Saturday, 30 June 2007

Stefan Sagmeister's Pearls of Wisdom

In my post on Wednesday , I promised to summarise the gems from Stefan Sagmeister's diary: 'Things in my life I have learned so far', which he presented in his talk on Design and Happiness. Many of them are underpinned by Positive Psychology concepts and research, some of which I have shown in italics. Here are the ones I think are most relevant to a discussion on Positive Psychology and coaching, in no particular order:

*Thinking life will be better in the future is stupid - I have to live now (research on Time Perspectives by Zimbardo and Boniwell suggests that people who are very future-oriented miss out on enjoying the present. Also, research on flow suggests that people are happier when living in the

* Money does not make me happy (research suggests that over a certain threshold (which is actually quite low), more money does not actually make you happier.)

* Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted (this is a process called 'adaptation' i.e. you adapt back to a mildly pleasant mood after both good and bad events. This has two important implications which are often overlooked: 1) that we should not expect full-on intense happiness all the time, and 2) that we should expect to recover from any hardship and difficulties in our lives.)

* Trying to look good limits my life (research suggests that concentrating on your physical appearance does not make you happy.)

* Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses (This is a way to overcome the adaptation process mentioned above i.e. you consciously don't allow yourself to get to a position where you do adapt to material luxuries, because eventually you would stop enjoying them and crave something

* Keeping a diary supports my personal development (this is a good coaching tip - by taking 5 or 10 minutes every day to reflect on what happens in your life, you often get insights which aid personal growth.)

There speaks a true Positive Psychologist! If you have any of your own tips for maintaining your well-being which others might benefit from, we'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Positive Psychology Coaching and Flow

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a Performance Coaching Masterclass with Myles Downey, organised by the Academy of Executive Coaching in London. Downey founded the School of Coaching in 1997 and has recently acquired 100% ownership. His book, Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach's Coach, has been in my Top 3 since I started coaching and has been a crucial influence on my own approach ; in it he presents a compelling argument for non-directive coaching, in which the key role of the coach is to facilitate the coachee's (or client's or player's)

1) awareness, through actively noticing, and
2) responsibility, by allowing them to actively follow their own interest, make their own choices and decisions.

Awareness and responsibility are essential components of engagement and developing intrinsic motivation, and are therefore crucial to coaching effectiveness and success. Anyone working in business change management and transformation knows that change cannot occur effectively without them.

At the Masterclass, Downey performed two demonstrations, one in which he coached someone to catch a tennis ball one-handed. 'What's that got to do with business coaching?' you might ask. Well, it was a visible and powerful demonstration of what sports psychologist and coach Tim Gallwey referred to as The Inner Game, which is simply

Potential - Interference = Performance.

By getting the coachee to notice and focus their attention on the ball and how it is in flight, interference (in the form of fear, doubt, lack of confidence about ability etc) is removed and the coachee enters a flow state, in which they are more creative, insightful, relaxed, intuitive and objective. Rather than worry about dropping the ball and trying too hard to catch it, the coachee's focus is temporarily placed outside themselves, resulting in visibly improved performance.

With his emphasis on strengths and developing potential I would describe Downey as a true Positive Psychology coach. If you want to understand more about the role of Positive Psychology in coaching read Effective Coaching ; just be aware that the book was first published in 1999, before the term 'Positive Psychology' really came into regular use. Your coaching practice will be re-energised as a result.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

How to pronounce Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , founder of the flow concept, is the Positive Psychologist with the most unpronounceable name. Take a look at this... shows we're not the only ones struggling with it.

BTW I'm reliably informed you say 'cheek-sent-me-high'. Our PP class, however, prefers to call him "Mike"...

Designing Your Happiness At Work

Stefan Sagmeister, Austrian-born graphic designer, shares his thoughts on the subjects of design and happiness . His insights are very personal (such as his list of breathtaking moments), however, there are many themes here which everyone can relate to - such as doing work which really matters to you, being able to immerse yourself in work without being interrupted and enjoying the end results of a completed project.

Please do watch this clip, it's only 15 minutes long, and contains some fascinating insight into the theory and practice of happiness. Plus it's always inspiring to hear someone talk with passion and humour about their work.

Any well-being practitioners or academics reading will instantly spot that what Sagmeister talks about supports theories like self-determination , intrinsic motivation , flow ,competence, autonomy, relatedness and so on.

I liked his lists too, there were some real snippets of wisdom in 'Things I have learned in my life so far'. In fact he has used some of them in his designs, for example, Being Not Truthful Works Against Me and Complaining is Silly: Either Act or Forget. I'll summarise them for you in a future post.

Thanks to Neil for sending this clip to me.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Happiness Tools

Top 10 Happiness Tools

Following on from yesterday's post about the Open University Psychological Society's Psychology of Wellbeing Conference , I'd like to share with you the Top 10 Happiness Tools, devised by Dr Richard Stevens, Dr Jane Henry, Linda Corlett and Nevia Mullan , which were tried and tested during the BBC2 documentary ‘Making Slough Happy’.

1. Physical exercise - take half an hour of exercise three times a week.
2. Count your blessings - see our previous post for more information.
3. Set aside some time for talking to your partner or closest friend - an hour long, uninterrupted conversation.
4. Plant something (pot, container, window box) and tend it carefully.
5. Cut your TV viewing by half.
6. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once a day.
7. Phone a friend - make contact with someone you haven't seen for a while and arrange to meet up.
8. Have a good laugh at least once a day.
9. Give yourself a real treat every day and take the time to savour it.
10. Do a good turn for someone every day - see this post for further information, or look at Random Acts of Kindness for ideas.

To this list, and following Bernard Gesch's nutritional advice mentioned in yesterday's post, we would also add:
11. Ensure you're getting the recommended daily allowance of essential vitamins and minerals.

Over the next couple of weeks we'll be looking at some of the research which supports these Happiness Tools.

Stevens et al suggest you try using them for two months and see the difference they make to your happiness. On average they made the citizens of Slough 33% happier, so they can work for you too. Let us know how you get on.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

You Are What You Eat – Nutrition and Well-being

I’ve just returned from the Open University Psychological Society's three day Psychology of Wellbeing Conference at Nottingham University. Amongst others, the speakers included Dr Richard Stevens (of BBC2s ‘Making Slough Happy’ fame), Oliver James (a man who enjoys courting controversy in e.g. Britain on the Couch , They F*** You Up , Affluenza ), and Dr Alex Linley, Director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology in Warwick and currently researching the application of psychological strengths.

This morning, Bernard Gesch, Senior Research Scientist at Oxford University and Director of the research charity Natural Justice , presented ‘Reuniting mind and body: Diet, health and behavioural wellbeing’. The argument is straightforward – what we eat has a scientifically proven impact on brain functioning and thus on behaviour. Clinical trials have been carried out in which the behaviour of UK maximum security prisoners has been shown to be vastly improved by remarkably simple changes in their nutrition .

Gesch is currently working on further prison studies, however, it is clear that the current government is slow to support this research, and unlike the Dutch government, hasn’t yet introduced changes to prison diets despite the compelling evidence that to do so reduces the amount of violence in prisons, as well as reducing re-offending rates if the nutritional changes are continued. As Gesch points out, dietary changes are a small price to pay for such a large benefit in society. Perhaps the diet at Whitehall needs to include more zinc, iron and Omega-3 in order for them to see sense….

In my next few posts I’ll be introducing highlights from some of the other conference presentations, including Oliver James’ argument that Positive Psychologists would be better off working out how to reduce the soaring depression rate in the UK and the USA, rather than waste time focusing on how to improve wellbeing. Perhaps he has a point.

And whether or not you were at the conference, do share your thoughts on these and other Positive Psychology topics with us.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Emotional Well Being

A new campaign,Growing Strong, has been launched by the children's charity NCH to raise awareness of the importance of children and young people's emotional well-being to their ability to improve relative life chances and fulfill their potential.

In NCH's survey of over 2000 adults in the UK, 6 out of 10 said emotional well-being (having empathy, confidence, resilience,self-awareness, good social skills and being able to manage your feelings) was important or very important in deciding what they themselves had achieved in life. Other key factors were education and family stability. In fact, emotional well-being was more important that IQ, physical health, family income, where you live or social class.

These findings support the view that there is a growing need to ensure emotional well-being in order to maximise people's life chances. At 10 Consulting, we believe that this applies to adults as well as children: building emotional well-being is a key feature of our positive psychology coaching.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Cross-Cultural Happiness

You can' get more scientific than Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven's Database of World Happiness . Veenhoven has spent years researching happiness in many countries around the world and as a result has set up this comprehensive (and free) online resource. Whether or not you're interested in cross-cultural issues, this is a brilliant source of happiness information and statistics.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Goals, Happiness and the Peak of Achievement

At the Lancaster University Alumni meeting on Thursday night I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Chris Bonington speak about one of his expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest in the mid 80’s, in a presentation called the Peak of Achievement.

What was fascinating (apart from the photos of the first Apple ‘laptop’) was his certainty that in any expedition the journey (and in this case, the teamwork) is just as important as the destination. Businesses would perform a whole lot better if they realised this, he said.

How right he is. Many people we coach start with the perspective that “I’ll be happy with my job/life/self when XYZ happens”. Happiness is therefore seen as something to be achieved in the future which is conditional on completing a specific goal. Happiness is something that you can achieve in the future, and having some goals in work and life is crucial to personal growth, however the mistake often made is to focus so much on the reaching the goal in the future that you forget about the present.

You can also be happy now, in the moment. So remember that it’s the process you are following now that is as important to your happiness and self-development as the achievement itself, be that getting a new job, being promoted, losing weight or climbing Mount Everest.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Acts of Kindness

If you wants ideas and inspiration on this subject, the Random Acts of Kindness website is where to get them - it's a fantastic resource. Do take a look.