The Practise of Positive Psychology

On Saturday I’m going to be talking at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Positive psychology is all about how to strengthen experiences of feeling good. We spend so much time living, that sometimes when good things happen we forget how to cherish those experiences and elevate the relevance they have in our lives.

Positive thinking is not the same thing as positive psychology. Positive thinking is useful for helping to reframe when something has happened to you and you need to think better about it. It is the wrong type of intervention to use when something serious has happened. It is definitely the wrong intervention when experiencing something traumatic.

Traditional psychology and therapy have focused on helping people move from a place of feeling depressed and needing support to a place of feeling neutral about those things. In and of itself that is not easy and can often take years of therapy, counselling and sometimes medicine.

Positive psychology is about techniques that help create lasting feelings of feeling good, improving wellbeing and strengthening a persons resilience. Where traditional psychology and therapy are about supporting a person to feel more in control and live their life, positive psychology aims to help people learn how to feel vibrant and thrive. It helps a person focus on their strengths and consider what is going right.

Carrying out a daily reflection of #3goodthings helps a person to learn how to appreciate the good moments and experiences they have had over their day. The importance of this is to cultivate appreciation of yourself and of others.

Research has shown that couples who have strong relationships have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative statements. This helps us to understand that some conflict is healthy in a relationship, however what is more important is how partners share their appreciation of one another. In the workplace this reduces to 3:1 for a healthy and effective team.

Positive psychology is not about dismissing difficult or challenging situations or denying they happen. We learn a lot about ourselves when we are faced with these types of situations, and they force behaviours which we may not be comfortable with nor understand. This is reality and helps ensure that we have a sense of perspective of what good really looks like when compared to bad. In learning how to deal with these situations we increase our resilience and improve our chances of managing those situations better in future. Importantly, we learn that these situations are rarely permanent and we can find a solution which works.

Hope and optimism are important tenets of positive psychology. They help people feel that they are in control of what happens to them, that difficult times are transitory, and that they can feel good about the future. When we have hope and optimism we find the drive and motivation to do and achieve more.

When receiving good news, how we respond to the other person can either strengthen or weaken a relationship. Imagine the statement “I got a promotion”. There are four response modes:
– active constructive – we acknowledge, ask further questions, support and celebrate with the other person “That’s really good news! How are you feeling about it? Let’s go out for a meal!”
– passive constructive – we acknowledge with cursory words “Well done.”
– passive destructive – we don’t acknowledge and instead bring the focus to yourself “I think I’d like to go out shopping at the weekend.”
– active destructive – we acknowledge and seek to take apart the statement and find fault in it “Well that means you’ll be working harder and they’re only going to give you more work than you can handle.”

Most of us go to work and have a home life. These two things tend to be our first and second place. We can all consider how to find a third place where we carry out an activity which we are fully engaged in, helps us feel rejuvenated, we don’t notice the time passing, and we have no judgement or criticism about the activity. For me its skiing and when I’m not doing that it’s writing. This can feel like an indulgence. It might be.

Final thoughts will be on summarising the above, encouraging everyone to find a way for the different techniques to work for them and keep practising. As with most things in life, if something is worth doing then you have to take the time to learn how to make it work well.


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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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