What can marshmallows reveal about your willpower when it comes to goals? Yes, we know, seemingly nothing much. When you set yourself a new goal, you can bet that willpower, grit and determination will be key components. Enthusiasm can get you started but what happens when the going gets tough? Willpower makes or breaks your dream or goal. But is willpower something that we are born with or can it be developed to help us work towards positive change? We take a look at an iconic marshmallow experiment all about cognitive control (you’ve got to love science that uses marshmallows), three steps to help you develop your willpower along with evidence from the world of neuroscience to help you reach your goal.
Sometimes making changes can seem overwhelming, wondering where to start can be a major sticking point. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. PERMA Model to the rescue.
The PERMA model sets out 5 core components necessary for wellbeing and happiness. Seligmann offers the model as a way to obtain fulfilment, meaning and happiness throughout every sphere of life from the personal to the workplace. Whether you are planning a major lifestyle overhaul or you want to tweak things to find greater balance in your life, this model is a great place to start from. Let’s take a look at the five elements of PERMA.
P = Positive Emotion
Positive emotions go way beyond feeling happy. They include love, gratitude, compassion, contentment, zest, joy, hope and amusement. Perhaps you read that list and told yourself that these emotions are dependent upon personal circumstances? That emotions are a wild untameable beast that you can’t control at will? Rest easy we’re not going to send you off on mission impossible. Research from one of the world’s leading experts in positive emotions, Professor Barbara Fredrickson suggests that they can be built. Her theory, known as ‘Broaden and Build’ demonstrates how positive emotions can help us flourish in personal relationships, in the workplace as leaders or employees and even impact positively upon our longevity. Convinced? Good. Here are some practices that will help you build those life enhancing emotions.
Building Positive Emotions:
- Random acts of kindness: sending a thank you card, picking up litter, buying the person behind you in the queue a coffee, you get the idea.
- Keep a gratitude journal: write down 5 things each day that you are grateful for
- Make sure you carve out time for people who are important to you
- Build a resilience circle, friends who energise and renew you when you are with them. Leave the emotional vampires at home for this one.
E = Engagement
Seligmann describes engagement as “being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self- consciousness during an absorbing activity”. You might know this state as ‘Flow’ that state of consciousness where you are completely in the moment, absorbed and truly focused upon the task at hand. It’s the elusive ‘zone’. Time passes imperceptibly leaving hours feeling like minutes. When you are in flow you are also experiencing a stretch in your skills, focusing on something that provides you with a challenge. Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of ‘Flow’ is the leading authority on this topic. He describes how the intense concentration of flow is energising, satisfying and contributes to overall wellbeing. Csikszentmihalyi proposes that it is possible to increase our level of happiness by introducing more flow. But how?
- Practice mindfulness techniques to limit distractions and increase your focus on the present moment (one of the conditions necessary for flow)
- Savour being in the moment, noticing how you are feeling, what you are thinking along with any associated bodily sensations
- Identify your strengths. Seligmann and Peterson’s VIA Character Strengths Assessment (go to www.authentic-happiness.com to access the questionnaire) is a great, free way to identify your strengths. Seligmann and Csikszentmihalyi agree that using your strengths will increase your happiness, facilitate flow and increase your positive emotions to boot (and who doesn’t love two for the price of one?).
R = Relationships
The third element is relationships. “We are inherently social creatures and positive relationships have a significant impact on our wellbeing.” (Seligman, 2012). This applies to all of your relationships; friends, loved ones, family, colleagues, partner and everyone else who you might come into contact with either in your community or professional networks. Relationships expert, Shelly Gable, describes how sharing positive news with others enhances our relationships. Gable also studied couples and found those who communicated and responded enthusiastically to each other (active-constructive responding as Gable termed it) experienced greater wellbeing. Building and maintaining your social network may also protect you against cognitive decline.
How can you build your social network?
- Go places and do new activities
- Take an interest in people
- Develop your listening skills
- Join a class or take up a hobby
- Re-establish relationships with people that you have lost touch with
- Create time to see friends and maintain your current relationships. Manage your energy levels (and your diary) to make this happen.
- Be positive, people enjoy being around others who energise them
- Develop your emotional intelligence
M = Meaning
Seligmann describes meaning as something greater than ourselves. Meaning has many guises, it’s your purpose for being on the planet. Perhaps it’s a cause you feel strongly about, it could be your work or pursuing an activity that you feel you were placed upon the earth to do. Finding meaning is often linked to values that you hold dear, something important to you. Research in this area indicates that people with a purpose live longer, are more likely to experience personal growth after trauma and enjoy increased wellbeing. Purpose isn’t filling that black hole with things or constant busy-ness, it’s rooted in a much deeper level. Here’s how to take your first steps in the quest for meaning.
Wondering how to build meaning into your life?
- Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ as a good place to start. Viktor Frankls work on meaning was used in logotherapy and has even been applied to workplace settings.
- Consider supporting an organisation that you care about
- Spend time reflecting upon your values. Can you identify a top 10? Your values will act as your GPS when it comes to life, purpose and goal setting so it’s worth setting aside some detective time and a quiet space to consider this
- Develop your authenticity. Feel the fear of rejection and be yourself. There’s only one you so you can be the best version of yourself.
- Do something for someone else on a regular basis. We know that meaning is a lifelong pursuit so devote time to it, the evidence suggests every now and again is of little benefit. Be consistent.
A = Accomplishment
The final element is accomplishment or ‘I did it, and I did it well’ as Seligman puts it. Accomplishment requires goals setting, competency and mastery of those goals. Angela Duckworth defines the ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals’ as ‘Grit’. Grit is the ability to continue when achieving your goals feels like an uphill struggle. It is perseverance combined with the commitment to overcome adversity. Think of it as failing your way to success and you’re there with the concept of grit. So why are goals important?
We know that achieving goals, especially those linked to your values increases wellbeing over a period of time. Goals motivate us and help us to develop a growth mindset, a belief that we can try new things and succeed (even if it takes a while).
- The obvious starting point is setting goals. You’re more likely to achieve them if they’re SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound)
- Set yourself small goals to begin wth and build up to larger goals. Think of them as goal reps just like you would with weights at the gym. Start small and work up to the chunky, audacious goals. You’re building your accomplishment muscle!
- Celebrate and savour your achievements
- Remember the power of ‘not yet’. If you don’t succeed, learn from it, you’re just not there ‘yet’.
- If goals really aren’t your thing, consider making changes to your current habits, small incremental steps will pay dividends. For example, if you want to increase your physical fitness and catch the bus to work everyday, consider getting off a stop early to increase your steps. Tiny tweaks will make a big difference and you’ll still be building accomplishment at the same time
- If or when things get a little tricky with your goals and you’re feeling like it’s all a bit of an uphill struggle, visit our piece on ‘Grit’ for some great tips here https://positivechangeguru.com/embracing-diffild-resilience/