Close your eyes, take a breath and visualize an imaginary coworker. What personality traits does he or she have?
Is she a Miranda Priestly—frosty, demanding and high-achieving? (The Devil Wears Prada) Or a Mindy Lahiri: cheerful, sassy and a little self-absorbed? (The Mindy Project) Or do you imagine a Don Draper—cynical, creative and charming? (Mad Men)
What the research says
The kicker is that whoever you visualize says a lot about you, according to researchers from the University of Nebraska. The personality traits that you ascribe to your imaginary coworker are likely to mirror the traits that you display in your own life. Is your imaginary coworker positive, a go-getter, a problem solver? Chances are you are too.
Researchers have found that encouraging subjects to make up coworkers produces a more complete picture of how subjects view the world, how they interpret events and what their expectations of other people really are (as opposed to asking subjects to report on their perceptions of their real-life coworkers). Researchers spoke to hundreds of adults employed in a variety of fields to determine their “psychological capital.”
What is “psychological capital”?
Psychological capital consists of four key traits: hope, resilience, optimism and efficacy. This cluster of personality traits is associated with the ability to overcome problems and actively pursue goals. Higher psychological capital is also associated with lower stress levels and better overall well-being.
How did that play out in this research? Subjects who visualized their imaginary coworkers acting proactively or recovering from failure were actually happier and more productive in their real jobs.
So look closely at the coworker you’ve conjured. Whatever you admire in them is worth cultivating even more in yourself. Whatever traits of theirs you’re less enthusiastic about may be worth weeding out of your own life.
Let’s just hope you didn’t dream up a Michael Scott (The Office).