Monday, 31 December 2007
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give". Winston Churchill.
In December 26th's article on Positive Psychology News Daily, it was appropriate to take a look at the positive psychology research behind giving, and the related subjects of altruism, kindness and empathy.
If you're in Secondary/High School teaching, please do take a look at G-Nation, which works with young people aged 11-16 in the UK to show them how they can change the world by giving. And there's research which shows that acts of kindness can boost your well-being too. A no-brainer, as my old boss would say!
Image credit: Special/Krystle Fleming
Friday, 28 December 2007
It won't surprise many of you who work in business that if you use the same approach to setting personal goals that you use at work for annual objectives, you're far more likely to succeed.
This BBC article covers many of the key elements, which are often referred to in business by the SMART acronym: i.e. your goals should be:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Realistic
T - Time-based
So for personal goals:
i) make sure they're well-defined rather than vague,
ii) make sure you can measure your progress towards the goal and tell when you've achieved it
iii) minimise the conflict between achieving this goal and other areas in your life. Take small steps.
iv) are you willing and able? Make sure you have enough resources (e.g. time, money etc) to achieve the goal
v) set a time for starting and finishing, and give yourself enough but not too much..
It's interesting to see that, according to research by Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, men are 22% more likely to succeed when they set well-defined goals, such as losing a pound a week rather than just saying they wanted to lose weight.
Women, on the other hand, can increase their chances of success if they tell other people what their goals are. Sharing your goals publicly has really taken off in the US, with websites such as Caroline Miller's your100things.com.
And if you want to take part in Professor Wiseman's New Year's Resolution Experiment for 2008, sign up here.
Friday, 21 December 2007
In Wednesday's HARDTalk programme, BBC journalist, Stephen Sackur, interviewed Professor Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, about such questions as whether positive psychology is truly scientific or mere psychobabble, whether or not well-being should be a political issue, and whether it would be better to put our efforts into alleviating mental illness instead.
If you have 30 minutes to spare this is an excellent introduction to the background and current issues in positive psychology. Sackur's argument that helping mentally ill people is a more worthwhile pursuit for psychologists than increasing others' happiness is one which many in the first MAPP cohort have wrestled with. Seligman's response is interesting - getting rid of depression and anxiety does not in itself lead to well-being because the skills you need to fight these conditions are not the same as the skills you need to experience positive emotion and find engagement and meaning in life.
Asked whether his ideas can live comfortably with 'ruthless capitalism', Seligman says no; his point is that there is bad consumerism (material goods to which we habituate) and good consumerism which creates engagement and meaning.
I'm wondering whether Seligman would have come out of the argument quite so well had Jeremy Paxman been interviewing him. Sackur doesn't ask, for example, why the schools Resilience project that Seligman is spearheading in South Tyneside (and Hertfordshire and Manchester) is aimed at helping kids combat depression; surely what the project should be focussed on, if you buy the whole happiness argument, is increasing kids' well-being?
For me, there are two important points. Firstly, no-one in positive psychology is asking why depression levels amongst school-kids (and adults for that matter) in the UK are increasing in the first place*, and what we are doing to address the causes. I'm sure Seligman would have had an answer for that.
The other point is that 'people muddle through' is not a very sound argument with which to criticise positive psychology! Not only does depression impact life-chances negatively e.g. it affects ability at school, attendance at work and your immune system (all of which are huge costs to society), research shows that happiness brings benefits such as increasing health, longevity and productivity. I think these seem like very good reasons for taking positive psychology seriously, don't you?
* But see child psychologist Oliver James' work "Affluenza".
Thanks to Thanos Karanatsios for the link
Saturday, 15 December 2007
In our MAPP class today we were fortunate enough to have Mark Templeton, O2s Director of Organisation Development, present to us on the positive psychology approach to leadership development that he has implemented with great success over the past year.
One thing that really intrigued me was the mention of David Whyte, a.k.a the "Corporate Poet". I'm a huge fan of using creative approaches in the workplace, ever since I took the fantastic Open University Business School B822 course in Creative Management (now called Creativity, Innovation and Change).
So I followed this up, to see what David Whyte had to say about using poetry in a corporate setting:
"Every worthwhile organization is asking for qualities of adaptability, vitality and creativity. And none of these qualities can be legislated, none of them can be coerced out of people. You cannot invite anyone into your office and say I want a 9 percent increase in your creativity quotient this week. The request is absurd because there is no lever inside that person that they can pull to turn on their creativity. If there was one, they surely would have pulled it years ago.
The only thing you can do is to create a conversation in the workplace that will be invitational to those great qualities of creativity that have long been associated with the soul, with a person’s sense of belonging. The main task of leadership is no longer strategic management, though this will always have importance, but of creating imaginative and participative conversations that bring out the best in themselves and others".
I couldn't agree more - what Whyte says here fits exactly with positive psychology approaches to developing leadership and positive organisations.
Photo Credit: Cygnoir, San Francisco
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
It quotes Dr Tim Anstiss as saying "Wellbeing is not just about long walks, jogging and improving your diet, but about flourishing, discovering and using your strengths, and reaching your potential as a human being." Here, here. As a medical doctor with a masters degree in sports medicine and a post-graduate diploma in occupational medicine, Anstiss knows all about the benefits of exercise and nutrition. And we've been saying for some time now that companies which think they're got their well-being strategy sorted just because they provide salads in the canteen and issue free pedometers are missing the most important point; positive psychology is about way more than how much exercise you take and what you eat.
Anstiss presented to our UEL MAPP class a month or so ago on one of the projects he's working on, which is using a positive psychology approach to get the long-term unemployed back into work. I think that shows it's got credibility, don't you?
What's important to make clear from the start though is that in order to be of benefit to business, just like change management positive psychology has to be taken up and championed by leaders and managers outside of the HR department.
Empirical research shows that positive psychology really does present the opportunity of creating more resilient, engaged and productive employees. In a world where change is the only constant, which company could afford to turn their nose up at that?
Photo Credit: bibliogrrl
Thanks to Viv Thackray for the link
Thursday, 29 November 2007
Are Positive Organisations some kind of Utopian drivel?
I can understand why many business leaders dismiss the goal of building a positive organisation as a bit pie in the sky. After all, the success of a commercial organisation is measured by a) how much money it makes and b) how much market share it has. Enterprise is all about competition; organisations which focus on being mutually supportive have no place in this environment...
Not-for-profits and public sector organisations, on the other hand, have different goals and operate in different arenas, ones where the concept of positive organisations can be more easily accommodated.
No wonder building a positive organisation is often considered inconsistent with the goals of commercial enterprises.
Well I think business leaders might be waking up to the fact that it's not so pink and fluffy after all.
Tom Peters, one of the world's foremost leadership gurus, and co-author of In Search of Excellence (which Bloomsbury called the greatest business book of all time), has written his thoughts on the idea in this short paper "Why Else Get Out of Bed in the Morning?" My suggestion is that you bear with the form (especially P1) and focus on the content. In typical Peters style, it probably raises more questions than it answers, but hey, we're big enough and ugly enough to work those out for ourselves aren't we?
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
The Kingdom of Bhutan, a predominantly Buddhist country of approximately 750,000 inhabitants in the Eastern Himalayas, has been measuring Gross National Happiness since the late '80s. The King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, was concerned about the sorts of issues affecting countries which focussed only on increasing economic prosperity, and as a result, he declared that GNH (Gross National Happiness) not GDP, was the priority for his people. "The ultimate purpose of government", he said, "is to promote the happiness of its people". This, of course, was more than a decade before Martin Seligman launched the Positive Psychology movement.
Now, says writer, analyst and UN Editor Rasna Warah, GNH vs GDP has become an issue in the upcoming Kenyan elections (December 27th). In this article on the All Africa Global Media website, Warah explores the background to GNH, and why it matters. It's the case that back in 2006 presidential candidate Dr Raila Odinga, cast doubt on the accuracy of Kenyan economic growth figures being quoted by other candidates, and proposed that a GNH survey be carried out instead. In an interview with Nation Magazine, Odinga is quoted as saying: “People are happy when they put food on the table, feed and educate their children.” However I haven't been able to find any mention of Gross National Happiness on Odinga's election website. Could it be the case that when the chips are down (and when votes are needed) what people really want to see is good old-fashioned economic growth?
Image: New Scientist
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
In this New York Times article last week, journalist Henry Fountain considers Thanksgiving 21st Century style - via the practice of keeping a Gratitude Diary. We've talked about gratitude several times before; there's increasing empirical evidence to show that being grateful in a mindful way, for example through a diary or a letter, increases your well-being.
What I like about Fountain's article is the acknowledgement that giving thanks is simple but not easy, it requires some effort and self-discipline.
I think this is a very important message to get across to the Victor Meldrew's of this world*; happiness isn't something that just happens, despite what you often see in films and magazines, you actively need to do something. That something varies from person to person, although Positive Psychology is giving us a lot to go on.
So if you haven't tried it, I challenge you to keep a gratitude diary for three weeks, and see what a difference it makes.
PS You might like to know that there is a Victor Meldrew Appreciation Club on the business networking site Ecademy...and yes, it is British....
Thanks to Viv Thackray for the link
Regrets, I've had a few: How finding the silver lining contributes to happiness and maturity
This article on yesterday's Positive Psychology News Daily looks at research into regret which suggests that it's about more than learning from experience, it's beneficial for the process of psychological maturity itself, and that the accommodation of regret has profound implications for human development, and ultimate happiness.
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
I doubt many would argue about positive relationships being a corner-stone of happiness and well-being, although you might be interested to know that there is remarkably little published scientific research into this field. But the importance of positive achievements seems to have people divided.
In the business world, goal-setting has been the back-bone (along with a smidgen of good luck) of company and personal prosperity since the dawn of time. Call it strategy, business planning or personal development planning, it's all about creating a new, more successful future. To some, particularly coaches, goal-setting and accomplishment is vital, it's what successful coaching is all about. When we were training as coaches, one of the first things we learnt was how to help clients (or coachees) define where they want to be by setting their goals clearly and then to help them achieve these goals. After all, how can you get where you want to go unless you know where you're going in the first place?
Goal-setting is also making its way into normal life; you will no doubt have noticed yourself the proliferation of books and articles about so-called Life Lists, those 101-things-you-must-do/see/experience- before-you-die type lists. Earlier in the year for example, the New York Times published an article called 10 Things To Do Before I Finish This Article. If you google 'Life Lists', you'll retrieve millions of entries, such as the original 43things.com, which invites you to publish your own Life List and which contains everything from the quirky ("build a trebuchet") to the frankly quite dull ("organise my filing cabinet"). You can get Life List websites which list the things you need to consider when making your list. Curiously, in my google search for UK Life Lists, three of the top ten were by bird-watchers; it left me wondering whether twitchers are happier than your average UK resident. Perhaps that could be the subject of my MAPP dissertation.....
There are even people who make their living out of their Life List, such as John Goddard, aka 'The World's Greatest Goal Achiever'. This is a man who has achieved 109 of his 127 life goals (you should look at them, this is not a man who needs to organise his filing cabinet...). Interestingly, his 126th goal was to marry and have children - he now has five. My question is, how on earth does he get time for them, in between scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, retracing the steps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great, and exploring the Amazon river?
And going back to coaching for a moment, Caroline Adams-Miller, the well-known US life coach, author and Pennsylvania MAPP graduate, specialises in goal-setting theory and happiness in her coaching practice, based on the research evidence that identifying and achieving ones goals can increase your well-being (e.g. Locke 2005). Miller has also set up a very successful website where people can make a public statement about their goals, called Your100things.com.
But Life Lists don't attract support from every quarter; there are some who think that making a list of what you want to achieve in life actually detracts from what life is all about, i.e. living. I don't often listen to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day on the Today programme, but this one by Rhidian Brook about Life Lists caught my attention, particularly Brook's claim that "They provide us with a kind of short cut to meaningful achievement and self-fulfilment". I'm not sure that's the case at all. Surely it depends to a large extent what your goals are (materialistic? altruistic?), whether they are realistic goals or just wild dreams, and how relentlessly you pursue them. Many Life Lists I've looked at contain a mix of goals which cover all Seligman's pillars of well-being (creating pleasure, engagement, meaning and good relationships).
And anyway, who is it who said that 'Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans'?
Friday, 16 November 2007
If you're sceptical about the value of using Positive Psychology at work, and don't think it can add much by way of improved business performance, think again.
In this article in 1st November's edition of the CIPD Magazine "People Management", Tim Smedley explains how global defence and aerospace company, BAE Systems, is adopting a common sense approach to using strengths at work, supported by Alex Linley, director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.
According to Linley, it's not about concentrating only on ones strengths and ignoring ones weaknesses altogether, it's more about striking the right balance, and that will depend very much on your role and where you sit within the organisation. "Get your strengths up to an A grade - absolutely make the most of them. But if there's a discipline that you're not so good at, but that you need, then get that up to a pass, a C grade", he says.
Of course, many business people do think Positive Psychology is for tree-huggers. As Linley points out, one of the results of using a strengths approach is increased employee engagement and well-being, however that wasn't the main objective for BAE Systems. They had their sights firmly set on improving their business performance, and that's exactly what a strengths approach has enabled them to achieve.
Monday, 12 November 2007
This Radio 4 programme today is a great introduction to the pros and cons of measuring happiness, and whether it's possible, desirable or indeed useful to do so, with Professor of Economics, Paul Omerod, one of the principals of Volterra Consulting, Lord Richard Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, and Professor Paul Dolan, Chair in Economics at the Tanaka Business School, Imperial College London.
I think this is a great starting point if you're unfamiliar with the finer points of happiness research and measurement.
Whose perspective do you agree with?
Source: D.G. Myers, Happiness, 2004
Friday, 9 November 2007
Yesterday many of my co-students and I attended the first "Positive Psychology: Well-Being and Business" Conference hosted by the University of East London - where we are almost half-way through our Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (the first programme of its kind outside of the US). The lecture theatre was full, mostly HR managers and leaders from public, private and NFP sectors, as well as a large sprinkling of independent coaches, psychologists and consultants, all keen to hear what Positive Psychology has to offer organisations.
The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, gave the keynote address; here was the opportunity we had all been waiting for. No Positive Psychologist worth their salt would willingly pass up the chance to hear the man in person. He referred to the three pillars of positive emotion, engagement and meaning which you will be familiar with from his Authentic Happiness book, then oh so casually mentioned the possibility of "a 4th or even a 5th pillar" although he presented no new research in support of this theory. Turns out many prominent Positive Psychologists, among them Caroline Adams Miller and UEL's own Dr Ilona Boniwell, have long been in favour of including positive relations and positive achievement in the definition of happiness, but are too polite to say 'I told you so'.
You'll remember from this posting a few days ago that I hoped Seligman would clarify his revelation at the Washington Global Well-Being Conference that Positive Psychology should henceforth be known as "Positive Social Science". Well, unfortunately he didn't elaborate. In our MAPP-only seminar, however, he said 'everything I told you this morning is wrong'.
These might just be word games, of course, but I suspect there is more to it than that. I got the sense that there is a lot of discussion and thinking going on about the possible emergence of a new field of science, which of course would have serious implications for the future of Positive Psychology.
It has been suggested that Positive Psychology is the new paradigm. With the emergence of Positive Social Science, however, I think we're already moving on.
Monday, 5 November 2007
It would appear that the Templeton Foundation does fund a huge amount of academic research into many Positive Psychology subjects such as gratitude, strengths and wisdom, and that Seligman's Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania was established on the back of a multi-million dollar Templeton grant. Templeton also funds other research unconnected with Positive Psychology, such as the natural sciences, world religions, freedom and free enterprise.
As far as I'm aware though, the Positive Psychology Summit (or the Global Wellbeing Forum as it's now called) referred to in Ehrenreich's article is actually funded by the mighty Gallup Organisation, which since the 1930s has provided consulting services and market research on public opinion to Fortune 500 clients.
According to one of my fellow MAPP students who attended the Washington conference, it was unexpectedly badly organised, so I think there are some sympathies with Ehrenreich's opinion on that score. As for her criticisms of the content of the conference, there is increasing evidence ((see Lyubomirsky, King and Diener (2005) for example)) that positive and/or strengths-based approaches in organisations ultimately provide a boost to the bottom-line. Even without the supporting research, common sense tells you that business benefits if its employees have more job satisfaction and are more engaged. It makes good business sense; we have previously featured organisations like Norwich Union and Standard Chartered who have benefitted from taking a strengths-based approach.
Incidentally, it turns out that The Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business is also partly funded by the Templeton Foundation and by the Gallup Organisation. The Centre, whose purpose is to energise and transform organisations through academic research into the theory and practice of positive organising and leadership, is the number one source of information on this subject, so if you want leading edge ideas about business transformation and positive leadership, this is the place to start.
Thanks to UEL MAPP student Viv Thackray for this link
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
What is particularly important about this article is Stanford University Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky's comment that in order to be happy you have to work at it. Although some people do seem to be born with a smile on their faces, others really do have to work harder at being happy.
We often assume that happiness can be ours simply for the price of a bigger house, larger car or another promotion but there is evidence to the contrary. And the more I study Positive Psychology the more I believe that happiness is something you do, not something you have. The American Declaration of Independence talks about 'the pursuit of Happiness' after all, not the acquisition of it. So why not try out some (or all) of the five steps in the article everyday for a week and let us know how you get on?
Thanks to MAPP colleague Viv Thackray for the link
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Unfortunately I wasn't at the conference to hear the initial reaction, but I understand that the majority of delegates were somewhat shocked. As a science Positive Psychology is still in its infancy (the phrase having been coined around about the year 2000). People working in the field, whether psychologists, therapists, coaches or educationalists, are still getting used to the terminology. Others, it has to be said, are probably hoping that if they ignore it long enough, it will go away.
Well it seems that Seligman now wants this field of research to be known as "Positive Social Science". Those who support this idea believe it makes sense to take the study outside of the domain of just psychology, into health, neuroscience, economics and politics. The more I study the subject, the more complex it appears to become, and it does indeed touch our lives in many more ways than I originally thought. When you look at the make-up of the first UEL MAPP cohorts, you'll see that we're a very varied bunch, including GPs, therapists, coaches, trainers, business people, HR experts, journalists, teachers, social workers, economists and government policy makers. Yet all of us are taking something relevant from the course and applying it at work and individually. Positive Social Science seems a broad term to cover what is a very broad subject.
On the other hand, Positive Psychology is a young subject, and its students are relatively inexperienced when compared to those of traditional psychology. In the US, of course, it's much more firmly embedded (and accepted) in the world of work; here in the UK, it's only just taking off. Might changing its name at this early stage risk losing some of the enthusiasm and energy currently being poured into it?
We may get to hear all about Seligman's reasons at the forthcoming conference in a week's time. If so, I'll let you know what he says!
* Co-incidentally, the Gallup PP Summit has been renamed the Global Well-Being Forum, reflecting the their name change to the Gallup Institute for Global Well-Being.
Monday, 29 October 2007
Carol Dweck's* research on fixed and growth mindsets made me wonder whether developing an inflexible view even of one's good points (e.g. strengths) might actually be a bad thing, and that's how I came to write my recent posting on Positive Psychology News Daily.
Anyhow, today I was sent a link to a post on the Berkun Blog, called "Why you should be bad at something". It's not just that being bad at something is OK, according to Scott Berkun it's an absolute necessity if you're going to learn something. How right he is. In order to learn you need to have a growth mindset, to try, and to keep trying over again when you fail. As a child you had a growth mindset - you'd never have learnt to speak, walk, read and write if you'd waited until you were good at it first.
What I like about Berkun's post is it links the themes of comfort zones (which we have also discussed before here), learning, ageing, mindsets and happiness.
Berkun says "This sounds idiotic but I think being good, as in proficient, isn’t good all the time... as I get older I realize how important it is for my soul to be bad or awful in at least one thing I do, and to take pleasure in it anyway. There is a way to take pleasure in things independent of my ability at them and I’m convinced that cultivating it will make me a happier person".
I dare you to be really bad at something!
* Carol Dweck (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success
Thanks to Neil for the link to Scott Berkun's blog.
Friday, 26 October 2007
If your organisation is using a strengths model (whether StrengthsFinder, VIA-IS, Strengths Deployment Inventory, Strengthscope or any other) at work, we'd love to hear about your experience.
The image is courtesy of June.C.Oka, Japan
Saturday, 20 October 2007
According to Debbie Whitaker, Standard Chartered's Head of Sustainability, 'everyone has talents that we wish to leverage'.
This is a bold statement, considering Standard Chartered is a bank with over 60,000 employees in 56 countries. Their reasons for focusing on talent are fourfold:
i) greater growth potential
ii) better people performance
iii) increased employee engagement and
iv) attracting and retaining talent.
Many big organisations are sceptical of applying Strengths at work, yet Standard Chartered's experience shows that it can make sound business sense.
A strengths-based approach to management has been operating in the organisation for the past 7 years, using Gallup's StrengthsFinder tool. Whitaker describes a strength as the combination of talent, skill and knowledge, which motivation can transform into world-class performance. In her words, given equal skills and knowledge, talent is what differentiates superior performance from the rest.
So what does Standard Chartered actually do differently to other organisations? Well StrengthsFinder wasn't designed for recruitment purposes, but it can be used to ensure good role fit and that's exactly what has contributed to Standard Chartered's success.The essentials for a salesperson, for example, are good product knowledge and to be able to negotiate and close a deal. But if the salesperson has the additional talents of competitiveness and building rapport with customers, they can become a world-class performer. Not only does Standard Chartered look for specific skills and knowledge, they take innate talents into account too.
It has to be said that there are several definitions of a strength, and the one used here is based on Gallup's research. The VIA-IS or CAPP definitions are different; as always you need to be clear what you are trying to measure.
Standard Chartered also focuses on building employee engagement, and like Royal & SunAlliance which we featured here, they take volunteering seriously, offering two days paid leave for staff to contribute to voluntary organisations.
What the Standard Chartered story shows is that focusing on strengths can make a big difference to the business and to the people who work there. And applying Positive Psychology at work shouldn't be something you do in addition to everything else. Look at your existing people-related processes (e.g. recruitment, development, coaching, mentoring and so on) and see how a strengths-approach would make a positive contribution.
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
Next time you go supermarket shopping, take a few minutes to have a long hard look at the shelves in each food aisle - how many types of coffee, breakfast cereal and butter are there? Research by psychologist Barry Schwartz suggests that more choice isn't necessarily beneficial, especially if you're a maximiser.
Basically a maximiser is someone who, having decided to buy e.g. a digital camera researches all the models extensively on the internet to compare features and prices, talks to the assistants at the local camera shop, reads Which?, asks friends for their recommendations and buys copies of every photography magazine that they can find, before creating a spreadsheet listing their Top 10 favourite models and weighting all the required functions, the price and guarantee terms before they decide which to buy.
I kid you not, I have known someone do this.
The problem is that this person wasn't actually happy with the camera they ended up buying; they worried that it wasn't as good as the alternatives that they didn't choose. They wondered whether they should have waited before buying anything when a newer, more up-to-date model came on the market a month later... This is what Schwartz refers to as "maximising", i.e. trying to make the best choice out of the tens or hundreds of available options, when in reality not only is this extremely difficult to achieve, but one is left feeling regretful about 'the one(s) that got away'.
Satisficers, on the other hand, are those people who accept a 'good enough' choice. If they were buying a digital camera, they might decide on the price range and the must-have features, then buy the first camera that fitted this bill. So maybe they might not get the very best model, but their decision is made more quickly and relatively painlessly.
Is the research on how people react to choice relevant to business? Over 10 years ago when Procter & Gamble reduced the number of varieties of Head and Shoulders shampoo it offered, its sales increased. It has been suggested that this sales growth reflected consumers' positive reaction to optimised choice. Similarly, in the discussion on the pros and cons of choice on this BBC Radio 4 programme today* it was mentioned that Asda threatened to delist some well-known brands, because consumers don't want duplication. Tyranny of choice was mentioned by one of Asda's executive directors. So it would seem that the theory of choice and over-choice is being taken seriously by businesses.
You may not be surprised to hear that whilst maximising behaviour carries some benefits, it is also associated with regret, perfectionism, depression and lower well-being. We'll be discussing the pros and cons of maximising and satisficing, as well as some techniques for overcoming the 'tyranny of choice' in later posts.
* If you're interested in listening to the section on the paradox of choice in this R4 programme, it's almost 26 minutes in.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
This article from the Scunthorpe Telegraph describes a Centre for Applied Positive Psychology project called Celebrating Strengths which is taking the latest research on how people flourish and applying it to learning. What is particularly interesting about this project is that teachers are being trained first, so that they can use the new 'positive teaching' techniques with their pupils year after year.
This is also a crucial change management principle, i.e. ensuring that those people who are responsible for making the new approach work on the coal-face are involved and engaged in the project right from the start. Just think about the problems Jamie Oliver had introducing healthy food into UK schools, because he didn't get the school dinner ladies on board first.
Contrary to what it says in this article, however, there is plenty of other work going on in the UK in positive psychology (and using strengths in particular) in education, the private sector and not-for-profit, and this will increase as people see the tangible benefits it can bring to their organisations.
Thanks to my UEL MAPP colleague Viv Thackray for this article
Sunday, 7 October 2007
If you read the Sunday Times last week you'd be forgiven for thinking that you probably need to offer a few more employee benefits. According to this article, positive psychology at work is all about whether you provide foot massages during office hours or organise awards ceremonies so you can pat your staff on the back once a year. It's an easy mistake to make, especially when referred to as 'employee well-being'. Organisations want tangible measures and quantifying how many employee benefits they offer, as well as how much they're worth, is a relatively straightforward exercise.
Using positive psychology in the workplace is very little to do with the value of employee benefits though, which means that charities and not-for-profit organisations can apply the principles, in many cases doing a better job than cash-rich companies. And it's not about providing 24/7 counselling to those who might need it either. So what is positive psychology at work, you might be wondering?
In short it's about enabling all employees to flourish, play to their strengths and reach their full potential. Sounds great but why would you want to do this? Well, there is growing research* which shows that it's good news for the bottom line, as well as an increasing number of forward-thinking companies (e.g. Ikea, Norwich Union, Royal & SunAlliance, Microsoft) who are using strengths-based approaches. It's not about being problem-focused, but neither is it about being solution-focused. It's about trust, respect and honesty, and developing an organisational culture where
i) the espoused values are the same as the values in use,
ii) leaders are role-models of confidence, optimism and resilience
iii) leaders inspire their teams to action
iv) leaders are transparent about their weaknesses, and open to being questioned and challenged about the direction in which they're heading
v) leaders see the task being accomplished and developing their people to lead as equally important.
So you can see that having a positive psychology approach at work is a million miles away from whether you have a company gym or not. And as with most organisation change, there are no short-cuts. You need vision, commitment and courage to create a positive organisation. So, as a business leader, are you up for the challenge?
Thanks to Hilary Jeanes for the ST article
* e.g. Lyobomirsky, King & Diener (2005)
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Thursday, 20 September 2007
You'll be delighted to know that Martin Seligman is the keynote speaker at UEL's one day Positive Psychology Conference on Thursday 8th November. Also speaking are Dr Susan David, an Emotional Intelligence expert, Dr Alex Linley, founder and Director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, Dr Gurnek Bains, CEO of corporate psychology consultancy YSC (Young Samuel Chambers), as well as our very own Dr Ilona Boniwell who established and leads the UK's first MAPP programme at UEL. Details below.
Positive psychology, well-being and business: Cutting-edge science for organisational success
Thursday 8 November at the University of East London, Docklands, with Professor Martin Seligman
UEL would like to invite you to a special one-day conference, Positive Psychology, Well-being and Business, featuring a keynote speech from world-renowned psychologist Professor Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology.
Positive Psychology - the scientific study of well-being - is increasingly recognised as having major, lasting benefits for business. Evidence shows that employees with higher levels of well-being are more focused and engaged with their work; are better team-players; have higher levels of motivation; have less illness and absenteeism; and perform better overall.
This new thinking explicitly challenges the conventional wisdom that fixing a weakness is essential to improving performance. Rather, positive psychology concentrates on what drives and motivates success. Globally, many major organisations are implementing the findings of positive psychology and strengths-based performance management in the workplace, helping them to grow and succeed. This conference will enable you to learn how to put these findings into practice in your own business or organisation.
Whether you are involved in business, human resources, social and corporate responsibility, communication, organisational development, marketing, executive coaching, training or business consultancy, this conference could make a valuable contribution to your operational and staff development.
For more details and to register, visit www.uel.ac.uk/positiveconference or contact Sue Meade on 020 8223 4428.
Do let me know if you plan to go, I'd be delighted to meet up with you there.
Sunday, 16 September 2007
A new slant on the Gratitude Diary.
There is empirical research to suggest that writing a Gratitude Diary is an effective positive intervention; most studies to date have concentrated on writing a Gratitude Diary on a daily or weekly basis; we have blogged about this before, in March, June and August. Today a friend and fellow UEL MAPP student, Paul Marshall, sent me this five minute gratitude video, with the suggestion that you download it onto your ipod and play it every morning in order to enhance well-being.
I'm not sure if it will be as effective as writing down what you're grateful for, because the act of writing in itself is known to be extremely important in processing information, however, why not give it a try for a week and let us know whether you notice any difference in your level of well-being?
P.S. Sometimes the Gratitude Diary intervention is referred to as 'Counting Your Blessings'. If you're considering using it with a coaching client, you might want to think about what to call it beforehand as there are religious/spiritual connotations to the latter which may not be suitable in your particular situation.
Friday, 14 September 2007
You'll be interested to know that in July, the independent think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) published the European Happy Planet Index of carbon efficiency and well-being in the EU.
It reveals that Europe is less carbon-efficient at delivering well-being (measured in terms of the happy, long lives of its citizens) than it was over 40 years ago. This might come as a surprise to some people - after all, as a whole we are wealthier than ever.
The good news is that some European countries are doing pretty well in terms of high levels of well-being (a combination of how satisfied people feel with their lives overall, and their life expectancy at birth). Those in the North such as Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, as well as Switzerland, report the highest levels of subjective life satisfaction. Interestingly, Iceland and Sweden also have some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints, despite being amongst the richest nations. As a result, Iceland tops the European Happy Planet Index, followed by Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.
And the bad news? Some economically-advanced countries feature pretty poorly in the Index. Take the UK for example - it comes 15th out of 30 in rank order for both life satisfaction and life expectancy. It also has the 4th largest per capita carbon footprint in Europe, behind Luxembourg, Estonia and Finland. As a result the UK ranks 21st out of 30 overall in the European HPI, only slightly ahead of 'transition' countries such as Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Countries like Germany, Finland and France don't fare much better either, coming 15th, 16th and 18th in the Index respectively.
So what can we conclude from this? Quite simply, as I'm sure you already know deep-down, consumption is not the main route to well-being. If this were true, the poorer countries would always feature at the bottom of NEF's league tables, but they don't.
What the report also shows us, however, is that it is not impossible to be prosperous, happy and green. Perhaps we should be looking towards countries like Iceland and Sweden for some answers?
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
In his recent book 'Happier', Harvard University lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar presents a wonderful model of happiness which he has christened The Hamburger Model. What I really like (apart from the 2x2 format which all MBAs love...) is the simplicity of it. It goes something like this:
Junk Food Burger: tasty but unhealthy. When people are asked to describe what a happy life means to them they quite often think of a life filled only with pleasure and devoid of any pain. This is the life of the hedonist, someone who lives only for the moment, giving little thought to future consequences. Young children are like this, until they learn to forego immediate gratification for some longer-term reward. But what would happen if your life were only ever about indulgence? In a continuous succession of pleasurable experiences, how would you distinguish one from another? Put simply, if you ate your favourite food every day, how long would it take before you got thoroughly sick of it?
Vegetarian Burger: healthy but not tasty - the kind you eat because you know it's good for you, not because you really want to. In this quadrant of the Hamburger Model, you forgo current pleasure entirely in order to derive some future benefit, living your life according to the 'No Pain, No Gain' principle. The problem with this is that you can start to believe that happiness is something you can only achieve in the future. And when you reach that future, what then? Often, you're still searching...Life has become a rat race.
Worst Burger: both tasteless and unhealthy. Before you ask, "well why would you eat it then?", some people become resigned to the belief that their life is pretty pointless - they give up on the present and the future and spend their time ruminating on what went wrong or what could have been. Seligman's research on a phenomenon called 'Learned Helplessness' shows how easy it is for us to learn that we have no control over our own lives and that whatever we do is futile. Ben-Shahar describes this desperate place as 'Nihilism'. Fortunately what has been learned can be unlearned.
Ideal Burger: both tasty and healthy. The Happiness quadrant is where you enjoy a good balance of pleasure, fulfillment and purpose in your life. Sounds simple doesn't it? There are two crucial points here. Firstly - take a moment to consider your own personal definition of happiness. If you're thinking you'd like to experience pure unremitting bliss for the rest of your days, beware. Leading psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud has suggested that we really should be aiming for no more than "mild contentment". Anything more and you're likely to set yourself up to fail. So you might have to revisit your expectations. Secondly, does your definition of happiness incorporate activity as well as feeling? If not, think about it again - only you can make you happy, so in order to be happy, to create meaning and purpose in your life, you have to do something.
So what are you going to do differently?
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
At the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's seminar on Well-being at Work back in July this year, stress and trauma expert Dr Noreen Tehrani presented the CIPD's employee well-being model which incorporates five domains - Physical, Emotional, Personal Development, Organisation and Values.
Having spoken to many organisations about well-being, we know that many go little further than the physical domain, providing subsidised gym-membership, healthy options on the canteen menu, and perhaps support to give up smoking. The fact that the CIPD model goes well beyond the physical domain is therefore a great step forward we think.
Many organisations also believe that they tick the boxes when it comes to the other four domains (Emotional, Personal Development, Organisation and Values) - they are after all committed to open and honest communications (...we have yet to find one which isn't...), they have a statement of company values on their website, they provide staff training and coaching, and perhaps even flexible working.
But employee well-being is both more and less than this. When I've asked business leaders and HR managers about their policy on psychological well-being, there are usually two responses: they either look blank or they say brightly "we provide counselling through our Employee Assistance Programme". To us this completely misses the point.
Psychological well-being is not about solving people's problems, it's about creating an organisation culture where people thrive and flourish. Your company might provide an enormous amount of tangible benefits, yet it still might fall short on the psychological aspects of well-being.
The CIPD well-being model touches on this (p8) but we don't believe it's sufficiently bold enough to get business leaders really thinking differently about how their organisations are run in reality. For example, think about the organisation or department that you manage at the moment: hand on heart can you honestly say that your employees are thriving and flourishing at work?
It could be that the CIPD's approach to the employee/organisational well- being debate is deliberately softly softly. If so we look forward to further developments very soon.
Get in touch if you want to find out more about our approach to organisational well-being or our workshops for coaches or HR managers.
Monday, 10 September 2007
But does it have to be an either/or solution? It might be more effective if separate EI lessons aren't added into the curriculum (which would mean that some other lessons have to be squeezed out) but if existing subjects, like English, Drama and History are adapted to focus on the relevant EI topics (like self-awareness and motivation). In this way, an EI approach becomes incorporated into the fabric of the school, and ultimately becomes 'the way we do things round here'. It's a bit like trying to change the culture in an organisation - it doesn't work unless behaviours also change.
And there are a couple of interesting points which do need to be explored further in order to get parents and teachers on side with this. The first is whether or not EI can actually be measured - as with happiness and well-being assessments, much of it is subjective. Does that mean they are any less meaningful or useful? In a system so tied in to targets and league-tables, this may not be an easy one to resolve.
The second is whether EI can be increased through teaching or training. It is true that a greater number of EI assessments are being used in the business world today, to help enhance ones skill in recognising and understanding emotions, ultimately enabling them to be managed more effectively. What we don't know is whether ones EI can be increased - even the experts behind the original EI theory, Mayer, Salovey and Caruso are unsure about this.
Most people working in the positive psychology field appear to welcome the introduction of EI into British schools. If we want it to be successful, however, there is one big caveat....DON'T create an EI league table!
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The Times today reported that "lessons in happiness, well-being and good manners are to be introduced in all state secondary schools".
It's unfortunate that the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme is being labelled in this way by the media, because it instantly downgrades its importance, putting it firmly in the category of pink and fluffy fads which we'd be better off without.
What SEAL is actually for is to promote children's social and emotional skills which underpin effective learning, positive behaviour and emotional health and well-being in schools. "So what?", I hear you ask. Well, for many years now, various employment and business related organisations in the UK, such as the Confederation of British Industry, have been highly critical of employees' lack of (so-called) soft-skills. In 2004/5, Sir Digby Jones, then Director-General of the CBI said of new graduates:
“ A degree alone is not enough. Employers are looking for more than just technical skills and knowledge of a degree discipline. They particularly value skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. Job applicants who can demonstrate that they have developed these skills will have a real advantage.”
So you could say that the real point of the SEAL programme in schools is to start providing kids with the necessary tools to develop their self-awareness, empathy, motivation, social skills and ability to manage their emotions, so that ultimately they can become successful members of the community and successful in the workplace. Makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?
Thanks to Bruce Stanley for the Times article.
Sunday, 26 August 2007
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
Have you ever thought that emotion has no place in the world of business? Well here's some research that might cause you to stop and think. Do you want to see quickly and easily how positive or negative emotion impacts your current thinking style?
Take a look at these four groups of shapes - for each one do you think pattern A is more like B or C?
According to Barbara Fredrickson's "broaden and build" theory, in this visual processing task people in positive moods are more likely to choose B (global) every time. Fredrickson and Branigan's research* shows that positive moods facilitate more creative, flexible, big-picture thinking, in which positive people remain open to new information. As a result, the number of behavioural options open to them increases.
People in negative moods, on the other hand, are more focused on the detail of a situation, have a more rigid thinking style in which their thought-action repertoire is narrowed. These people are more likely to say pattern A is like C (local).
The good news is that while a positive emotional state is only momentary, there is evidence to suggest that the effect is cumulative, thus you can increase your flexibility and resourcefulness over time.
It's crucial for workplace success to remain as flexible and open to new ideas as possible, so the broaden and build theory has serious implications for business. Specifically you may want to consider how you can foster positive emotions before and during brainstorming sessions, when you want to create as many innovative ideas as possible. In problem-solving situations too, consider what action you can take to sustain a positive frame of mind while you're generating new solutions.
Next time you're in one of these business situations, notice the impact your mood has on your thinking style. In coaching we've noticed that clients who maintain a positive outlook are far more likely to generate ideas than those who allow a negative mood to dominate. Try it for yourself, and let us know how you get on.
* Fredrickson, B.L., & Branigan, C. (2005) "Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires"
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
The reason for applying your signature strengths in new ways every day is because research shows it is an effective way to improve your well-being longer-term (See Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005).
i) When driving stay 5 miles per hour under the speed limit
ii) Think twice before saying anything other than "please" or "thank you"
iii) Before you decide to do something, reflect on its likely consequences 1 hour, 1 day or 1 year later
i) Start an exercise programme and stick to it every day
ii) Tidy your desk or office every night before you go home
iii) When tempted to lose your cool, count to 10 (or until the emotion subsides)
iv) Resolve not to gossip. Stop yourself before you talk about someone behind their back.
HUMILITY / MODESTY
i) Don't talk about yourself for a full day
ii) Dress in a way that does not to draw attention to yourself
iii) Find a way in which a colleague is better than you. Compliment them for it
i) Every day think about the purpose of your life
ii) Meditate or pray at the start of every day
iii) Attend a religious service of a faith unfamiliar to you
iv) For 5 minutes every day think about what you can do to improve the world or your community.
It's recommended that you try the same activity every day for a couple of weeks, although bear in mind that if it really isn't working for you after a few days, pick another one.
For more activities related to Integrity, Love, Humour, Appreciation of Beauty or Social Intelligence, click here.
For activities related to using Fairness, Kindness, Open-Mindedness, Curiosity, Love of Learning or Creativity, click here.
For activities related to Leadership, Gratitude, Perspective, Forgiveness, Teamwork (Citizenship) and Bravery, click here.
For activities related to Perseverance, Vitality and Hope, click here.
We'd also love to hear your own examples of activities that worked for you.
In future posts we'll be exploring the CIPD's model of well-being at work, as well as the benefits and downsides of other Strengths models, such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder.
Monday, 13 August 2007
If you haven't already done the VIA-IS online strengths test, why not take some time out now to complete it, and when you've got your list of top 5 (or signature) strengths, come back to find out how you might use them differently.
Just to remind you, the purpose of using your strengths in a new way every day is because research (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005) shows that this has a long-term positive effect on your happiness.
i) Finish an important task before the deadline
ii) Work for several hours straight without interruptions - divert your phone and don't check your email
iii) Make a list of things to do and do one thing on the list every day
iv) Notice your self-talk about stopping a task and ignore it. Focus on the task in hand.
VITALITY / ZEST:
i) Do something physically vigorous in the morning
ii) Volunteer for an activity at work
iii) Do something because you want to, not because you need to
iv) Get a good nights sleep, and eat a healthy breakfast to give yourself more energy during the day
v) Say 'why not?' three times more frequently than you say 'why?'
HOPE / OPTIMISM
i) Think of a past disappointment and the opportunities that it made possible
ii) Notice your negative thoughts. Counter them with positive thoughts.
iii) Write down your goals for the next week/month/year and make concrete plans for accomplishing them.
iv) Keep a journal and every night record a decision that you made that day which will impact your life in the long run
As mentioned before, if the activity doesn't work for you after a couple of days, try another one.
If you would like to find more activities related to using Fairness, Kindness, Open-Mindedness, Curiosity, Love of Learning or Creativity, click here.
For more activities related to the strengths of Integrity, Love, Humour, Appreciation of Beauty or Social Intelligence, click here.
For more activities related to the strengths of Leadership, Gratitude, Perspective, Forgiveness, Teamwork (Citizenship) and Bravery, click here.
In our next post we will be looking at the remaining 4 character strengths, Prudence Self-Regulation, Humility and Spirituality.
Please also remember to send us examples of activities that worked for you, we'd love to hear about them.
Thanks to Jonathan Haidt and Chris Peterson for many of the suggested activities.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
There's increasing research to show that focusing on your strengths at work rather than on your weaknesses brings huge benefits, not just to yourself but also to your organisation. As mentioned in one of our previous posts, companies like Norwich Union are using strengths-based approaches successfully in the business, for example in recruitment. Other organisations are focusing on strengths for personal development, using them as the basis for the Annual Appraisal, for example. It gives employees a boost of confidence and really helps them feel good about themselves, in a way that leads to further performance improvements.
In the last couple of posts we've looked at new ways of applying strengths (from the VIA-IS online survey, not from the Clifton StrengthsFinder, which actually measures talents). Today we continue on this theme with six more strengths. Try picking one activity from one of your Top 5, and stick with it for a couple of weeks. If you find it isn't working after a day or so, try something else.
i) Organise a social get-together for your team or department
ii) Go out of your way to make a new colleague feel welcome
iii) Take responsibility for an unpleasant task at work and make sure it gets done
i) At the end of the day write down three things that went well
ii) Write and send a gratitude letter
iii) Keep track of how many times you say thank you during the day and increase the number every day for a week.
PERSPECTIVE / WISDOM:
i) Think of the wisest person you know and try to live one day as if you were them
ii) Resolve a dispute between two work colleagues, or two family members
iii) Don't give advice unless asked, and then do so as thoughtfully as possible
i) Let a grudge go every day
ii) Write a forgiveness letter, do not send it, but read it every day for a week.
iii) When someone does something you don't understand, stand in their shoes and try to work out their positive intention
TEAMWORK / CITIZENSHIP:
i) Pick up litter that you see on the ground
ii) Volunteer your time to a charity, community group, Parent-Teacher Association, Parish Council etc
iii) Organize a team / department dinner
iv) Act as a facilitator
i) Speak up for an unpopular idea in a group
ii) Stand up for someone even if you disagree with them
iii) Protest to the appropriate authorities about an injustice that you observe
These are just some examples of activities, you can of course adapt them to suit your circumstances.
We'd be delighted to hear your experience of using some of these activities in practice, or if you have any ideas for new ones, so please send us your comments.
We'll cover the remaining 7 Character Strengths in future posts.
Thanks to Professor Jonathan Haidt , author of The Happiness Hypothesis, and the students in his psychology class at the University of Virginia and Chris Peterson for many of the suggested activities.