Monday, May 30, 2016

The 2 steps to Achieving your Potential Through Positive Psychology

A few years ago a friend said to me "Tim, you've been working with clients and students for many years, you've been putting together  some great ideas from psychology and philosophy, why don't you put down what you've learnt in a way that we can all understand?"

This seemed such a nice  idea that I spent the next 18 months doing what he'd suggested, and the result was Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology.

A few weeks ago the same friend said to  me "Tim, I got your book, I like it, it's great". This was good, but to be honest  I didnt  write the book just to get compliments, I wrote it to help people. So I asked him "That's lovely to hear, how has it helped you?"  "Well", he ventured "I'm not sure excactly, I've done the 3 good things exercise a few times ... I'm sure some of it's helping me by osmosis!".

The thing is, I know from my experience as a coach and therapist that whilst osmosis works great for plants it's not really so effective  for humans .. 

I've learnt that there are two steps to achieving your potential through positive psychology  - first learning Positive Psychology and then living Positive Psychology

Step 1 Learning Positive Psychology

There's a complete Positive Psychology Toolkit on page 247-8 of Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology.   Whilst comprehensive, that list have seemed a  a bit daunting for my friend, so here are 3 of my favourites  to start you off today.

1) Three Good Things

An oldie but a goodie. Recently I heard  Positive Psychology's founder Martin Seligman presentshis latest thoughts in London   and once again  he enthusiastically recommended this exercise.

Here is the Three Good Things Exercise

Think of 3 good things that happened in the last 24 hours. In addition think about what you did to contribute to them happening. Don't set the bar too high and don't neglect any small part you had in making it happen. For example, supposing the sun shone -you noticed it. A friend called - you have helped maintain that friendship in the past. Find a good time to do this every day - the end of the day works for many people. You might like to share this exercise with friends and family.

2) Random Acts of Kindness Days

One day in the next week, do 5 random acts of kindness.  The acts of kindness do not have to be large. Don't do anything that could put you or anyone else at risk.

 Here's a list of possible acts of kindness and here's a Facebook group dedicated to random acts of kindness.

Send postcard to a friend even when not on holiday
Help elderly person to cross road
Cook something for someone else
Buy coffee anonymously
Hold a door open
Give people compliments genuinely
Tell loved ones how important they are to you
Say thank you to bus drivers
Listen properly
Give leftovers to a homeless person
Tell people how much you value them
Call or Skype a  relative or friend
Do  an act of kindness for yourself as well for other people
Find out about  Effective Altruism and how your donation to charity can make the most difference

One of the things I love about Positive Psychology is that it really goes beyond what you'd find out in self-help books to discover what really works. Which do you think makes people  happier - Having acts of kindness concentrated in a day or spreading them out? It's the former, so whilst its great to do regular acts of kindness, most likely it will make you happier if every so often you schedule a kindness day where you perform 5 or more random acts of kindness.

3) Be aware of and use your strengths (and manage your weaknesses)

There's a lot of research to suggest that using your strengths helps happness and effectiveness, as long as you do this wisely - for example by managing your weaknesses. Here are 2 ways to learn what you need to do start doing this more.
  • Ask 3 friends (or family members or work colleagues) to identify 3 good points and one weakness. Ask them to give evidence for each strength and weakness. It’s important to tell them that you value honest feedback, and ask for it to be in writing. 

Once you are more aware of your strengths, use them in a new way each day. For example, one of my strengths is love of learning, so I started today by learning a bit more about altruism through this Ted Talk
It's also helpful to know and manage your weaknesses. For example, if you are an ideas person but not a completer-finisher, then it would not be such a great idea to team up with another ideas person - you will just be competing with each other and mutually frustrated when nothing gets implemented. Instead, team up with someone who is the polar opposite of you - someone who is willing to listen to your ideas and get them done.

There are many more more simple yet evidence-based and effective ideas in the Positive Psychology Toolkit  but it's better to implement two or three ideas than to try to take it all on at once.

Step  2 Living Positive Psychology

I've written before about  how  the New 3 Rs can help you to flourish 

The New 3Rs are Repetition, Reminders and Rituals.  Do you brush your teeth everyday? Is that helpful? Could exercising your strengths, or thinking of 3 good things each day or doing random acts of kindness be a useful ritual to carry out each day or, in the case of the acts of kindness, perhaps once a month? If you are agree, then it's just a matter of embedding these and other activities in your life until they become habits, just like brushing your teeth.

What could work well for you to learn and live more positively?

Here are a few ideas

  • Do a daily Positive Psychology Workout
  • Team up with someone to share Positive Psychology ideas
  • Join a positive psychology class or Action for Happiness
  • Put lists of these ideas on your fridge, or phone, or email them to yourself
  • Incorporate a Positive Psychology ritual (such as 3 Good Things or meditation) into an existing ritual (such as brushing your teeth).
  • Read some Positive Psychology each day or watch a Ted Talk or listen to a Positive Psychology podcast
  • Keep a Positive Psychology journal, listing what you've done today, what you've learnt and what you intend to do tomorrow
Do you want to try any of these ideas? Have you got any ideas of your own for learning and living Positive Psychology, if so, add them to the comments section.

Have a great day