What does Positive Psychology tell us about Organisations?

One of the biggest challenges facing psychology practitioners is taking the many theories and models and applying them to daily life in a useful and applicable way. It’s great being able to discuss things like the ethics of the Milgram experiment where people could have caused severe physical pain to (allegedly) unwitting participants. It’s fascinating to learn how taking drugs affect our mood and help regulate our thinking. It’s interesting to learn how children develop language and learn lexical knowledge.

By the way, worth saying that although my background is in psychology, I don’t necessarily class myself as a practitioner. More a pseudo-practitioner.

It’s not all easily transferable to everyday life though. Some of these models and theories need to be interrogated further to uncover and break through to the heart of the matter. In education for instance, how do we apply what we know about cognitive development to the purposeful act of learning and teaching?

And so it is with positive psychology. Here’s a school of thought which ia dedicated to helping people improve their personal sense of wellbeing and happiness. And, at an individual level I’m totally there. I know what interventions are useful. I’m learning how people apply them. I’m keeping open mind about what else is useful for people. And there’s a lot being shared about how to help people.

What remains a challenge, though, is how to help embed this knowledge in organisations to help them improve their organisational health. There’s an odd concept, right?

There are a few things which I think are useful to help thinking and planning, although not necessarily about actions.

Positive psychology tells us that when we show appreciation and gratitude to others, we feel better about ourselves for longer, and it helps others feel good about themselves. It also creates a lasting memory which we can draw on for feeling good. What would the application of that look like in an organisation without ir becoming a trite or false event?

Lots of people are aware of focusing on strengths as a way of developing others. Where possible we should totally do this. But where and how do we identify those strengths? Does this happen at recruitment? If so, are we hiring people for a strength in a skill or a strength in their attitude? Does it happen during performance reviews? If so, how is their strength measured? And is the strength relevant to the job?

One thing which I find fascinating is that in the modern world of work, we are tied to people staying in a lengthy contract of employment. I get it, but what happens when a person outgrows the organisation and is ready to move on? Do we actively and purposefully help them move on in the same way we would put them through a disciplinary procedure intending to exit them?

How do we help people build resilience? Positive psychology helps us to understand that we have to have personal capacity for dealing with bad events. It’s only through dealing with reality that we can make things better. If a process is broken, do people feel they have the personal power to make it change? If a project fails, do people feel safe that they can be expected to carry on with their job without it having detrimental effect on their career? If there are redundancies being made, how are we supporting the survivors to help them readjust and realign so that they can be their best?

How do we use people centred approaches to work? Things like believing in co-creation as a way of working. Not working groups or committees, but allowing things to emerge and be flexible in how they happen. Providing a set of principles as opposed to policies abd procedures. When rolling out a new initiative, inviting people to define for themselves what the roll out plan needs to look like instead of a uniform execution of the same thing. Give people parameters for what needs to happen and they will be amazing all on their own.

These are just some thoughts I’m trying to make work better. I’m not advocating everyone should act in these ways. And clearly some organisations will actively rail against a lot of what I’ve written because of the heavy regulatory frameworks they have to work in. So, I invite you to keep with me on this journey of application and discovery.

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The Science of Happiness part 2 – appreciation and collaboration

This is the second post in a short series on a talk I went to see last week by Tal Ben-Shahar, courtesy of Action for Happiness.

In the first, I wrote about Tal’s emphasis on reality. He lives in Israel, and in the Q&A, someone asked him the big question of how to deal with the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’ll come back to that a bit later.

Reality drives our existence. What we perceive is the truth we live. If we perceive there to be injustice, we will find it. If we perceive there to be beauty, we will find it. If we perceive there to be human misery, we will find it. If we perceive there to be love, we will find it.

Ben-Shahar made an observation that identifying this reality means we experience a range of emotions, and we have to understand those emotions and how they affect us. If it is true that reality drives existence, then it is also true that emotions drive behaviour. As a species, we have a real depth of understanding of how different emotions prepare the body and mind for action, or not.

He went on to say that it’s in experiencing painful emotions that we experience what it is to be human. Our painful emotions provide us the platform from which we can be human. As a quick, he said the only two types of people who do not experience painful emotions are psychopaths and the dead.

The resilience we build from having painful emotions is what supports our ability to experience positive emotions and positive living. We know what the bad feels like, and will try not to let that happen again. Through positive psychology techniques we support ourselves to build our psychological immune system. I loved that as an analogy.

Tal spoke about the importance of appreciation too. In marriages, once the honeymoon period is over, we start to recognise the imperfections in our partners. We start to let those imperfections become more important than their positive attributes. Reality drives existence. If we focus on the imperfections we see only imperfections.

One of the things that helps is to make efforts to appreciate your partner. Verbally this is important as you are recognising them openly. Our actions also show this, and gestures like small gifts or in kind are important. When we appreciate the good, the good appreciates. Nice, no?

We need to appreciate our imperfect selves better, and in doing so we can appreciate others better. It can be challenging to live well, if we don’t practise appreciation.

Finally he spoke about conflict. In conflict, often the focus is on two differing opinions and the debate nearly always comes back to that. He described, though, a potential way of reconciliation. Imagine if the two parties collaborated on a task which was for the greater good. The collaboration would allow the two parties to start to focus on something other than their conflict. The conflict could and should still be addressed. But the collaboration would mean you are cultivating optimism and hope through an activity for the better good.

He was open and modest enough to recognise there is no easy answer to the Israel/Palestine conflict. However, two people from either side have collaborated in such a way as to focus on the greater good, and this does lay down the path for hope in this situation, even though it may be a long way to come.

It was all kinds of awesome to listen to Tal Ben-Shahar.

The Science of Happiness part 1 – Reality is important

This is a short series of posts where I’m writing about a talk I went to last week on the topic of: The Science of Happiness. It was held by Action for Happiness, and the speaker was Tal Ben-Shahar. In the field of positive psychology, Tal is one of the leading figures of academia, practise and thought leadership.

There is something about someone who understands basic things about audience dynamics before he’s even started the presentation which I enjoy. On this evening, Tal made comment that he doesn’t like to do evening talks because that’s when we should be with our family’s or loved ones and spending time with them. He also said that he was told by the compere that he had to keep the talk short and that the hall was only booked until midnight (the programme was due to end about 8:30 pm).

From there it was just a treat to listen to him talk. He relayed a story about someome asking him what’s the one secret to happiness? He replied, there isn’t one, but three – reality, reality, reality. And this was a repeated theme during his talk.

For me, I loved hearing this. He spoke about the work that’s been done in this field and said that time and again it’s not extraordinary or successful people who are any more happy than anyone else. Instead it’s that there are ordinary people, showing ordinary attributes which help them be happy.

Personal is everything. Perspective is everything. There is no global panacea for happiness. It’s all about you and what sense you make of the world.

He continued by telling us how in children we see the best of what this could be. When faced with hard situations, challenging life options and an unclear future, is when resilience is most important. When people are able to consider the following, they allow themselves to build their resilience and have a better future:
– clear future goals
– being kind to others / volunteering
– an optimistic outlook
– identifiable role models
– physical exercise

There’s a lot to say about that list and to help people understand them better. It’s far from exhaustive but are broad categories that capture a lot of behaviours which are beneficial to individuals.

When he started talking about how our thinking affects our reality, I was agreeing vigorously. If our focus is on what’s not going right, then the solutions and insights we seek are only supportive to that. That only makes sense to me and I’m left saying, of course it does! But it’s one of those obvious statements that sometimes needs stating.

The opposite is also, clearly, true. If our focus is on what’s going well, then the solutions and insights we seek will be in support of that.

Remember, reality is important. If we’re not addressing reality, we’re not giving ourselves the right opportunities to be happy. Answering questions around what’s not working are useful and important. Answering questions around what’s working well help provide optimism and hope.

In part two I’ll talk about appreciation, imperfect people, and psychopaths, all from Tal Ben-Shahar’s talk.

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.

This thing about positive psychology

So, yeah I’m holding a series of open workshops in 2014 on the topic of positive psychology. The first is in London, on Tuesday 18th March. You can either book clicking on the button to the right, or here.

Anyway, why bother? Here’s the hard sell, for those who want some clarity about what you can learn.

So what is this thing about positive psychology though? Why is it even a topic, and why should I care about learning about it?

Here’s the thing. I want you to live a good life. But importantly, we all want to live a good life.

A good life can mean so much, and is so varied.

A good life could mean you make more money. It could mean you gain that promotion you’ve been seeking. It could mean achieving a personal goal. It could be about finding the partner who’s right for you.

We all define ‘good’ according to what our value set is all about.

And seemingly, if you’re on social media, you read about stories of people all living apparently good and happy lives. Well, that’s partly the beauty of and the challenge of using social media to share your stories. Do you want to be the one people see as spreading sad/upsetting news, or the person who shares good/happy stories that people ‘like’?

It’s tough too, because the more we read about other’s stories, the more we have the urgency to share something of our own. It’s a form of conformity which we’re largely unattuned to, and can be hard to resist. I know I fall guilty of it – and in part, I help promote this.

I wouldn’t call it a fall sense of happiness, I’d call it a false sense of reality. Social media allows to be seen what we share through it. Once people have a perception of what you’re about, and you have a sense of that, it’s hard to be someone different or to include other aspects of yourself.

Thankfully, there’s been a host of research, both academically and in the corporate environment, that helps us to understand what it means to be happy, and to live a good authentic life. We can take those learnings and apply them to our personal life, and to how we operate corporately.

The challenge to this all is making it happen. I can help you learn more about it. You can obviously read more about various authentic and positive practices yourself.

Here’s what I know, though. This thing about positive psychology isn’t going away. People will be hearing about it more, and people will be wanting to understand how to make it happen. It will start to make a better and positive difference to people’s lives, and it will start to help working environments be better. Quite definite statements, aren’t they? Who can guarantee anything? I can guarantee it insofar as I know that this area of psychology is already having a positive impact in a lot of ways.

If I want you to live a good life, I want you to understand how to do that, and how to make it happen. Make a booking to the next workshop here.

Positive Psychology in Application in 2014

A nice simple post today. Over 2014 I’m planning on holding a number of open workshops on Positive Psychology in Application.

The first is planned for Tuesday 18th March. You can book your tickets here. This one will be in London, and is from 0845-1300.

But wait, there’s more.

I’m holding the other workshops across the UK. Currently, I’m planning on:

May 15th – Birmingham
September 25th – Manchester
December 4th – Bristol

The times of the sessions will all be the same – 08:45-13:00.

Gotta love a bit of ambition.

Just what is true ‘people practice’?

In Sikhi we are taught that to be in the company of others is a blessed thing. This single belief permeates a lot of our practices and customs. It’s why when you go to a Sikh home, you will always be welcomed, you will be fed, you will be given sweets, and you will be made to feel part of the family you never knew existed. It’s why when you go to a gurdwara, you will be accepted no matter the colour of your skin, or the faith you follow (or don’t). This fundamental belief stems from the power shared by our tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji.

In the late 1690’s, he recognised that the lineage to date of Sikh gurus couldn’t continue. There was no one else he could pass the responsibility of leading the Sikh people onto. So he made an unprecedented move, and in 1699, when he congregated thousands of people at Anandpur Sahib in North India, he showed everyone present just how much power they had. He asked for five faithful followers to sacrifice their lives for him, and he received them one by one. The gathered crowd believed these men to have died, and were surprised to discover them all emerge from a tent wearing distinctive clothing. Guru Gobind Singh ji declared these five his Panj Pyare – the five (Panj) beloved (Pyare) ones. He also declared that his Panj would from that point forward be the ones who make all decisions for Sikhs.

Another central tenet to Sikhi is the concept of sewa – selfless work. We see this most often when you visit a gurdwara. There will be people present who will make food for anyone who visits, and it is entirely free, with no concept of paying or one person being any more deserved that another. All are equal in the eyes of God. You will be served food, and your dishes cleaned after you. You are not allowed to help yourself, although you can always ask for more if available. This is because there are volunteers present who have accepted this on behalf of their community. There are some who do it consistently and regularly, and there are some who do it as they see fit.

Social science tells us that people benefit by being around others. When we are depressed, when we need support to overcome an addiction, when we need therapy, one of the common techniques is to be involved in group activities of some kind. We find support in others, we find wisdom, we find friends and we find happiness. Equally we find the antithesis of all of those – we find exclusion, we find hurtful and abusive people, and we can find loneliness. Let me make this clear now, this has nothing to do with perceived levels of extraversion or introversion, this can happen to anyone.

Sticking with the benefits of being around others, though, we find the social benefits are evident too. We create a set of norms people accept, we find ways to challenge those and create something new, we find ways to entertain others and give joy, we find ways of making things happen simply by talking.

Add social media and technology to the mix and the opportunities for finding social groups that are supportive and positive are in abundance. Speaking for myself, I enjoy being able to step into different communities of interest depending on what I’m looking for at that time. I’ve often thought about keeping seperate Twitter accounts for different purposes, and then remember that I am all of my interests, and not one of them is more or less important than the other.

And then I want us to consider working environments. We strive to make things matter. Engagement and strategic strategising of strategies for a clear strategy is the name of the game. I’m all for that, and what I remain keenly mindful of is that we aren’t mindful enough of the power of people to find their own way through things. Even when we (HR and L&D) think we’ve found ways to help people, we trip over ourselves to mitigate for risk. There will always be times when someone gets upset, and that is no bad thing. People getting upset keeps us on our toes and ensures we are as inclusive and open about people practice as we can be.

Helping people to find their own way through their day to day tasks though. That’s what we need to focus on. That’s true HR, that’s true learning and development, that’s true coaching, and that’s true organisational development.