Want to Increase Your Success and Happiness at Work? Become a Unicorn

Noelle Ihli

Popular TEDx Speaker Shawn Achor Shares Viral Advice on the Power of Positive Psychology 

Shawn Achor learned a valuable lesson while babysitting his younger sister, Amy. 

After taking a tumble off the bunk bed, Amy was on the verge of tears. To calm his little sister down, Shawn told her, "Amy, did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. I think this means you're a unicorn."

Amy’s distress evaporated. Suddenly, she was elated. The only thing that had changed, of course, was her mindset. 

It’s a lesson in positive psychology that has powerful applications for happiness and success at work. 

The Power of Positive Psychology

While it might feel like external circumstances dictate happiness (or misery!), Achor’s research suggests 90% of happiness level is predicted by how the brain interprets outside events. Not the events themselves.  

Achor found a similar statistic in the workplace: 75% of job success is predicted by your level of optimism. It’s not how smart, talented, or qualified you are—your attitude and ability to see setbacks as opportunities for growth matter most.

Why You Should Become a Unicorn

Achor says, “I found that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I'll be more successful. And if I'm more successful, then I'll be happier.” 

Unfortunately, the problem with the success-first model is that the definition of success keeps shifting. For example, Achor notes, “You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school, and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we're going to change it.”

The trick is to adopt a positive outlook first. With this positive outlook in place, the brain (fueled by dopamine!) performs better, reacts creatively to new challenges, and experiences higher energy levels. Achor refers to individuals with this mindset as “unicorns,” referring to his sister Amy. Their optimistic attitude can turn challenges and setbacks into stepping stones to success.

The Undeniable Outcomes of Positive Psychology

Achor found that every metric of success and happiness in business improved when his research participants adopted a positive outlook. 

For example, a positive brain is 31% more productive and 37% more effective at selling. Even doctors who intentionally cultivate a positive attitude are 19% more accurate at making correct diagnoses. Achor says, “If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we're able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently.” 

Adopting a can-do attitude can also help your team members by creating a more positive work environment, better team dynamics, and increased collaboration. This virtuous cycle of positivity benefits both individuals and organizations as a whole.

Lastly, a positive outlook can improve overall well-being and satisfaction at home and in personal relationships.

Tips for Training your Brain to Become More Positive

Achor suggests specific practices to become more positive. The best news? Just two minutes a day for three weeks could completely rewire your brain. 

Create a Positivity Journal

Start by writing down three things you’re grateful for and one positive event from the past twenty-four hours. Doing this allows you to relive positive experiences and trains the brain to see more positivity than negativity.


Meditation is proven to help regulate the brain’s stress response center. It also helps anchor your mind to the present moment so that you don’t spiral through worries or fears. It’s easier to stay positive when focused on the present rather than dwelling on past regrets or worrying about future outcomes.

Random Acts of Kindness

Random acts of kindness, such as writing a positive email to thank someone for their support, or offering encouragement to a coworker, can consciously create positivity and have ripple effects in your relationships and work environment. 

Reflect and Apply

In his TEDx talk, Achor encouraged listeners to imagine training their minds the same way they might train or exercise their bodies. And in just 21 days, the results can be surprising—and powerful. 

With a few simple practices, it’s possible to become a “unicorn” with a new positive outlook on work and life, regardless of external circumstances.

Can you commit to Achor’s positive psychology challenge to become a unicorn at work? Stay accountable and encourage coworkers to join you on your quest by sharing one of your favorite quotes from this article and committing to 21 days of positive journaling, meditation, and random acts of kindness. Use #PositivePsychology and tag us on Twitter!

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

Stay Up to Date

Your go-to resource for avid readers! Discover a wealth of information on
non-fiction business books aimed at boosting your professional development.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.