Learn more about how Positive Psychology focuses on identifying and building personal strengths, and fostering enjoyment and resiliency in this helpful article by Psychologist Abra Garfield …
Is it possible in this busy and stressful world to change the wiring of your brain so you act, think and feel more positive in the face of challenge and adversity?
The answer is yes!
It is possible – if you’re willing to put in some work. Incorporating some of the ideas behind positive psychology into place in your daily life in a way that is efficient and personalised to your needs, can have a dramatic effect in terms of increasing your positive behaviour and thinking.
This in turn can significantly improve your:
- emotional wellbeing;
- productivity; and
- motivation in your life goals.
Regardless of your life situation, acting and thinking more positively will lead to productivity and success. You will translate problems into challenges, and weaknesses into strengths, through greater flexibility of mind and problem solving.
It’s proven that the mind works a lot better when we are optimistic and positive about the future and our present moment. Many believe that sacrificing happiness now for future success is worth it. Unfortunately they are wrong, because it is the other way around – happiness leads to success.
Read the below steps and attached links and decide for yourself. If you would like to book a consultation to access Positive Psychology support, contact me with the information at the end of this article.
The first three methods are “behavioural” methods, as they focus on behaviour-based programs or techniques that help re-wire the mind to see the world through a more positive lens.
The final two are considered “mental” methods, as they work at a thinking level to increase our likelihood of responding to events in a positive way.
Both behavioural and mental methods can have beneficial effects on our emotional wellbeing, but you might find you are personally more affected by one or the other. Explore and enjoy with an open mind, and an acknowledgement that many of the ideas below require practice and skill building for you to really access long-term benefits.
1 – Five Ways to Wellbeing
The “Five Ways to Wellbeing” is a set of evidence-based actions, which promote people’s wellbeing.
This model outlines five global values we can act on each hour, day or week. Global simply means that the five values can be acted on through thousands of different personally significant actions to promote pro-active wellbeing building. These five ways can act as a checklist, or to-do list:
- Move (Be Active)
- Tune In (Take notice)
- Connect (Social connections)
- Give (To self and others)
- Learn (Constant development of self)
This model of pro-active wellbeing building comes from research out of the New Economics Foundation (nef) – you can read more about the Five Ways to Wellbeing on their website.
The Five Ways to Wellbeing were developed by nef from evidence gathered in the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The Project, published in 2008, drew on state-of-the-art research about mental capital and mental wellbeing through life. The Five Ways to Wellbeing communicate the key findings from this study.
This model is used by the Australian Rules Football Players Association (AFL PA) within their wellbeing programs with professional football players under high stress, with positive reviews.
2 – Positivity Intervention
The positivity intervention outlined by Shawn Achor in the below TED talk clip can help us to change the lens we view the world from. Achor believes that if we see the world through a positive lens and seek out positive information, we become more productive and better at facing challenges and adversity in our work and daily lives, leading to success.
This intervention includes daily practice of the following:
- Recall three things you are grateful for (new three every day);
- Journal or verbally describe one positive event from the day in as much detail as possible;
- One random act of kindness.
3 – Power Pose / Body Language
In sport psychology one behavioural skill athlete and coaches value is known as “Act as if” or “Fake it till you make it”.
It literally refers to good acting, no matter how we are feeling on the inside. This skill of acting confident and energised – even when not really feeling it – is based on the principle that there is two-way communication from the body to the mind, and the body is just as able to communicate how we feel as the mind.
So we can coax the mind to feel and think positively through acting as such?
Yes! When we are genuinely happy we smile, and the muscles in our face when smiling (tension in certain areas creates smile blueprint) are conditioned or matched to trigger with that feeling. So logically we can then trigger a little happiness with a big fake smile. Try it out … many people experience a little joy when doing this.
But there is strong scientific evidence that there is more to it than simply conditioning of muscles. Consider this research, based on a study of job seekers utilising either a “power pose” or a “weakness pose” in the mirror for a short amount of time before entering the interviews.
Not only did the “power pose” group perform better in the interviews, but their cortisol (an anxiety related hormone) levels were lower, and their testosterone (a confidence related hormone) levels were higher right after the posing.
Mental Methods from Positive Psychology
4 – Learned Optimism
This model comes from Martin Seligman’s 1990 book, “Learned Optimism“. How we mentally interpret/process events (both failure and success), can improve our positivity.
In Seligman’s work with animals and humans on depression and learned helplessness/hopelessness, he found that about a third of humans respond very differently to animals, when placed in a context where there is no escape or solution to negative feedback (eg a shock or an impossible challenge leading to inevitable failure).
Some humans just don’t give up! This informed the scientific community about depression, as a disorder of thinking as well as just mood.
Seligman found the optimists persevere where most would give up. This was due to a particular set of beliefs or attributions they used to evaluate failure and success feedback from the environment.
Seligman found three thinking styles (The Three Ps of Learned Optimism) that help explain the thinking component of learned hopelessness, a common cognitive (thinking) symptom in depression. When reversed, these Three Ps inform us as to how we can learn to be more optimistic and positive when faced with adversity.
The goal is to retrain our responses to adversity and success within the three Ps.
- Personal – Failure/setback due to me (my innate characteristics)
- Pervasive – Failure/setback in one specific area indicative of a general failure, i.e. as a person
- Permanent – Failure/setback at one specific time indicative of a permanent failure, no hope
- Permanent – Failure/setback due to external factors
- Pervasive – Failure/setback in one specific area does not indicate general failure
- Personal – Failure/setback at one specific time does not indicate a permanent failure, improvement
If you tend to fall into pessimistic thinking styles you can try and reflect on a recent perceived failure/setback in your life that had you feeling negative – and try to see if there is another part of the story that can be seen through the lens of the optimistic side of the three Ps. Were there external factors that contributed? Can you identify where exactly you failed, usually not total failure? Have you always failed here – or is this temporary, and improvement can be made or lessons can be learned?
If you want to know where you sit on the spectrum of Optimism, take this online test.
5 – Positive Self-Talk
Self-talk, or our internal/spoken dialogue to ourselves, is commonly harnessed for positive purposes (emotional wellbeing, thinking positively) in conventional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other evidence based psycho-therapies for such things as depression and anxiety.
In many cases the causes of someone’s anxiety, fear or depression may be negative internal dialogue about themselves, the world and other people. In therapy this is generally evaluated, and efforts are made to adjust or diffuse these thoughts.
Self-talk is also used in sport and exercise psychology to enhance motivation, confidence, skill learning and focus. Some athletes and sport psychologists attest that positive self-talk used wisely in sport and exercise can lead to performance gains. Life coaches and mentors also attest to the power of a positive inner voice.
Below are a few forms of self-talk commonly used in CBT and sport psychology, and some links that can help you to not only identify negative self-talk, but also construct personalised positive self-talk, to become more positive in your approach to life.
- Cue words – A personal word or set of words that is trained to trigger one’s focus or attitude of choice.
- Mantras – (the Tibetan word for prayer) A personal slogan or phrase that is meaningful in the face of adversity.
- Self-Affirmations – Positive personal statements (self-love/acceptance, confidence, encouragement).
The Positive Psychology Movement
Positive Psychology focuses on identifying and building personal strengths, and fostering enjoyment and resiliency, rather than simply reducing problems.
It involves identifying what adds meaning to life and moving towards it – enriching relationships, living on holistic principles of wellbeing and mind-body-spirit connection, developing self-compassion, and reaching human potential.
Pioneered by Martin Seligman, Positive Psychology’s roots come from Humanistic Psychology founded By Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. They felt that psychology was overly focused on the medical model of symptom reduction, and was missing a vital ingredient – fun and enjoyment!
In Positive Psychology, Seligman has taken it one step futher – creatin more joy and meaning for individual’s lives and communities through promoting talents and increasing life fulfilment.
Author: Abra Garfield, BPsych, MPsych (sport & exercise), MAPS; Medicare ATAPS provider.
Abra Garfield is an endorsed Sport and Performance Psychologist, with a passion for helping others to achieve optimal performance whether on the sports field, in the classroom, home or office. By drawing on a range of therapeutic techniques including Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing, Abra helps many people with goal setting, motivation, and overcoming anxiety.
Abra is the Principal Sport Psychologist and founder of Summit Performance Psychology. Visit the Summit Performance Psychology website to learn more or like us on Facebook to receive Summit Performance Psychology Articles and event updates.
Psychologist Abra Garfield has moved.
Find his details on his website: Summit Sport & Performance Psychology.