Since its launch in March 2015, The TalentGrow Show podcast has featured a variety of guests and covered lots of topics related to leading yourself and leading others. Four episodes (so far) have focused specifically on drawing lessons from the world of Positive Psychology. In this post, I’ll drill down to four specific tips shared on those four episodes, that you can use to help you become happier, develop yourself, become more resilient as well as more grateful.
Wait, what’s Positive Psychology? “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.” Source
I love the idea of being your best self, thriving through life, and living a life well-lived and worth living. So the whole field of Positive Psychology really jazzes me up, which is why I try to learn as much as I can and share it with you.
I hope you'll apply these tips -- they are all tips you can use, right away, to make your life better starting immediately. And who doesn’t want that?! 😊
Tip #1: to be your best self, do this simple exercise!
How do you figure out what your best life could be, what you want to do, and what goals you should set for yourself? This is hard for most people, myself included.
I want to share a great exercise with you that Positive Psychology author, speaker, and coach Caroline Adams Miller, who was my guest on Episode 3: How to Set Good Goals, Be Happier, and Get Gritty, explained on my show (starting at about 11:46).
Caroline described a “very magical little exercise” called Best Possible Future Self. (She offers it as a download on her website.) In this elegant writing exercise, you imagine yourself ten years in the future and imagine that everything has gone as well as possible. You pretend that there were no barriers to achievement, that you live where you want to live and that you’re doing what you want to do. She prescribes that you write to describe your envisioned ‘present tense’ future life for 20 minutes a day, for three consecutive days. Write about what that life looks like in detail.
Caroline’s clients describe the outcome of this simple writing exercise as so profound that they can’t not do it, e.g., pursue living that life. She says that people start saving more money and become more hopeful. The exercise helps them see which of their current goals are in conflict, and basically provides them with a road-map for success. Caroline reports that people who complete this exercise are happier for six months after doing it.
Are you ready to take Caroline up on her challenge and complete this exercise that can help you live a more meaningful, aligned, and yes, HAPPIER life? (Say “yes!” 😊 )
Tip #2: Step into the zone – your ZPD zone, that is.
Once you have figured out what your goals are based on your best possible future self exercise, you will need to practice some new habits and behaviors to live into that future self. But, lots of times it feels really unnatural to do things that are not part of your current habitual behaviors. Yet, if you only stick to what comes naturally, then how will you avoid staying just the way you are and missing out on that great future self you’ve envisioned?
Speaker, author, and Positive Psychology consultant Shannon Polly knows that feeling well. On Episode 09: Leverage Your Character Strengths, we discussed (starting around 20:17) this seeming paradox between wanting to be authentic and ‘yourself’ with figuring out a way to act in the new behavior style or build new habits and how unnatural that feels, especially at first.
Shannon says, “It is not natural for me to go to the gym and lift weights. I would much rather sit on the couch and eat potato chips. But I don’t say to my trainer, “You know, that push-up, it really doesn’t feel authentic to me today. I would rather not do that.”” Ha! So funny but so true!
Shannon shares a phrase that a Russian psychologist named Vygotsky used called ‘the zone of proximal development’ (or ZPD). She explains that when you’re “performing a head taller than you are,” you’re living into this development zone. During this period of growth, you are simultaneously both what you are and what you are not yet. You’re trying on a new tool or a technique, or trying to learn how to be more empathetic with your employees, or how to delegate, for example. And because you’re trying on new techniques or skills, it doesn’t feel natural, because it’s not you yet. But you’re learning. And that’s what growth and development is all about.
Once we learn to embrace this ZPD experience, we recognize that it’s not wrong, it’s not ‘fake’, and it isn’t something to resist or reject. We have to push ourselves through this zone because our new, better future self is right on the other side of it.
Ok, so you promise to go into the ZPD and stick to it – right? (Say “yes!” 😊 )
Tip #3: become more resilient
Yeah, so you’re working on that best possible future self, sticking with it right through the ZPD. That takes some serious resilience. Let’s face it – stuff will come up, obstacles will get in your way, and you might even just feel weary and want to revert to your old habits.
No – don’t do it – stay with your goals and vision! You just need to be more resilient. How?
My guest, resilience author and executive coach Doug Hensch, knows a lot about how to do it. We discussed five keys for becoming more resilient when he stopped by my podcast on Episode 12: Developing resilience and positivity (this topic starts around 14:40). I asked Doug: How do you suggest people get started with building resilience? Is there one that they should focus on first, or is it more situational or individual?
Doug suggested that there is not necessarily a one-starting-place-fits-all solution, and that it really depends on where you are and what you’re facing as a challenge. He gave an example about how different skills come into play at different times along your path – and you need to develop different resilience factors to deal with them. When he started his business and was going through a divorce about five years ago, what he needed to develop most was a sense of connection to friends, like by going out for dinners and not being at home by himself.
About a year and a half or two years after that, when he felt connected and did have a support system in his life, he came to a point where he could really start focusing on developing mindfulness. Doug “went hardcore”: he started meditating, 25-30 minutes in the morning, 5-10 minutes before bed, wearing a mindfulness bracelet so as to pay attention to his thoughts (e.g. when he was being kind to himself).
Now Doug says he is so focused on his work that he had to shift his focus to finding time to play, another resilience factor. Now he finds great music that he loves, watches comedies with his kids on TV, and ensures that they do something fun every weekend to generate more positive emotions and more connection.
What’s needed for you is going to vary, and it will change as you and your situation change. So become attuned to your needs, and continue to build your resilience to weather the newest storm.
So, be resilient and figure out which resilience factor is the most important one for you to focus on right now. Ok? (Say “yes!” 😊)
Tip #4: No matter what, be grateful – do this gratitude exercise to get started
Studies show that people who increase their practice of gratitude are 25 percent happier! Along your path to becoming your best self, you must be grateful and experience happiness in the journey. Happiness is never something that awaits at the goal post.
In my solo episode called Episode 17: Two easy gratitude exercises that will make you happier, I described an easy exercise you can do to increase your gratitude, and thus your actual happiness level – it’s called a gratitude journal (starting around 2:00). Studies show that people who keep a gratitude journal sleep a half hour more per night and exercise 33 percent more each week compared to people who don’t keep a gratitude journal.
Here’s how you do it:
Every night, for the next two weeks, write in your gratitude journal. (It can be any notebook you dedicate to this that you will keep right next to your bed.) What do you write?
The date and three good things about the day.
That’s it, in a nutshell.
What are these ‘good things’?
They could be something as mundane as, “I’m glad I woke up in the morning and had an opportunity to get out of bed and go to work.”
Or it could be something like, “I had such a delicious dinner at the restaurant with my friends.”
Or maybe it was, “I’m really grateful today because I get to do work that I love and was able to spend at least two hours really engrossed in a flow state where I lost track of time and I was doing something that I really enjoyed.”
Or it could be, some days it could be as simple as, “I’m grateful to be alive.”
Search your memory of the day, and right before bed, write down at least three things about the day for which you are grateful. And if you want to make this really meaningful, write down why you are grateful for them.
This is the last thing you do before you go to sleep.
Now, you have to keep this up for at least two weeks for this to really have that positive and lasting effect, because it takes time to build a habit and it takes time for the effects of a good habit to start making their way into your brain. Your brain has to build new neuron connections and new pathways where others did not exist before.
Here’s the cool thing: in addition to remembering things that you already feel grateful for, you’ll actually start developing a gratitude toward more things that happen to you that maybe previously you wouldn’t have seen through grateful eyes. In other words, you’ll start noticing throughout your day the things that you can be grateful for, and becoming grateful to them in the process. This is in part how you’ll increase your sense of gratitude and happiness for the life you are living now.
Go find (or buy) that gratitude journal notebook and put it next to your bed, with a pen or pencil, ‘cause you’re starting tonight. Right? (Say “yes!” 😊 )
So, to become happier from the science of Positive Psychology, my four tips to you (from some of the great episodes on my podcast, The TalentGrow Show), are:
- Envision your best possible future self and map your goals to that version of yourself, so you can live it.
- Don’t worry about feeling unnatural as you pursue your goals – it’s a natural part of growth and development and you must stay in the ZPD to get to that vision on the other side.
- As challenges inevitably arise, be resilient (which is something you can grow and develop). Figure out what you need to focus on and work on that aspect of resilience – not all of them at once.
- Be grateful along the journey for all the good things.
And if you follow this advice, you’ll definitely be happier.
Please chime in with your experience, thoughts, and questions below and let’s get a conversation going in the comments section! You’re going to go leave a comment now, right? (Say “yes!” 😊 )
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