A post about appreciation

True, unadulterated, non-judgemental, uncynical, appreciation.

Not easy my friends, not easy at all. We, as humans are full of contradictions and fallacies. We have double standards galore, our behaviour is erratic, and our thoughts uncontrollable. There are few individuals inhabiting this world who can truly say they appreciate others. By and large, you and me, we’re not anywhere near it.

We have too many things going on. Politics at work, commitments to friends, responsibilities to family, conflict in society > none of these lend themselves to being appreciative. On an individual level, our bodies are amazing things. It’s a scientific miracle the human body actually exists and is able to thrive. Our minds are an added complexity. Conscious thought, unconscious thought, subconscious thought. It’s all a big pile of fuck-up.

But here we are. We exist. We live. You and I have the capacity for intelligent thought and ability to do something with it. But showing appreciation seems to never be high on our list of priorities. Strange really when one of the biggest motivators in a person’s life is to be appreciated. Instead we focus on getting to work on time. doing the daily toll, grumble, moan, bitch, having a beer, eating a meal. Life, it just gets in the way.

When did you last take a moment? Not to see the world through fresh eyes, but to appreciate that you are here at all? Have you? I had an opportunity to do that this week. I’ve had a busy 3 months. Kicked out of house, family stayed with my in-laws for nearly 3 months, moved to a new house, birthday parties, and big changes at work. It’s been tough at times. Yet, here I am.

So I’m taking the time to write down what I appreciate. I appreciate my wife. We have vastly contrasting views on so many of life’s things, but by God does it make me appreciate her. I constantly find I have to re-evaluate what I thought I understood, and that only causes greater appreciation. I appreciate my children. They show me what innocence is all about and how delicate life really is. Without them I would die inside, and I wish I never have to experience their loss. I appreciate my friends. I’m not an easy person to be friends with. I make demands and can be quite unaccommodating. And they don’t put up with that shit and tell me to shut the fuck up. Fuck yeah! I appreciate the rare position I’m in to enjoy the work I do. I haven’t had to graft to get to my position, not like many have. I’ve had a fairly easy ride of things. And that’s pretty rare in the main. And I appreciate my parents. They have taught me so much about what it means to act humbly, I can only hope I am able to teach my family the same.

>Being positive takes effort

>I write often about positive psychology and the very practical applications it offers to help people realise and understand how they can act differently if they wish to lead more ‘happier’ lives. Now, ‘happier’ is always a subjective term, and no-one can dictate to you, how happy you should be, this is a judgement you need to make for yourself. But, if you do wish to be happier, there are some very easy, very practical things you can go.

Before I launch into the different kinds of activity you should think about, let me stress this. This isn’t a one trick pony. In order to achieve a more positive state of mind, or be happier, it takes concerted effort, and you need a strong support network. Be that friends, family, work colleagues, or professional help, someone needs to help you on this journey. Without a support network this will be a truly difficult task.

Additionally, extensive research has been carried out into the tangible effects of acting in the ways listed below. The research shows positive changes in a person’s own sense of positivity over a period of time, how positive they are about others, and whether or not, the practices hold a lasting effect. I’ll not cite the various pieces of research as I’m in a rush. But, and I will hold my name to this, I would not be suggesting the things below, if I didn’t believe it.

I’ve written before about writing 3 good things at the end of the day. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see I try to do this, and you’ll also see how infrequently I do it. It’s a very easy thing to do for a short while. As a continued effort though, it does take practice before you remember to do it regularly. In honesty, I think about my #3goodthings most nights, I just don’t write it down. And that’s the hey part, because you’re articulating it rather than thinking it.

A gratitude visit is a very powerful way to raise your sense of positivity. This essentially entails you taking the time to visit one person and let them know why you’re thankful they’re part of your life. This doesn’t have to be a regular weekly or monthly activity, but it does need to happen at least once or twice over a long period of time. What this helps to do is raise your confidence in being able to appreciate those in your life, and expressing it in a way which is meaningful to both you and the receiver.

Act in small ways which are unselfish. It doesn’t take a lot to give someone the time of day, or to help answer a query. But in this busy world we fool ourselves into thinking that someone else will do it. Yes, maybe they will. But should that stop you from doing it too? No. There are few people I know who truly act without expectation of the same for them. And for that I will always hold them in high regard.

One of the most powerful ways to help you and others around you feel good, is by smiling. So much is associated with a genuine smile. This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re not one for doing this, have a look at those around you who do, and consider how much of an impact they have on those around them.

And that’s where I stop. Four things you can do to help raise your level of positivity and how you think about being happy.

Bad day? Suck it up.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know I’m a fan of positive psychology and that I’m a fan of Martin Seligman. His work has been central in building positive psychology as a distinct discipline. I heard him give a talk about his work in positive psychology and I was very inspired by him and the work he presented. This produced two posts I wrote about: 3 Good Things and Can I Rule the World Now

So where does this field of psychology take me today? Seligman’s work has been mainly with people who suffer depression in its many forms. And one of the key insights he offered to us (his audience) was this. Sometimes you have bad days, and that’s just life. Now that’s hardly profound, but it is important not to overlook it. We can get so caught up with positive attitudes, constructive conversations, collaboration, engagement activities, and generally making life an enjoyable experience.

But sometimes it’s just shit. And there’s not a lot you can do about it. Just accept that you’re having a bad day. It will pass. You know it will. But whilst it’s happening just get on and do your thing. Don’t wallow in it. Moan to your friends if you have to. But ultimately just do what you’re here to do. You know, work. You’re still capable of doing that. You’re still capable of fulfilling your day to day job details. You’re still capable of interacting with other people.

And that’s it. That’s your bag. Most days we have are good days. And those shit days, are just shit.

>3 Good Things

>I’m a fan of positive psychology. It’s a wonderful field of study that has produced a lot of interesting results in helping people identify specific activities they can do to elevate their mood and help themselves maintain a positive state of mind.

The work was pioneered by a psychologist by the name of Martin Seligman. I’ve listened to him talk and he’s a wonderful person who is very warm and honest about the difficulties he has faced in his own life that have prompted his interest in this area. The work has mainly been accomplished and continues with people who suffer various modes of depression.

There are some very specific exercises that are encouraged which have generated marked improvements in general feelings of happiness. Seligman coined a term ‘authentic happiness’. I’m going to focus on one in particular method. It’s important to remember this is not a one trick pony. Nor is it the primary solution to relieving bad moods. It’s one method which is easy to do.

At the end of the day you should take the time to reflect on the day and remember 3 good things that have happened to you that day. That’s all you have to do. Write them down somewhere that you can keep a diary/log/blog. You’ll find that initially the things you write tend to be things like ‘the sun came out today’, or ‘had a good meal’. As you become more committed to it, you’ll find you write other things such as ‘helped a colleague solve a work problem’ or ‘had a good workout’ or ‘kept my anger in check today’. The important thing isn’t how deep or profound the good thing is, just that it provides a focus for thinking about good events rather than hanging on bad things.

On Twitter I’ll also start a twitter profile @3_GoodThings. Annoyingly @3GoodThings, @ThreeGoodThings and @3_Good_Things were all taken and none are being used well. If you like the idea of this, then please follow.

My intention here is to help people realise that being happy is always within our control, we just need to be conscious of how we do it.

>Can I rule the world now?

>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.

>I’m self-aware. Am I?

>Oh that elusive ideal of self-realisation. What is that meant to achieve? Why do I need to be self-aware? Who does it benefit? How does it change anything in the future? Surely we should just respect that we each have different points of view and that’s all we need to do? And how do I become self-aware?

Consider this. You are learning how to ride a bike. Your dad tells you how to improve. What you’re doing wrong, how to balance, hold the handlebars and press the brakes. At school you’re learning how to do addition. The teacher helps you understand why you’re not getting the right answer. You try again and wait for a response. At university you hand in the first draft of your dissertation. You’re waiting to find out if you’re on the right path. Each of these situations has one thing in common. You are seeking and waiting for someone to give you feedback.

Why is it then that once you enter adult life and the world of work that you stop to solicit feedback? Not in terms of being able to do the job. Of course you want to know if you are producing work which is of the required standard. But just as important why are you not trying to understand if you are behaving in the desired fashion? Is this an aspect of the job role which is not important?

Some companies insist on 360 feedback surveys for their staff. But that’s not the same. You can dismiss them easily as not being truthful or the respondents not being the right people. But if you manage someone you have the responsibility of making them aware of how they are behaving.

But why do it? Because in life if you want to succeed you have to know how you are perceived, and thereby how you have to improve. I firmly believe in positive psychology and the benefits it can bring. Keeping in mind some prinicples from that school of thought you can achieve amazing things:
– Reverse the focus from negative to positive
– Develop a language of strength
– Balance the positive and negative
– Build strategies that foster hope

If you want this to be a successful strategy you have to be soliciting feedback from the right people. People who are not willing to be nice because of misplaced politics. People who are genuinely interested in seeing you develop and mature. In that respect I’m lucky I have Mrs P, Jim and Joe. Those 3 individuals are my harshest critics and best friends. I can guarantee if I’m doing something wrong I will feel the force of their venom and it will be true. I can’t escape from that. It forces me to act. It forces me to evaluate what I am doing and why I am doing it. I am forced to raise my self-awareness or risk remaining unaware.

Question yourself viciously. Seek feedback from those not afraid to give it. Be adult enough to deal with it. And be bold enough to admit you may not be self aware enough.