Positive Thinking and Positive Psychology

This week I’m delivering a presentation on Positive Psychology at Work as part of an internal sharing session. We call them Truman sessions (mostly because we’re in the Truman Brewery) and they are a platform to share information across any topic which will be of interest to the business. I’ve only done one of these before, and that was last year. It’s quite nerve racking doing a presentation like this, which is about 40 mins long with time after for Q&A. But, you know me, I’m good with the spotlight. Seeing as how I crave attention (it’s why I’m in L&D after all), this sits perfect with me.

Earlier this year, I heard Sarah Lewis talk at #HRD11 and was very inspired by her work in positive psychology in the UK, and bought her book on Friday – Positive Psychology at Work (on my Kindle for Android naturally). I’m a few chapters in and thoroughly enjoying what she has to say. She presents theory mixed with a practitioner’s point of view and where she can highlights how some organisations are currently doing the things she talks about. For me, that’s a rich mix of material which I love.

One of the first distinctions she makes is that positive thinking and positive psychology are two very different schools of thought, and there can be a lot of confusion between the two. As she says, it’s a shame that they both start with ‘positive’ as this is the only thing they share.

So how do they differ? At it’s simplest, positive thinking is changing how you think so instead of being negative, you think positive. Positive psychology is about the study of behaviour and therapies that can increase a person’s sense of wellbeing to a positive and vibrant state. Clear as mud, right?

Positive Thinking

I like positive thinking, and have done for a long time. I am a positive thinker. I don’t tend to get dragged into being negative and don’t see the point in it. There’s a place for criticism, and for being angry, but I’m a firm believer that if you focus on the positive you can change the way you perceive the problem you are facing and the possible solutions that present themselves. This isn’t to say you delude yourself into a sense of all being right in the world, but you start to think differently about the work you do, and the interactions you have.

It’s akin to ‘positive mental attitude’ that sports people are taught. If you say self-affirming statements before you start a competition you start to engage the mind in a way to help you be successful. I also use the same idea when helping people with nerves over presenting. I find though, that it’s not enough to say positive statements, you need to experience a positive thought. The task I get the group to do is to recall a recent event that made them smile and made them feel good. Once they have this in mind, and can recount the experience, their energy levels increase across their language, their body language, and their enthusiasm/passion. I then get them to use positive statements which are more reinforced due to the positive state they are in. It works a treat, but it does involve some very clear steps in helping them get there.

Positive Psychology

As with other forms of therapy, positive psychology is about helping relieve a person’s state of wellbeing and how distressed they feel. The key difference though, is not focusing on the cause of the distress, although important, but using interventions to help produce lasting effects of feeling good. Feeling good is a very subjective thing, but through proven techniques, a person’s self observed state of happiness can move from being not distressed to feeling good quite significantly, and it’s often a lasting effect.

Such interventions are things such as a gratitude visit, writing #3GoodThings, engaging in social activities, and carrying out virtuous acts. Each of these, when done in a dedicated fashion, help to increase your own perceived sense of wellbeing. They make a difference to the way you actively live your life as you are engaging in activities that help you create a sense of positivity not just in the way you are, but how others interact with you, and the impact you have on others.

Both positive thinking, and positive psychology have a role in the work environment. We can use positive thinking in the way we conduct meetings, carry out annual appraisals, provide feedback and engage staff. Positive psychology is about creating work environments that are conducive to not just a healthy place to work, but a vibrant place to work – allowing people to carry out tasks without fear of blame or backlash for mistakes; not focusing on policies to enforce behaviour, but trusting people to do the right thing; having a socially active workforce that allows people to take part when they want to, bot because they have to; having forums and opportunities for people to express opinion that are heard, acknowledged, responded to and an action taken.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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