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The Happiness Advantage Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and The Lever Insights

This is part of a series of posts based upon the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. See this post for my summary book review or follow along with the entire series below. If you like what you read, then spread the love and share this with your friends and fans socially. Thanks!

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum and the Lever (this post)

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect

Principle #4 – Falling Up

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle

Principle #6 – The 20 Second Rule

Principle #7 – Social Investment


It makes sense when you read the story why the author titled this chapter and principle the fulcrum and the lever, but I think I would have called it “Your Thoughts Create Your Reality”. Ok, maybe that line is a bit overused, but it’s easier to get your mind around as a principle.

The sub-title of this chapter is “Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset”. I think this is where I started really getting into this book because a lot of my behavior change and addiction recovery coaching comes down to shifting our mindset. Stopping old habits has a lot to do with undoing or replacing old patterns with new ones.

I’ll admit I studied this chapter a lot because I really wanted to best understand what the author was teaching under the metaphor of fulcrum and lever. I get what they are, but for some reason the way he described them in this chapter as two distinct areas of potential I had to ponder, question and relate to things I’ve studied and observed over the years. I think I finally got it and will do my best to convey this to you as clearly as possible.

The Archimedean Formula – Using Our Fulcrum and Lever Increases Our Possibility

If you’re familiar with the idea behind a fulcrum and lever (think a big stick or board wedged under a rock to lift something too heavy to lift with your own strength), you get that you can create a ton of energy potential – or work – with less effort than if you tried to apply your energy to it directly. You increase your power potential when you use the fulcrum and lever to your advantage.

Achor says that, “…our brains work in precisely the same way. Our power to maximize our potential is based on two important things: (1) the length of our lever – how much potential power and possibility we believe we have, and (2) the position of the fulcrum – the mindset with which we generate the power to change…simply put, by changing the fulcrum of our mindset and lengthening our lever of possibility, we change what is possible.”

I needed to double check a few definitions because mindset, paradigm, attitude and a few other words were beginning to come up for me and I wanted to clarify before moving ahead and hope this clarification helps you, too.

Mindset is defined as:

  • the established set of attitudes held by someone.
  • a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations.
  • an inclination or habit.

I’ve heard mindset described as the glasses through which we see our world. If your glasses (mindset) is rosey colored, you see the good in the world. If your glasses are muddled, then you see what’s wrong with the world…the problems. You’re likely to be called an optimist.

Achor says that the power to improve our possibility, our future, our life lies in our hands. We can move the fulcrum and the lever to better suit the future we want. We have the power to change. It’s not always easy, but what a wonderful thing to know!

Our beliefs are a magnet that create your realityAchor goes on to say, “In other words, ‘reality’ is merely our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it….we can change this perspective at any moment, and by doing so change our experience of the world around us…Essentially, our mindset and in turn our experience of the world, is never set in stone, but constantly in flux.”

Much of his chapters are filled with recounts of study after study that reinforces his points. I highly encourage you to read this book because the studies are not only sometimes entertaining, it’s absolutely shocking what they can teach us about how powerful our mind is. If I shared every story and study this would turn into a book but that’s why we have his book. I’m here to touch upon the highlights and the insights.  Let’s keep moving…

The Placebo Effect and Expectancy Theory – Why We Get What We Expect

There’s a great quote from Wayne Dyer that says, “Man does not get what he wants, he gets what he expects.” I believe the premise behind this has largely to do with energy and the law of attraction, but that’s for another post.

In this part of the chapter Achor shares several examples of studies that prove the placebo effect is very real. He reports, “an empirical review of placebo studies found that ‘Placebos are about 55-60% as effective as most active medications.”

Wow. Just wow.

I remember learning what the placebo effect was as a young student, but I’m seeing the impact of this data in a whole new perspective now that I am a life coach. Goes to show you the true power of our mind in shaping our reality.

One study Achor shared I found incredibly fascinating and surprising at the same time. In one experiment they took people allergic to poison ivy and brushed them with poison ivy and told them it was another type of leaf. Many participants didn’t break out. In another experiment they took people who thought they were allergic to poison ivy were brushed with a non-poison ivy leaf, but were told it was poison ivy and many of them broke out. They experienced a negative placebo effect.

How is that possible?

THAT is the power of our mind.

There are many examples in psychological studies that have proved that our mindset not only changes how we feel about an experience but can actually change the result of the experience. We break out in a rash even when we’re not rubbed with poison ivy.

What does all of this say about us and how can we use this information in our lives?

What this means is that if we can practice new mindsets, we can have a different outcomes and experiences in the world. If you want to apply this towards performance, then if you can shift the way you see how you perform (tell a new story) or the outcome you desire you can achieve better results. I’ve seen this many times in my own life and I’ll share just one example. See if you can relate…

My mom and I have had a rocky relationship most of my life. Hot and cold. Up and down. As I matured I realized I didn’t want to feel all of the lows, the downs, the negativity. I wanted to feel better in this relationship and I expect she did, too.

My mindset about my mom for most of my life was that she was angry and picked fights. I’m glad to say several years ago I had an ah-ha moment and realized she was being attacked or triggered by my dad when I was growing up. Most of her upset and fighting was in response to his behavior.

I practiced letting go of the idea that my mom was a “fight picker” and chose instead to see her as a kind, warm-hearted person. Not long after I changed my mindset and practiced new thoughts about her our relationship turned around so radically it was obvious to me that my mindset was the only thing getting in the way of us having a loving and connected relationship.

Now you…

Think for a moment about where in your life you are not seeing the results you want for yourself. Maybe in the area of love, finances, family, children, physical health, career, relaxation or freedom, creativity, etc.

What is your current mindset about that area?

What story do you tell yourself about “the way it is”?

Is it generally a positive or a negative perspective?

Does it serve you to look at that area through those glasses or could you perhaps shift your mindset to a brighter, more optimistic viewpoint?

If so, what would be a new story you could tell yourself in that area?

Achor says, “…our expectations create brain patterns that can be just as real as those created by events in the real world. In other words, the expectations of an event causes the same complex set of neurons to fire as though the event were actually taking place, triggering a cascade of events in the nervous system that leads to a whole host of real physical consequences…beliefs can actually change the concrete results of our efforts and our work.”

It really is important that we expect good things if we want good things to happen. In my coaching work I teach clients the Abraham Hicks method of “pre-paving”. In pre-paving we are having a mental rehearsal in advance of stepping into that experience.

Allow me to share an example. Before I go on stage or give a presentation I always take a few moments with my eyes closed to see the audience during the talk, really engaged and interested, asking questions or taking notes. I imagine them coming up to me afterwards and sharing what they learned, thanking me and telling me what they’re going to do when they get back into their lives. I take a few moments to practice the feeling of the experience during and after and it prepares my brain to help me deliver the talk that will create that outcome. I’ve had a lot of success with it and hope you’ll try it!

More than anything I’ve found that our beliefs, our expectations, about a situation or outcome will have more influence on the event than the work or steps we take in the activity itself. There are some great studies Achor shares in this chapter that reinforce this idea.

One of the common ways we see this is when people go on a diet or start an exercise routine but they’re not into it. They don’t expect to have good results (maybe because this is their 10th attempt) or they’re doing it to please someone in their lives and they limit their results again. Sadly, the results they get are the results they expected. “This stuff doesn’t work.”

Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believeIf you’re going into something, line up your energy and your mind with what you’re doing and see things turning out well. Practice expecting good things or don’t get started until you do. Otherwise, you’re investing way more energy for a way less result…or no result.

What you say to yourself about the way it is becomes your reality.

Now for a quick word of precaution:

Doing activities we enjoy can greatly enhance our performance in our work. However, if we do the activities we normally enjoy begrudgingly, feeling like we should be working or worse we tell ourselves “this isn’t helping” then those activities won’t have the positive impact on our performance. If you’re going to take time out at lunch to go for a bike ride, do yoga on a break or spend time with your family after dinner instead of checking emails you’ve got to line up with those choices or it won’t help your performance.

You’ve got to tell yourself the story that taking time out to relax, enjoy yourself and treat yourself well IS of benefit to other areas of your life. The inner conflict will kill off the benefit. Make up your mind doing things you enjoy makes you more creative, productive and happier will give you those results.

The author says, “when your brain conceives of family dinner or Sudoku or fantasy football or a phone call with a friend as a ‘waste of time,’ it won’t be able to reap its inherent benefits. But if you change the fulcrum so that you conceive of such free time as a chance to learn and practice new things, to recharge your batteries and connect with others, you’ll be able to leverage the power of that rest time and return stronger than before.”

The Lever of Possibility

I’m a big fan of possibility thinking and using our mind to set the course for our future, if you hadn’t noticed. I like in the book when Achor says, “the more you believe in your own ability to succeed, the more likely it is that you will…” and

“…studies show that simply believing we can bring about positive change in our lives increases motivation and job performance; that success, in essence, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

When we begin to work on our thoughts, to change our mindset and put on a new set of glasses, we not only have a better experience in the moment, but the outcome will be better than if we had not.

So how do we move the fulcrum? How do we adjust our lever of possibility?

A few ideas from the book include:

  • focus on the reasons you will succeed, rather than fail
  • remind yourself of the skills you bring to the table, rather than what you lack
  • recall a time you faced a similar (or challenging) circumstances in the past and things turned out well

When we focus on our strengths, our successes, what we’ve done well (how bad ass we are!), we improve our current performance and influence the outcome of our situation in the right direction.

You can use these practices for big and small tasks. Whether it’s an important presentation to a big client or making dinner for your new in-laws for the first time. It works!

The Process of Manifestation

The process of manifestation is how we turn thoughts into things.  It demonstrates how our beliefs create thoughts which lead to our feelings which we then take action from and get results from those actions. It is represented as

Beliefs –> Thoughts –> Feelings –>  Actions –> Results

If we want to have different results, we’ve got to change the underlying beliefs. The work that Achor is teaching us in shifting our mindset is much like working on our beliefs. Beliefs are just thoughts we keep thinking and eventually regard as true or normal.

But what if they weren’t normal? What if there was a new perspective we could take on outside of our “normal”? If we had a new perspective (move the lever) about how well we could perform in a situation, for example, what results could we create?

Tell a New Story

How much we do in life is based upon what we believe we can achieve.

Our lives are created in the language we use to tell the story of our life. When you relay a past experience to someone you choose your words to relay what you felt or experienced. Most often, once you come up with the words or language about that experience you use pretty much the same language and tell the same story.

Yet, what if the story could be told differently? What if we chose to see the situation from a different perspective? If there was another person in the story, could we tell the story incorporating what their experience was more than just our own? Would it make the story feel better to us?

If your fears and doubts about your future are laced with language that defeats you at every turn, how can you begin to study your story and refine the words or the entire story all together? What else could be possible? What’s another way of looking at and seeing the outcome we want with a different mindset?

Continue reading with Principle #3 – Tetris Effect

With love and light,


Happiness Advantage Book