pounced on the space bar. They were able to maintain their focus for the entire twelve minutes. Despite ignoring the cookies, they had willpower to spare. [The contention being that willpower is a finite resource].

Students who had been treated rudely, on the other hand, did terribly. They kept forgetting to hit the space bar. They said they were tired and couldn’t focus. Their willpower muscle, researchers determined, had been fatigued by the brusque instructions.

When Muraven started exploring why students who had been treated kindly had more willpower he found that the key difference was the sense of control they had over their experience. “We’ve found this again and again,” Muraven told me. “When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons – if they feel like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else – it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster. In both cases, people ignored the cookies. But when the students were treated like cogs, rather than people, it took a lot more willpower.

For companies and organisations, this insight has enormous implications. Simply giving employees a sense of agency – a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority – can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs. One 2012 study at a manufacturing plant in Ohio, for instance, scrutinized assembly-line workers who were empowered to make small decisions about their schedules and work environment. They designed their own uniforms and had authority over shifts. Nothing else changed. All the manufacturing processes and pay scales stayed the same. Within two months, productivity at the plant increased by 20 percent. Workers were taking shorter breaks. They were making fewer mistakes. Giving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to their jobs.

The same lessons hold true at Starbucks. Today, the company is focused on giving employees a greater sense of authority. They have asked workers to redesign how espresso machines and cash registers are laid out, to decide for themselves how customers should be greeted and where merchandise should be displayed.

“We’ve started asking partners to use their intellect and creativity, rather than telling them ‘take the coffee out of the box, put the cup here, follow this rule,” said Kris Engskov, a vice president at Starbucks. “People want to be in control of their lives.”

[Staff] Turnover has gone down. Customer satisfaction is up. Since Shultz’s return, [long time CEO who retired and returned after several years: Schultz reinstated practices he had established previously] Starbucks has boosted revenues by more than $1.2 billion per year.

Regardless if you’re a past employer of mine, a current employer, a past or current employee, or just anyone in particular… think about this passage for a second and understand how far being kind to someone can go. I suggest reading the book because it goes far more deeper than just being kind as it also helps us understand how we can change consistent habits in our lives for the better.

Thank you for reading.
See you tomorrow.