Monday, 31 December 2007

Changing the World through Giving

"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

Successful New Year's Resolutions

Will you be one of the 12% of people who stick to their New Year's Resolutions in 2008?

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

And if you want to take part in Professor Wiseman's New Year's Resolution Experiment for 2008, sign up here.

Good luck!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Positive Psychology - science or psychobabble?

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

Leadership: The Role of Positive Psychology and Creativity

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

Positive Thinking about Positive Psychology

Here's an interesting article in Personnel Today magazine; just don't be fooled by the title into thinking it's about Positive Mental Attitude stuff and boosting your self-confidence by repeating 'I'm great' twenty times a day....

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