The many benefits of a positive attitude are well documented when it comes to general wellbeing but can cultivating positivity improve our physical health and even lead to a longer life? [Read more…]
Flow, the model of performance introduced to Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is big news both in the workplace and outside of it. But what is it? Think of a time when you’ve been completely immersed in a task, when distractions were minimized and you lost sense of time and space. Got it? Well that’s flow. If you can answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions whilst undertaking a task, you’ve probably found yourself in flow;
- You’re doing it because you’re motivated
- You’re completely focused on the task
- You lose sense of time, hours feel like minutes
- You’re not worrying
- You have a sense of control
- You forget yourself
- You feel inspired
- You don’t really notice your surroundings
- You’re enjoying it and feel good as you get on with the task, you’re on a roll!
- You feel as though you’re achieving something
Csikszentmihalyi narrows it down to two characteristics that must be present for flow to occur:
- We should know what to do moment by moment whilst participating in the activity or task and utilise feedback instantly
- The abilities of the person undertaking the task match the opportunities for action
Put more simply, he describes it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from your previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”
Or, as Lyubmirsky describes it, “being involved in life” rather than being on autopilot.
Surprisingly, adults often report experiencing more flow in the workplace than in their personal life outside of work. This might have something to do with the parameters and guidelines around work, which you’ll see below, are a necessary part of creating more flow in life. But rest easy, flow is an essential element of happiness whether you’re at work or not and can be applied to friendships, relationships, projects, hobbies and sports.
Why does it matter?
Research suggests that people who feel flow experience greater levels of wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that each time you participate in a task you’ll feel euphoric and instant happiness (if only). Instead, studies suggest that after the task has been completed, people feel a sense of accomplishment, a greater subjective sense of wellbeing along with purpose and meaning. All ingredients of happiness and flourishing according to Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of Positive Psychology. Csikszentmihalyi says it’s one of the secrets to finding happiness in life. In our book that makes creating flow worth a go.
To introduce more flow experiences into your day to day activities, Csikszentmihalyi recommends the following in his book, ‘Finding Flow”.
- Seek out situations where you’re fully involved in the challenge. It’s not too easy for you and there is some ‘stretch’ involved in the task for you, you’re pushing yourself outside of a comfortable level of performance.
- The activity has a set of goals and requires certain actions. The rules help you get into flow because you’re not wondering how to do something. It’s clear.
- Learn to focus your attention. Train yourself to focus on moment to moment awareness so you’re able to concentrate fully. Try practicing mindfulness to hone this skill.
- Apply flow to routine tasks. Lyubmirsky suggests ‘microflow’ experiences created by applying goals and rules to everyday tasks. See how you can apply these to something you do every day, for example, creating a personal best time for completing your administrative tasks or seeing if you can bring your full attention to a conversation.
- Aim for superflow. This is when you’re in maximum flow with the volume turned up. You’ll get there with practice, from small microflow projects, to practicing your moment-to-moment awareness on a regular basis. That’s you rewiring your brain and honing your skills until you’re able to move into superflow with ease.
With a little bit of practice and effort, flow is something that, when cultivated will pay dividends in your wellbeing and happiness. Want to find out more about flow? Here’s the man himself at TedX Monterey, California https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
We love to talk about all things positive psychology at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke positive psychology training for your organisation.
The business world has long since recognised the value of using coaches for their top performers. But coaching skills don’t have to remain the exclusive domain of a professional coach. What if you were to grow those exact same skills in house? As an internal coach you are uniquely placed to develop powerful relationships along with lasting individual and organizational change. Leaders are increasingly developing their own coaching style of leadership, viewing coaching skills as a core leadership competency. So what are coaching skills and how exactly can you develop them?
Traditionally the model of development pivots on shoring up our weaknesses. Good leaders recognize that this is an outmoded (and incorrect) deficit model. Instead, by taking a strengths based approach, looking at what’s working, rather than what isn’t leaders are able to increase efficacy. Enter positive psychology. Research (Linley 2009) demonstrated that by identifying and leveraging strengths we see a bump in performance of around 38%. Once you’ve identified the strengths of your team you can begin to develop them, aligning them with your business goals and challenges. Not sure what a strength is? Go to the world’s most used, free strengths assessment, the VIA at www.authentichappiness.org and take your team with you.
When you’re coaching others it’s important to be curious about them, the environment they operate in and the world around them. Curiosity will help you to stay open to new ideas and innovations, keeping you a step ahead of the game. Being curious will prevent you from believing that you have all of the answers, leaving you open to fresh ideas and suggestions from your team. Growth mindset coaching questions to develop your curiosity and your team are;
“What do YOU think some options are?” “What would YOU do?” “What are the pros and cons of each option?” “How would you advise a colleague?” “What is the learning information here?” “What can you do differently next time?” Ask questions that will help your team, to identify their motivations, to see other alternatives and achieve their goals.
Feedback and Accountability in Positive Psychology Coaching
It’s that checking in with staff on their progress that makes such a powerful difference to achieving success. Research by Christine Porath and Gretchen Spreitzer found that the four factors necessary to sustain a high performing team were; feedback, autonomy, civility and information sharing. It’s a growth mindset blueprint for success. Feedback enables your team to know if they’re headed in the right direction. Make it clear, timely, specific, non-judgemental and positive. Once accountability has been established, staff have a whopping 95% chance of achieving their objective. Think about the systems and processes that you have in place to enable staff to build this sort of accountability into their role. Consider how you support, encourage and motivate staff to be accountable for the goals that they have committed to.
Yup, it sounds obvious but often it descends into either combative listening; waiting for the other person to shut up so that you can interject with your own point of view and tell them how they ‘should’ be doing it or passive listening; peppered with a string of “Umms” “Uhuhs” or nods as you slowly zone out. A coaching skill that is often overlooked.
With genuine listening you’re aiming for active and reflective. Make sure you focus as you listen and regularly reflect back to check your understanding of what has been said. There really is nothing quite like the attention of a good listener and this skill will help you to build rapport to boot. Leave your own agenda behind (remember your curiosity?) keep interruptions to a minimum and watch the dialogue flow.
Positive Psychology Coaching and Communication
Karen Tweedie of Access Leadership says “Better conversations mean better relationships, which lead to better output.” Below are a few tips to help the coaching leader support direct reports or other key stakeholders:
- See yourself as a thought partner, listen for potential (of people and ideas)
- Keep your questions open-ended (be willing to be surprised)
- Encourage self-discovery (encourage colleagues to find their own answers to their own challenges)
- Put your attention on the person in front of you, not the issue
- Expect that the person is capable of discerning the best approach
- Empower the other person to succeed – remove obstacles, provide resources
- Maintain accountability, celebrate effort and results
Once you’ve mastered these coaching skills you’ll have a vital addition to your leadership competencies, increasing your impact, developing your people, improving your relationships and your results.
Why coach using positive psychology? Rarely are jobs designed to match the talents, preferences, and aspirations of the individual. Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, discusses the art and science of job crafting.
We love to talk about all things positive psychology at Positive Change Guru. Check out our forthcoming events or get in touch to find out more about our suite of courses and discuss bespoke positive psychology training for your organisation.
A big thank you to Gill for today’s Thanksgiving blog.
Cultivating the habit of gratitude
It’s thanksgiving and the time of year when we look for reasons to, you guessed it, be thankful. But what if we decided to practice gratitude 365 days a year? What would happen? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences 2012 found that subjects who practiced gratitude experienced fewer aches and pains. Wharton Business School researchers at Penn University found managers who said “Thank you” motivated their employees to work harder. We know from a glut of research from positive psychologists that the benefits of gratitude range from improved sleep, increased ability to manage stress, elevated levels of energy, improved emotional and physical health to better relationships. The list goes on.
Gratitude and happiness
So, we know that it’s good for us, but what is it? Robert Emmons, PhD and author of ‘Gratitude Works’ and ‘Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make you Happier’ describes gratitude as the ‘forgotten factor’ in the happiness equation. He states that gratitude is a story of two parts. Firstly, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world.” Secondly, “We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” Emmons goes on to say that he sees gratitude as “a relationship strengthening emotion.” And if that isn’t a good enough reason on its’ own to practice gratitude, Lisa Aspinwall, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah found that those who practiced being thankful experienced a huge boost to their immune system.
Five habits that cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. The evolutionary negativity bias in our brain can lead us to focus on the negative more readily. If you have an innate tendency towards a glass half empty than half full, fret not, there are simple steps that you can take to rewire your brain and build your gratitude habit on a daily basis.
- Say ‘Thank you’. This one is simple. Look for things that people have done that you can thank them for; great service in a shop, help from a colleague, a kind comment from a friend and either say it in person or ink it in a ‘Thank you’ note.
- Keep a Journal. At the end of each day, reflect upon the last 24 hours and write down at least 5 things that you are grateful for. Remind yourself throughout the day that you are consciously looking for experiences that you are grateful for. This constant reminder is a clever way of retraining your brain to focus on the positive so you’re getting two for the price of one! Think about goals you’ve achieved, tasks completed, people who’ve helped you or events you’ve enjoyed. Remember to focus on five new things you are grateful for each day to keep your gratitude neurons firing!
- Practice Mindfulness. Being in the present moment with judgement allows you to experience moment fully without labeling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As you go about your day, stop, pause, take a breath and reflect upon what you are grateful for. You could try this with a morning walk to work, a cup of tea, a smile from a stranger or a moment outdoors in the sunshine.
- Find a gratitude buddy. Like all habits, once you’ve committed the going can at times be tough. With a gratitude buddy you;ll have someone to share your thankful moments with, to support you and to keep the momentum going (and something or someone else to be grateful for). It doesn’t have to be face to face, you can email or Skype each other daily with the 5 things you’re grateful for from your journal.
- Don’t give up when your inner grouch takes over. Yes, it’s true, we all have days when we feel like the ‘Grinch’ and can’t find anything to be grateful for. When you hit this kind of bump in the road, dust yourself down, cut yourself some slack and remember tomorrow is another day.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of gratitude, this video of Robert Emmons on the subject is a great place to start:
The powerful benefits of positive emotions
Psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson is famous for her ‘broaden and build’ theory on positive emotions. Fredrickson’s research shows that the more we focus on, and build, our repertoire of positive emotions, the broader the application of our positive emotions and their benefits become.
The twelve step toolkit
Supporting you in your quest to build positive emotions, Fredrickson suggests an easy to use toolkit of twelve techniques to help cultivate positive emotions. Which of the twelve suggestions appeals most to you?
Tool 1: Be open
Fredrickson urges us to adopt the motto “be open”. This first tool invites us to temporarily put expectations and judgments aside and allow ourselves to be mindfully present in the moment. For example, on your morning walk, ignore the mental to-do list and practice being open to nature.
Tool 2: Create high-quality connections
Fredrickson suggests we connecting with others in a meaningful way. She cites the work of Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan) who’s research points to four ways to build these high-quality connections.
- Be present, attentive and affirming by fully focusing on others &encouraging their endeavours.
- Show support for what the other person is doing – do what you can to help them succeed.
- Demonstrate trust – believe that the person can meet your expectations (and let it show).
- Allow time for ‘play’ – spend time with this person occasionally with no outcomes in mind.
Tool 3: Cultivate kindness
Commit five acts of kindness every day. You can do this by assessing what those around you need the most and find positive ways to make a difference to them.
Tool 4: Develop distractions
Distractions break the grip of negativity. The goal here is to shift your focus away from anxieties and troubles. Fredrickson suggests making two lists, one of healthy distractions and the other list of unhealthy distractions. Healthy distractions might include going for a bike ride, walking your dog, playing a game with your child or a friend, reading a novel, etc. Unhealthy distractions to avoid might include excessively eating, drinking alcohol, or playing video games for hours. Aim for any activity from the list of healthy distractions.
Tool 5: Dispute negative thinking
This exercise is adapted from Martin Seligman’s work into depression prevention at Pennsylvania University and teaches us to dispute our negative thoughts. On a set of index cards write your typical negative thoughts, such as “I always do this wrong, how will I ever get any better at this?”, “why hasn’t she called by now? Doesn’t she care about me?” Whatever your typical negative thoughts are, make sure they are included on the cards. Once you have written your set of cards shuffle them and pick one out at random. Read it out loud. Next, as quickly and thoroughly as possible, dispute it out loud. What are the facts? When you are satisfied that you’ve dismissed the negative thought, move on to a different card. Negative thoughts can be automatic; the purpose of this exercise is to ensure they are nipped in the bud as quickly as they occur.
Tool 6: Find nature nearby
Locate a dozen natural spots that you can get to in a matter of minutes that connect you to trees, water, skies or greenery when the weather is good. Connecting with nature has been shown to boost positivity. Make these places a regular destination.
Tool 7: Learn and apply your strengths
You can take a free online strengths test at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center www.authentichappiness.com and learn your 24 signature strengths and how to apply them. Once you have established your strengths plan to use them every day. Consider and address the changes you might need to make to do this.
Tool 8: Meditate mindfully
Sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and take several deep breaths. Notice how it feels. Where do you feel your breath? Continue to observe your breath. The goal in attending to your breath here is to practice being present in the here and now. Invariably, your mind will wander. Allow it to wander, don’t chastise yourself for these wandering thoughts, just notice your attention has strayed and return your focus to your breathing to continue to stay present.
Tool 9: Meditate on loving kindness
Start by focusing on your breath and the region of your heart. Once you are focused here, reflect on a person for whom you have warm, tender or compassionate feelings. Your goal is to connect to warm and natural feelings by visualising how being with this loved person makes you feel. Once this positivity has been created within you, let go of the image of the individual and hold the feeling.
Tool 10: Ritualise gratitude
Being grateful means you notice gifts and appreciate the people around you. Use this tool to take stock of what is good in your life. Doing so draws your attention to positive events.
Tool 11: Savour positivity
Choose a source of love, joy or pride and a willingness to think differently about these sources. Think of a past moment when you enjoyed an experience or being with someone important to you. Allow yourself to examine the images from all angles. Recognise the value of these good feelings for your mindset and practice savouring them.
Tool 12: Visualise your future
In this journaling exercise, imagine yourself five years from now after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have accomplished all the goals you set yourself. Write down where you will be and how it will feel when all of your goals have been achieved.
After a week or so, review what you’ve written and from this draw out your life’s mission. What purpose do you want to drive you every day? What’s the meaning of your existence? Contemplate these big questions and put your thoughts in your journal, then distill them into a mission statement. Create a ten year plan to help you meet your mission. Reduce your plan to bullet points to support you in current and future decision making, moving you towards your goals.
Putting the toolkit into practice
You can try just one of the above tools or you can try all of them and see which works best for you. Either way, take the test on Prof. Fredrickson’s website to find your level of positivity before and after using these techniques https://www.positivityratio.com/single.php
Like to learn more? Prof. Fredrickson explains more about positive emotions here:
The positive impact of gratitude
An impressive body of research has shown that developing gratitude can have a huge impact on both mental and physical health; helping to reduce anxiety and depression, whilst cultivating positive emotions.
Benefits of gratitude
Robert Emmons (one of the world’s foremost experts on gratitude) has shown in his research that people who practice gratitude and keep a gratitude journal, experience many powerful benefits:
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Stronger immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- Increased optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Less lonely and isolated
6 steps to maximise the benefits of gratitude
Emmons suggests 6 tips to maximize the benefits of your gratitude journal.
- Savour surprises. Concentrate on events that were unexpected as these elicit greater levels of gratitude
- Commit to being happier. Psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky found that a gratitude journal has greater efficacy when we make a conscious decision to be happier and more grateful. Motivation matters!
- Depth rather than breadth. Research indicates that concentrating on the detail of just one thing for which you are grateful is more effective than writing a quick list of several things
- People first. A focus on the people to whom you are grateful has greater benefits than a focus on things for which you are grateful
- Subtracting for gratitude. Imagine what life would be like without certain benefits. This can be an effective way of stimulating gratitude as well as listing the positives
- Less is more. Writing just once or twice a week can be more beneficial than journaling every day. A study by Lyubomirsky and her team revealed that people who wrote a gratitude journal once a week for six weeks reported increased happiness, whereas people who wrote three times a week did not. Emmons explains that, “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them.”
So why not try your own gratitude journal for 6 weeks?
Take the positivity test to measure your levels of positivity before and after practicing gratitude. Keep us posted on your experiences of gratitude.
Keen to find out more? Watch Robert Emmons on the benefits of gratitude here:
When was the last time you watched a sunset, listened to a stirring piece of music or simply watched children play and felt awe?
The benefits of positive emotions
Recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals some surprising and exciting benefits to physical health when we experience positive emotions, especially that of awe.
Researchers asked ninety four college freshmen at Berkeley to detail how frequently they had experienced both positive and negative emotions, such as inspiration or hostility. The students were then asked to provide samples of saliva, which were analysed for interleukin-6, a molecule associated with inflammation in the body. As inflammation is strongly associated with poor physical health, the research team were hoping to see a link between frequent positive emotions and low levels of interleukin-6. The results demonstrated that students who experienced more positive emotions than their negatively predisposed classmates did indeed have lower levels of interleukin-6.
Next, the team at Berkeley asked 119 students to complete a more detailed questionnaire regarding their typical emotional outlook and how regularly they experienced specific emotions like compassion, contentment, joy, awe, pride, amusement and love. Again, the students were asked to supply a saliva sample and. Positive emotions were associated with lower levels of interleukin-6.
However, the second set of results showed that students who regularly reported experiencing awe had significantly lower levels of interleukin-6 than the other subjects. Awe was the emotion most powerfully correlated with the lowest levels of interleukin-6 found in saliva samples.
Negative emotions have long been associated with a variety of illnesses such as heart disease, depression and cancer. Researchers are increasingly discovering that positive emotions play an important role in maintaining good physical health.
On average, students who participated in the research reported experiencing awe three or more times per week. Berkeley Professor of psychology, Dacher Keltner, the senior author of the study, advises people to seek out awe often. Keltner suggests that everyone’s experience of awe will be different but one common factor all awe inspiring events share is ‘the goose bump test.’
3 tips to experience awe:
We can all benefit from these research findings by seeking to increase our daily experience of awe. Three tips to experience awe:
1. Recall the last few times you experienced awe, where were you, what were you doing, what prompted the emotion of awe?
2. At the beginning of each day, think about where the opportunities to experience awe might present themselves. Are these opportunities readily available throughout your day or will you have to look for opportunities to create awe?
3. Carve out time every day to experience at least one thing that you find awe inspiring.
Want to get involved in the University of California, Berekeley, Project Awe? Find out more here.
It would be great to hear your experiences of what inspires you to feel awe in the comments section.