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As some of you will know in September 2013 I embarked on a two-year programme of study, for a masters in positive psychology (MAPP).  On doing so I discovered that many people equate the term positive psychology with positive thinking, The Secret or the Law of Attraction.  while they all have “positive intent” as a common thread, that is where the similarities end.

To explain a little more about what Positive Psychology is here’s a video:

What is Positive Psychology

Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar

A great read. Well-researched and gives us permission to be human.

However, that’s not the whole story.  The video focuses on Martin Seligman’s PERMA model (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment).  I recently came across another way of explaining Positive Psychology, by Tal Ben-Shahar, who has written the book Happier.  Tal Ben-Shahar has the wonderful phrase of giving ourselves “permission to be human”.  This embodies the concept of positive psychology perfectly to me; it is about experiencing the ups and the downs of life, being real and being realistic (see my earlier post on optimism).

Positive Psychology is not about denying the negatives in life, the events we wish hadn’t happened, or the feelings we wish would go away.  It is the scientific study of what enables people to be fully human, to experience more of the ups by choice, taking empirically researched steps to increase their levels of well-being, meaning in life and happiness.

Not just “thinking positively”.

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Your thinking strategies affect your performance

There is a general assumption in Western society that optimism is best, that happiness is something to be achieved and that looking on the bright side is the right thing to do.

But optimism has been likened to red wine by researchers Puri and Robinson; a glass a day can be good for you, but a bottle a day can be hazardous.  Here’s why…

 

There’s an extent to which being optimistic and looking on the bright side is good for you, but also times and circumstances where it’s not.  I’ll discuss the wonderful issue of happiness another time… here I’m going to focus on optimism and the benefits and drawbacks for both personal health, well-being and in business.

The Good News

Research has shown that having a generally optimistic disposition, a tendency to look on the bright side, has its benefits.  Optimists are more likely to live longer, recover faster from surgery, have greater coping strategies with strong social networks, and feel happier than those with a pessimistic outlook.

Optimism and Goals

Optimism, or holding an optimistic bias as Tali Sharot termed it in her book, The Optimism Bias, has some drawbacks.  Research has shown that optimism often means tendency to underestimate the likelihood of negative events occurring in the future.  This can lead to behaviour which is detrimental to achieving your goals.  In one study, optimistic participants were inclined to stop persevering at a difficult task sooner than pessimistic participants.  A possible explanation is that optimists generally have a more positive mood.  Evidence suggests that people in a positive mood will act to preserve that mood.  So if you have a difficult task to delegate at work, don’t give it to the most positive person in your team!

Giving feedback to an optimist may also be a challenge.  In studies, optimists recalled feedback about their performance as significantly more positive than it actually was.  They also assumed they had less to improve in relation to their performance.  So don’t be surprised if some of your staff or colleagues don’t hear the feedback you give them; their brains are selectively discounting the information… they are not consciously ignoring you!

Defensive Pessimism and Performance

This is a type of pessimism which, when used effectively, helps people achieve goals, perform well and reduce anxiety.  Rather than a general pessimistic, Eeyore-type outlook, defensive pessimism as identified by Julie Norem and Nancy Cantor, is a strategy employed by some people to prepare for all eventualities.  When facing a difficult task or situation, the defensive pessimist will think through all the things that could go wrong and how they will feel if those events occur.  They then, and this is the crucial bit, put strategies in place to try to ensure the negative events don’t happen.  I notice this in myself when I am preparing for a presentation or workshop… what if I can’t get into the building, what if the computer doesn’t work, what if my slides won’t load, what if I forget what I want to say, what difficult questions might I be asked?  Then I take steps to phone up the venue to check the access times, put my slides onto a data stick and into Dropbox, put my laptop in the car and think through the questions and my likely responses… all “just in case”!

Don’t stop someone playing through their “what if” scenarios.  If someone well-meaning tries to help a defensive pessimist think on the bright side by telling them not to worry, to look at what will go right, performance can be negatively affected.  So saying to me “don’t worry, you’ve given hundreds of presentations and that’s never happened” isn’t at all helpful, even though it’s meant to be reassuring.  Equally a defensive pessimist shouldn’t encourage someone with a strong optimistic disposition to think about what might go wrong.  They will perform worse too!  So it’s a case of recognise the differences and ‘vive le difference’.

Would you like to increase your levels of optimism?

You can give your optimism a boost by noticing and logging three good things each day (these may be small such as there was no queue for at the coffee machine, or the bus was on time, to larger more significant things such as we won the contract, or I submitted my data on time and the boss was pleased with the results).  Another way is to list the goals you want to achieve and write a description of yourself and how you want your life to look in a few months or years and review this every-so-often.

In summary:

A good level of optimism is beneficial to health and well-being.

Too much optimism can result in ignoring crucial information

Allow people to think through their “what if” scenarios if they need to

 

References and useful Links

Find out whether you are a Defensive Pessimist

Buy The Positive Power of Negative Thinking by Julie Norem

Research articles by Norem & Cantor and Tali Sharot,

What does Mindfulness have to do with the bottom line profit and the productivity of your staff (or yourself)?

How often do you spend time being in the moment, being conscious of your actions, taking control of your thoughts?  Or do you spend time responding to the ping of a new email, switching tasks readily and getting interrupted at work?

Research from Harvard in 2012 found that for the average person (if there is such a thing) the mind wanders 47% of the time.  What they also found was that a wandering mind equated with an unhappy person.  If you feel unhappy at work how productive are you versus the times when you feel happy?  Stands to reason doesn’t it, happier people = more productive people.  There’s a great TED talk by Matt Killingsworth on this topic, showing just how important it is to stay in the moment, something which practicing Mindfulness can help with.

What has also come to light is that practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress, increase happiness and boost productivity.  Here’s a link to a fuller article on the subject by www.mindful.org

Don’t just enjoy reading it, give it a go, you’ll be amazed at the results!

 

I have just come across a very interesting blog on Emotional Intelligence, and how it has progressed over the years since Daniel Goleman wrote his book in 1995 “Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ”.  The blog is a very interesting read and rather than replicate the whole of it here, I’m providing the link:

http://intentionalworkplace.com/2013/06/13/emotional-intelligence-20-years-on/?goback=%2Enmp_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1

There’s a great difference in being emotionally self-aware and able to read emotions in others.  Some people I find are good at both, while others are good at one or other.  How confident are you in assessing your own and others’ feelings?

To hone your own emotional intelligence I suggest you try looking at these two things in isolation:

First, find a list of feelings (there’s a good list here by Byron Katie).  Then start to notice your own emotions, pause a review the list a few times a day to increase your own feelings vocabulary.  Once you have done that for a week notice whether you can register and name your emotions more quickly.

Next, focus on other people.  How might they be feeling in certain situations?  Look at their body language, the subtle facial expressions and listen to their tone of voice to help you draw your conclusions. Remember, this isn’t about how you are feeling.  Aim to adapt your responses to how you think the other person is feeling, and if appropriate ask them.  Continue to do this for a week and then assess whether you can gauge an emotion from others with greater accuracy than before.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness at Work
www.mindful.org

How important is mindfulness in business?

Having attended a Forward Ladies event sponsored by Barclays I came away inspired, enthused and reinvigorated.  It set me thinking about how often do we do that for ourselves?  Or do we just stay stressed individuals, trying to keep up with the rapid pace of life.  Practicing mindfulness is one way inspiration and relaxation can be achieved, with surprising results.

The two speakers, Deirdre Bounds founder of i-to-i and Sally Preston, Kiddylicious, both agreed in the Q&A session that when running a business taking time out for you (the business owner/founder) was very important.  Their advice?  Book a holiday!  So with the summer months approaching – I know the weather isn’t complying with the sentiment – where and when is your holiday going to be?

When I first started my business in September 2000 I remember people being really surprised that I had already booked a week’s holiday in late October.  It was the best thing I could have done as the pattern was then established.  Over the last 13 years I have taken more and more time out from the business, and the result?  A fall in turnover?  A loss of business?  No!  An increase in both my client base and my turnover.  So much for the addage “I can’t afford the time…”.  You can’t afford not to!  As the late Stephen Covey agreed with his 7th habit “Sharpen the Saw”.

Regular, smaller, timeouts are also extremely important.  I recently came across this post which identifies the benefit of taking time out while at work http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/a-new-way-to-work? together with the infographic on the mind at work.