>What does the new year beckon for a lot of people? Hopes and dreams. At best achievable hopes and dreams. Realistically for a lot of people, badly conceived hopes and dreams. At worst, false hopes and dreams. Why though? Why is it that people are not better at achieving their ambitions? Simply because not enough thought goes into the How. The What is ever present. The How, though, is ever elusive.
A world of thought I am enthusiastic about is positive psychology. One of the notable professors in this discipline is Martin Seligman. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him talk and he is a wonderful human being. He has learned through no hard pain of his own how to live a positive life. His research into this field shows that if you want to succeed in any respect, being positive and surrounding yourself with positive environments is key. He describes several pillars that you need to establish.
The first is positive emotions. Here you have to learn to accept the past, be happy in the present, hope for the future. These are no small things. In order for each to happen you have to spend energy allowing yourself to dwell and decide. There are key actions you have to take, and with the help of either self-learning or professional advice, you can take decisive action to allow your emotions to remain positive. An important aspect is to not dismiss unhappy/bad events but to accept them and learn from them.
You must then look at positive individual traits. Through careful feedback and focused development you can learn to understand what positive traits you already possess. This is of crucial importance. Too many people dismiss their strengths. From here you can then look to identify what other positive traits you want to either learn or develop. This is truly difficult. You need a mentor or trusted guide to help with this. Or the wisdom of Nelson Mandela.
Last you need to surround yourself with positive institutions. This is the ability to recognise what environments you operate in and the effect they have on your life. This isn’t simply the place of work or study or family life. This includes things like who you keep company with, what free time activities do you engage in, how do you commute, how do you like to travel, where do you shop, where do you eat, what’s your neighbourhood like, and the list goes on. This is probably the one we least consider. The other two are normally self-evident enough. But thinking about the institutions we surround ourselves with? Who cares about that? Not enough of us do.
So what does this tell us about anything? Does it mean simply being more positive? Not at all. It means if you want to succeed you have to make concerted efforts. There’s plenty of advice to say make plans and stick to them and make them achievable and make them clear and make sure you follow the SMART format and make more plans if you fail. Blah blah blah.
The insightful piece about positive psychology (there are many) tells us that you can take very practical steps to improve how you live your life. For example try the following. Think about yesterday. Think about it carefully. What did you do in the morning? Lunch? Teatime? Evening? Before bed? Now think about 3 things you did yesterday that made you feel good. Think of something which actually helped you feel good – no matter how fleeting. Now think about describing those 3 very exact positive experiences to someone you know. Could you do this? Could you actually articulate it? Now think about if you genuinely did this on a daily basis. Not necessarily telling someone daily, but either keeping a log or diary or even a blog! It would start to determine how you live your life as you find a way to complete each day thinking about positive events. By thinking about ending a day positively you will direct your energies at engaging in positive actions/language/behaviours.
I’ve been working at this ever since I’ve learned about it. It’s a struggle I’ll freely admit to. I’ve always been a fairly positive person. Actually for many years my language and actions have been about being positive. Only in the last couple of years though have I considered that maybe that’s not enough. I need to consider all aspects of my life and how they all lead me to being a positive influence on those I meet.
If you want to get all zen about this, then you can only truly rule the world if you first rule yourself. That’s a discussion point for another blog. So if you have set yourself new year resolutions then follow the advice that is currently floating around every publication in the next month. Positive psychology is about incorporating many facets of your life and finding a thread that links them all together. You won’t find out about that in most articles. You need to find where that motivation comes from and then start the journey. Oh yes. It’s another bloody journey. Done half-heartedly this will be another failed attempt at doing something different. Done right though and it’s a journey which will yield insight and discovery. I’m still on that journey. I’m enjoying it too.