The other day during a grueling seven-hour car ride, I found myself feeling the stress of fatigue, impatience, and boredom. Suddenly, my dog, Riley, yawned with an outrageously funny expression of his own boredom. The sound was remarkably human and not one I'd heard before; it made me laugh so hard that it brought tears to my eyes.
Instantly, I had more energy. I felt more optimistic about the day ahead and, with the stress removed, I suddenly remembered that I had brought along an audio book that would surely cure my boredom. I was also reminded of some research I'd read.
In short, it said that the act of smiling has the power to subtly alter one's brain chemistry. Feelings of happiness have an even greater impact on the brain chemistry. We know that happy people are healthier than unhappy people--and an improved mood leads to an ability to think and act more quickly.
Think of your brain as a brilliant chemist; more than 100,000 chemical reactions go on in your brain every second. When the brain produces the neurotransmitter known as serotonin, tension is eased. When it produces dopamine or norepinephrine, you are able to focus and take action, resulting in higher levels of productivity.
We also know that changing our physiology releases these "feel good drugs," affecting our mood and energy almost instantly. The trick is to change your negative body language (frowning, slumping, clenching of the jaw, shoulders up to the ears) and replace it with positive, empowering, joyful actions. Simple things like acting silly, laughing, reciting affirmations and doing a few jumping jacks can change your state immediately.
But it's not always easy to convince yourself to step away from the stress and do a little jig to release happy hormones from your brain. It takes discipline and lots of previous, positive experience with a process to make it a habit. So start small, like I did. Since that car ride, I've been practicing the power of a simple smile. When you put a smile on your face, all of the muscles on your face respond. Your eyes brighten, facial muscles loosen and the brow becomes smooth and relaxed. Even your thoughts may change.
The goal is to break your current, negative state by disrupting it with something that will "shock" your internal chemist into action. Here are a few things I suggest you try to jump-start your productivity by adding some positivity. I admit a lot of them might make you look like a crazy person, but, in the pursuit of productivity, I'm willing to try anything.
1. Smile at strangers. Step away from your stressful environment for a 20-minute walk. Smile at the people you meet along the way. You will more than make up for the time with your increased productivity levels when you return.
2. Bust a move. Put on some great dance music and have a little 5-minute party! That's right, just dance. You don't even need a partner!
3. Fire up the YouTube. Find a favorite funny video on YouTube and take a laughter break. Cute cat videos have been shown to help as well. (Not kidding.)
4. Talk to yourself. This sounds nuts, but take a cue from old-school motivational speakers and books: Pace around the room reciting empowering affirmations in a positive, confident tone of voice and great posture.
5. Belt it out. Sing to your animals or children--just be silly and let them in on the fun!
6. Get physical. Do a series of jumping jacks with a big smile on your face. (Bonus: 100 jumping jacks is said to burn 100 calories. Have a snack!)
7. Dial a friend. Pick up the phone and cheer up someone's day with an "I love you!"
8. Hoot and holler. Just let out a simple "woo-hoo!" and think about a goal or future event that really charges you up.
9. Do a Julie Andrews. Think of one or two things that you are deeply grateful for and allow the thoughts to bring a smile of gratitude to your face. (You should think of a few of your favorite things several times a day anyway!)