What is positive psychology coaching?
Positive psychology is a relatively new area of psychology, which builds on many existing ideas and concepts. The narrative of positive psychology researchers and developers back in the 1990s and 2000s was that the field of psychology had become too skewed towards helping alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression and poor mental health. Positive psychology researchers were interested in how to develop greater wellbeing levels in people, communities and organisations. Simplistically - how can we move from plus 6 out of 10 happy to 8 out of 10. This then begs the question what is happiness?
Is it a combination of the following:
- good resilience skills
- a healthy balance of negative and positive emotions
- an awareness of our biases
- an awareness of our strengths (and our weaknesses)
- having meaning in our lives
- an absence of pain
- good physical health
- connection to other people
- connection to ourselves
- work life balance
- healthy pragmatism
We could debate the definition of happiness for a long time. Happiness, meaning and wellbeing are very personal and subjective terms. However opening up a discussion about these things is often a rewarding, heart-warming experience. In yoga we have the term santosa, which equates to developing a positive mindset and optimism. To me this is a valuable exercise. How can we get more out of life so that we can help others more and so that we can have a full life full of love.
The godfathers of positive psychology Martin Seligman and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi focused upon two core elements:
- Strengths coaching ; and
- Flow theory
They posited that when people identify, celebrate and use their unique character strengths they feel more engaged, energized and happier. A useful analogy is to think of a sports team with each player slotting into roles that fit their unique talents.
Martin Seligman developed the Values in action inventory (VIA) at the University of Pennsylvania. This is an online test which helps people identify and order their top 24 character strengths. For example these include honesty, teamwork, zest and energy, industry and so on.
There are many other ways to help people identify their own and each other’s top strengths and how to use and celebrate them. For example Alex Linley at the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology has developed a great strengths finding tool and the Gallup organization have also created powerful tools.
If we invest our energy into a strength, which gives us a buzz, we feel more intrinsically motivated to develop expertise in that area. Investing in a low strength might just take us from poor to mediocre.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow theory explores the world of optimal experience. His research indicates that, counter intuitively, we often choose low engagement activities, which actually undermine our happiness. To be in flow he posits that we need to continually look for ways to develop mastery in an area and set our goals just ahead of our abilities. Set these goals too far ahead and we become stressed. Set our goals inside our comfort zone and we become jaded and apathetic.
In addition to flow and strengths theory researchers such as Barbara Frederickson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ed Diener and many others have developed useful practical positive psychology interventions, which are useful in the real world.
These interventions help people see the world in a more balanced perspective. When we feel time pressured, stressed and anxious we naturally focus upon our own deficits and each other’s deficits. Practical and relevant interventions draw our attention to the positive aspects in our lives.
The heuristic biases expert, Daniel Kahneman, talks about the tension between the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self may enjoy a flow of positive experiences during the day. The remembering self may have become accustomed to attending to things that go wrong or for example, negative feedback from others. Positive psychology interventions help us bring into better alignment the experiencing and remembering selves. Common interventions include:
- keeping a journal of positive experiences and why they brought meaning
- remembering three things that went well during the day and why they went well
- keeping a gratitude journal
- practicing random acts of kindness
Why develop it?
The first question is what is it? Here positive psychologists talk about the measurement of wellbeing and might use questionnaires, to asses subjective wellbeing, such as the satisfaction with life scale.
The problem with asking a person to assess their own wellbeing levels is the tension between the “remembering” and “experiencing” self. How can we truly know our own happiness levels? Then again who is better qualified than us to measure this? Perhaps facebook and google algorithms now know us better than we know ourselves?
Researchers have found that people who self-report greater levels of happiness tend also to have longer life expectancy, more persistency at tasks, have better immune systems and achieve more in the workplace
Can it be developed (greater levels of engagement and happiness) ?
Some research indicates that to a great extent happiness and wellbeing is a strongly heritable trait. Happy parents perhaps pass on happy genes. However there are a number of positive psychology interventions, which really seem to improve a persons happiness levels.
They might go from a plus 6 level of happiness to plus 8 and stay at an elevated level in the long term, long after the intervention has ceased.
At Breathe London we are fascinated with how positive psychology interventions can work hand in hand with mindfulness techniques, to help change the neural architecture of the brain.
Evidenced based techniques are available to help us become more optimistic, calm, balanced and positive. Some of our heroes in this brave new world of neuro coaching include Richard Davidson and Dan Siegel.
Who can coach positive psychology?
Andy Roberts has a masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from the University of East London. He was one of the first people to gain a MAPP qualification outside of the US. He uses MAPP teachings plus his emotional intelligence coaching, using the MSCEIT model, to help people and organisations make positive change.
He has taught one to one and group sessions with major organisations in the UK and Australia since 2006. Clients include PWC, James Cook University, The House of Commons, Amerada Hess, HAYS Recruitment, CQ University and many more.
What is you next step to developing your positive psychology abilities?
For one to one sessions or to organise group sessions contact Andy Roberts via the contact us page