When Positive Psychology comes knocking

It’s time I got off the fence and declared that I have more than a passing interest in Positive Psychology. Whew, glad I’ve got that off my chest.

One of the areas of personal development I’m seeing people start to gain a real interest in is about their personal resilience and wellbeing. People want to better understand how to increase their capacity for dealing with daily life and for living a better life. For some, they’re at a point in their life where they are ready to make conscious efforts to live a positive life and help others in what they do.

At recent talks I’ve given on positive psychology, it’s a genuine pleasure to see how people react to the topic. When I see after the event people still talking about the topic, or I’m seeing people writing about their #3goodthings, I know I’ve had a hand to play in that. And it helps me to know that it’s a sought after topic.

Earlier this year I advertised a series of workshops I was going to run. I’m gonna do that again, and this time focus on one town/city as opposed to a range of choices.

The next bit of the evolution for me is to work with people individually in growing their understanding of the subject and how to apply it to daily life. I wouldn’t call it coaching. It’s probably more accurate to call it 1:1 development.

What is the difference between positive thinking and positive psychology? How does mindfulness help build personal resilience? Why should I write about #3goodthings? What is a gratitude visit? What is my signature strength? How does emotional intelligence help build positive relationships? What does a vibrant life mean? How do I create flow?

These are the types of questions we’ll be exploring together. And hopefully can help you to arrive at some answers which will lead to you living a life focused on your wellbeing, personal resilience and feeling good.


I’m no rebel

I’m no rebel.

I am selfish though. I care about my personal development and when I want something I find ways to make it happen. I’m proper selfish like that. Recently I bought a Samsung Chromebook because I wanted it. Yes there were practical and justifiable reasons for buying it, but I wanted it.

So I have always actively sought proper personal development. I have been on some stellar training which gave me the skills to do some really cool things with my craft. I’ve been on training which I was not interested in in the least, mostly because it was a mandated course. I still learned things, and it helped give context to the work environment I was in.

Which got to a point where I needed more. But not just wanting more for myself. I felt and sought out development for the profession. I started going to external events with fancy titles. I learned lots and heard from really interesting people, but wasn’t challenged in myself. And I didn’t see a progression of development for the profession, I just saw ways of tinkering with the edges to have a better product. That’s not good enough.

I’m no rebel.

I have expectations. Forget them, though. I have professional responsibilities. I want a better profession? Right, I best make that happen then. Cos there sure as hell was no one out there making it happen. Not for the profession. They were doing it for themselves.

Cos we’re all self-serving really. Oh yes you are.

Fast forward and I had the high privilege of bringing together people to discuss the L&OD profession. An opportunity. An opportunity to combine my selfish desire for personal development and to share that experience with others.

We played with visual minutes, which was über cool. We created these by the end of the day.

Not everyone contributed and that was fine. They experienced it.

We played with fishbowl facilitation. This really got people shifting in their seats. A panel in the middle. An audience surrounding them observing, listening, and waiting for an invitation to discuss. The Twitter backchannel lit up with people in and out of the room contributing and making themselves heard.


I may have said that competency frameworks are a pile of shit and we need to get rid of them.

Honestly, I’m no rebel.

I just like to play with stuff. I’m selfish. It’s cos I’m an only child.

Someone asked me what I got from the day? And someone else called the L&D Connect community rebellious.

I like playing. I gave myself permission to keep playing. There are great ways to bring people together, to learn, to share, and to develop. I tried things out in an environment where I trusted people to have a go. They were kind of primed for that from the word go. They didn’t really know what was in store for them, and I didn’t really know what would happen. It was an opportunity.

But seriously, I’m no rebel.

Different worlds

A while back I opened up the blog for welcoming stories through different media which share a purpose and imperative for people to change. I called it Learning Stories, and the first submission is from Vera Woodhead. This is a great story, and one I very much enjoyed reading. It made me question if I do these things, and what I know of myself. Thanks Vera.


Different worlds: from South America to not so sunny Yorkshire

It is 6 am, Friday 15th June 1979. A young girl pushes back the mosquito net and energetically jumps out of bed. She is excited, as today she is going to spend her savings to buy… a book.

Books are important in her life. They unleash the imagination and transport her to different worlds – where people live in fancy houses, drive cars and wear beautiful clothes; where children have adventures and do such exciting things. In this tiny village in South America there is not much to do apart from listening to the world service, pop songs and climb trees.

She heads outside to the shower. Well actually it is a tin shack shared with 2 lizards, a frog and a bucket of cold water. There is no electricity and
she finds her way around by the faint moonlight.

After breakfast, she searches for her shoes. She only wears them when she goes to school. She puts them on, grabs her bag, says goodbye and rushes off as she is late. Its quarter to 7 in the morning and the bus goes by at 7 am. She gets there just in time and manages to get a seat. 30 minutes later she gets off and heads down the road towards the ferry. The water is choppy and the 15 minute journey to cross the mighty Demerara River is now a 30 minute one. She manages to get to school just in the nick of time as the bell goes at 8.30 am

School is St. Stanislaus College. At the age of 7 she had decided that she didn’t want to go to the local village school. She wanted to go to THIS school where the diplomats, ambassadors and rich people sent their children. She persuaded her parents to let her sit the entrance exams to get a scholarship. Secretly, she believed that her parents thought that she would never make the grade and get in but she did. Her year was the first intake of girls in what was an all boys’ school. There was only 1 class in each year of this Catholic school which was run entirely by Jesuit Fathers.

She didn’t quite fit in… with the colour of her hair, her skin, her clothes and shoes….but she didn’t mind. It was a different world…and her teachers were like no other. Father Drake, the Maths teacher was feared as he was the one that did the caning. Father Rigby was a tall thin man who taught French. Her favourite was Father McClusky. As you have guessed, he was Scottish and portly: a bit like Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid in Harry Potter. He opened up the world of poetry, of Shakespeare, Keats, Blake, Steinbeck, Hardy, Dickens….and suddenly her world expanded again. She got the role of Portia in the school play, recited poetry in the school competition, wrote short stories and even won a few competitions ….

She was good at running, though she didn’t have the right shoes but that didn’t stop her doing well at sprinting. She was no good at art, her paintings never made it on the wall. The rolling pin that she made in woodwork didn’t quite roll and her embroidery work only got her 2nd placed. Imagine being beaten by a boy, Brian, her classmate…oh she loved school.

But her world was soon to be shattered as riots and shooting ensued outside the school and later Father Drake was fatally stabbed.
Her parents decided that it wasn’t safe. They gathered up all their savings and sent her and her sister to live with a spinster aunt in England. Ilford, Essex to be precise. It was a different world. She had never seen houses like these: all in a row, neatly joined up and not to mention, so cold.
School was Bancroft’s, 250 year old and was truly like something from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers. If she didn’t fit in the first school, she certainly didn’t fit in here. Language, culture, making friends, school work, the curriculum …were all a challenge but she took it in her stride.

At the end of the 2 years there and with no money left and a handful of qualifications she decided to train as a nurse – that way she could get a job, earn some money, live in student accommodation and move out of Mrs. Trunchbull’s (her nickname for her aunt) house. And so she worked her way up, studied hard and with each qualification gained her salary increased and career and life blossomed.

As you would have guessed that is an abridged version of my early life which has shaped who I am today.

You can’t do anything to change what has happened in the past but you can take control and create a different future for yourself. My learning:

1. Be self aware

Get to know the inner you – who you are, what your core values are, what you stand for …
Find out what your talents and strengths and use them. What are you good at? What can you spend ages doing? What do other people say you are good at? What do others ask you to do?

Align the inner You with the outer You. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. Be in harmony.

2. Be a sponge

Knowledge is powerful. The more you know the more you can use it to your advantage. Coupled with experience, knowledge and its application can help to progress your career, expand your worldview and grow your wisdom. Be open to learning and one of the best way of learning is through doing. You might not get it right first time, but making mistakes is all part of learning and building resilience.

Do something on a regular basis that stretches you and takes you out of comfort zone. It may be difficult, hard work, uncomfortable and perhaps even painful at times. But it is often from undertaking such acts and developing mental toughness that we grow progress and achieve our greatest accomplishments.

3. Be yourself

In the words of Tigger, “the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one.” There is only one you. Strive to be you only better. You are unique with your own set of talents and gifts.

When you realise that, you will stop comparing yourself to others – we are all different, with different skills, and talents.

Be proud of who you are and where you have come from. Don’t be a clone. Be an individual. Stand out from the crowd. Find opportunities where you can have a voice and put yourself forward when leadership opportunities present.

4. Be accountable

When things go wrong, don’t blame others and your life. Accept responsibility for it, learn from it and move on. Get into the mentality of seeing hurdles and problems as a challenge. And when faced with them, ask, ‘what do I need to do to solve it, who can I go to for help, what have I done in the past that has worked, how can I use my strength to get through this? …’ You have it within you to find the solutions, Believe you can

5. Be connected

It is our relationships with other people which form a network that supports us, make our lives meaningful, and ultimately enable us to survive. This is also good for our mental health and well being. Nurture your relationships and connections.

In your travels you will find people who will buy into you and your story and when they offer to help, seize it. When you need help, do not be afraid to ask for it. Seek out your friends, connections or find a mentor.

Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter @verawoodhead


If you want to contribute to Learning Stories, get in touch.

>Having the right conversation


In recent weeks I’ve been training and advising about using coaching as a format to develop staff for first time line managers. I mean line managers should be doing this anyway and that’s why it’s important to stress that coaching is a key technique in their bag of tricks that they should be able to do – Well.

But why is this the case? Why do managers need to bother doing this kind of activity to develop their staff? Why not leave it to the L&Der in the business/organisation to take care of it through training or other initiatives? Because the line manager is nearly always the first port of call for any questions or issues a direct report has. As such, the responsibility of being a line manager means there’s many things to take into account and be mindful of. The best phrase for being a line manager I have heard is they carry the responsibility of pastoral care for their direct reports. I think that captures the whole thing of being a line manager really nicely.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts that giving feedback is a key part of being a line manager. I’ve not yet written about why coaching is equally important. So here it is. In a recent CIPD learning and talent development survey, coaching still comes out as the top activity line managers can and should do to develop, motivate and engage their staff. All credit to the survey for highlighting this. Often, it’s seen as the responsibility of someone else in the organisation to make this happen – typically the L&Der. But the L&Der’s roles is to to just facilitate and enable the L&D to happen, either through interventions they have prescribed as approrpiate, or by involving leaders across the business to deliver tailored interventions.

Let’s first just be clear about what coaching is and what it can help with. Coaching is a methodology to help a member of staff arrive at their own conclusions. I hate sentences like that. They seem like they’re fluffy when they’re not. Let’s break it down using a model – GROW.
Goal – the first place to start in a coaching conversation is to understand what the coachee wants to get from a coaching conversation/session/relationship. This should be a searching conversation where the coach spends time asking questions about motivations, aims, and understanding what to focus on.
Reality – this is by no means the next step in the process, but it does help to understand other factors to bear in mind. Has the coachee considered the various implications of what they want to achieve? Do they have a plan for achieving their goal? Are they being realistic about achieving their goal and about learning how to achieve their goal?
Options – again, not linear but to be considered. In achieving the goal, what are the various options available to the coachee? Have they looked into various options or are they focusing on once path only? Why have they either chosen path (a) or not considered options (b) (c) and (d)? Do they know what is required of them to achieve their goal? Will they need to engage in other activities in order to achieve their goal?
Will – not necessarily last. What is their actual motivation for doing this activity? Have they thought things through with enough consideration that they can make a decision about what they want to do next? What support do they need? Who will be their ‘go to’ people to help maintain their motivation? Have they considered implications – financially, family, friends, work?
Those are brief paragraphs to provide an overview of how to have the right conversation. When line managers get this right, staff feel valued because they’re being given a chance to talk, be heard, and be supported. They’ll increase their discretionary effort they choose to exercise because they attach value to the organisation courtesy of the efforts of the manager. They’ll talk openly and positively about their organisation in differing ways to people they have regular contact with and contacts they make in their network. They’ll feel like they’re being developed by virtue of the time and effort you are giving them for their personal and professional development.

>What I don’t want to miss

>This post is more personal than others I’ve put previously. Mostly this is due to the impending birth of my third child. We have twin boys who will soon be 3 and are now at the age where they are trying to learn how to be independent. It’s really cool to see them develop. Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing odd bits of DIY and after seeing what I was doing they picked up their own tools (yes, toy tools) and start DIYing too. Then though, they realised that the toy tools don’t do what Dad is doing and need the real tools. Uh oh. Delving deep into the toolbox to find a screwdriver and hammer and do what Dad did.

It’s also very frustrating to see them be so damned independent. They quickly learned that the Iron Man bluray dvd goes into the bluray player and you need a particular remote for that to work. And so they go to it! The dvd is now broken. (“Daddy new? Shop new?”) Or they see that Mum is cooking and she’s stirring with that thing sticking out of that thing. I can do the stirring too cos it seems easy enough. Let me pull this chair close to the cooker and see how it goes. AAgh!!

And then I think about the newborn about to arrive. The baby will be tiny and fragile and delicate. The boys will want to know why there’s another child taking our attention away from them. And the wife’s and my attention will be drawn away because Baby will need caring for. There will be many late night awakenings, lots of nappy changes and for the first 6 months not a lot of interaction. But then Baby will grow like the twins. And the boys will learn to take care of Baby.

And that’s where family life starts to really form and take shape. Sure it takes time and life gets in the way. But that’s what I don’t want to miss.

So my message here is simple. Work is important. You have to bring in the money so you can give your family what they need and what they want. The responsibilities of family life are the most life important. Don’t make excuses for not being with the family. Don’t make excuses for not leaving work on time. Don’t make excuses for not having fun time with the family.

Find that work-life balance. Find that time to have fun with them. Find time to see what new thing they’re trying to do. That’s what I don’t want to miss.