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One in 400 trillion. That's the probability of ever actually being here on this planet. Let me say that again- one in 400 trillion! My brain tries to grapple with how extraordinarily miraculous this really is, and I'm overcome by a sense of awe.

 

With this awe comes the chilling realisation of how close I came to NOT being born. Yet I am here. So are you. And we're acting like this is all very ordinary. Yet it's not. And we shouldn't treat it that way.

 

Isn't it time to electrify our existence, if only just a little?

 

Too many people tell me their lives are okay. Functional. Comfortable. Predictable. Acceptable to the rest of the world. Yet just not very shiny on the inside.

 

And that's not okay.

 

We did not overcome the odds of one in 400 million to live a so-so existence.

 

So what makes an extraordinarily good existence? Or at least a great one?

 

Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman created the acronym PERMA. So a great life would have/ be:

 

P- Positive emotions

E- Engagement

R- Relationships

M- Meaningful

A- Achievement

 

Over the next week we will explore how each of these five may serve as a catalyst to a whole new electric you! Expect a surge of well-being and an explosion of euphoria!

 

So, let's create a spark! Positive emotions. Fleeting and slightly fickle by nature. Marvel at how joy, serenity and contentment tickle, tantalize and then tiptoe away. Yet we must accept they will never be here to stay. However, the very frequency of their visits is more important than their intensity (at least from the happiness point of view).

 

Whilst positive emotions themselves may be transient, they leave in their wake an invisible array of armoury to protect our well-being. Experiencing frequent positive emotions leads to greater optimism, self-confidence and self-efficacy. That's pretty powerful long-term.

 

Positive emotions also bring people together. Relationships with others are a huge source of well-being, and thus positive emotions could be seen as a magical social glue.

 

All well and good, you may say. But what can I do to experience more positive emotions in life?

 

You can start by becoming more mindful, which simply means being more aware of the present moment. Mind-wandering decreases well-being, regardless of the task at hand. Become aware of the positive emotion you're feeling. Label it. Savour it.

 

Speaking about savouring- so much of the joy and pleasure we experience comes either before or after the moment itself. So start anticipating. And reminiscing. There's joy to be found in the past, present and future. Squeeze every little drop out.

 

Choose variety. Something known as 'hedonic adaptation' means we very quickly get used to things in life- both the good and bad. Hence the good too will lose its novelty. Keep yourself on your toes in every aspect of life...

 

Yet...

 

And this is a very big yet..

 

Don't force positivity. Or deny the existence of negative emotions. Express them. Label them too. They have a very real place in life. By letting them in and then letting them out, you'll no longer be a slave to your emotions.

 

Interested in how Positive Psychology can benefit children and grown-ups alike? I'd love to hear from you :-)

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Frankly, I think the midlife crisis has got itself a really bad reputation. Inevitably images of shiny sports cars and seductive secretaries spring to mind (though that’s another story!), as do moments in which the thwarted desires of youth collide with the not-quite-what-we’d-envisioned reality.

 

I cannot deny the fact that such confrontation may be dramatic, particularly when it is thrust upon us by external circumstances- for none of us like to relinquish our control. It could be the loss of a job. The end of a relationship. The death of a loved one. Anything that jerks us from the all too comfortable status quo.

 

Yet we all need a little shaking from time to time. Human beings crave growth. Evolution. Progress. When such growth is thwarted, sickness sets in (so posited the great Humanistic Psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers). This sickness may manifest itself as boredom, anxiety or frustration. But manifest it will. We all know when we’re cheating ourselves. We know when we’re repressing who we’re meant to be. Notice the niggling voice that never quite switches off. The tiny voice that teases, tantalizes and ultimately threatens us to take action. To explore our potential. When you can’t silence that voice any longer, you may experience a moment of existential ‘crisis’.

 

Why do we fear this moment so? Because nobody likes sitting in the limbo of uncertainty. Nobody likes taking a deep dive into their souls. Nobody likes to feel lonely, afraid and insecure. Yet- it may be in this very abyss of despair that we begin (maybe for the first time ever) to ask ourselves what REALLY matters to us. For what we’re most afraid of may be that which matters MOST to us. So, if we repress the fear, we also repress the desire. Are you willing to repress what matters most?

 

Don’t do it! This is where things get really exciting. Don’t try and distract yourself. Don’t go for more status. More power. Faster car. Bigger home. Stop the distractions. Listen carefully- this is the moment where authenticity knocks. Aren’t you going to let yourself in? You’ve been waiting outside for approximately the first half of your life…

 

Why not instead stop looking for external validation and peer inside of yourself? Marvel at the way in which your innate strengths and core values entwine, fusing to create a sense of purpose that is unique to you. Explore them with the help of friends, family or a coach. Don’t hold back.

 

In disentangling ourselves from the external expectations that once surrounded us, we’ll begin to tap into our authenticity, and this is where the real power lies, as we begin the ongoing process of becoming the best versions of ourselves. Interestingly, the better we feel about ourselves and our own lives, the more likely it is that we’ll transcend our own ego and reach out to others (so everybody wins). Connection makes us really happy.

 

Maslow famously said,

 

“What a man can be, he must be.”

 

Growth is a must.

 

However uncomfortable the transition may be.

 

 A crisis is a shiny invitation to a party of self-exploration. Only by uncovering what really matters can we reach any lasting sense of well-being, fulfillment and success.

 

You don’t have to go it alone- Positive Psychology, coaching and I are here to help. We’d love to hear from you and help you seize this moment of immense transformative power.

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What does having a vocation make you think of? Maybe doctors working flat out to heroically save the lives of patients? Teachers perhaps? Striving to instil values into the future generations ? How about the refuse collector, working tirelessly day after day to ensure the cleanliness of the streets and thus the health of its citizens? That one wasn't as obvious, was it? Most of us feel we have to make a MAJOR impact to really experience a sense of vocation. Yet this couldn't be further from the truth.

 

A simple definition of vocation is work that feels like a contribution to humanity, whilst being aligned to an individual's sense of purpose in life (1). Individuals in all fields can report experiencing work in this way, which makes it apparent that vocation is not exclusive to the more glamorous or prestigious of professions. That means EVERYBODY could experience work as something personally meaningful and fulfilling. Let me show you how...

 

From my recent research into what makes work feel like a vocation, three factors stood out very clearly. Those who feel this way about what they do all had three things in common:

  1. Authenticity- they felt their work was aligned with who they were. Many to the extent that work and life become one and the same.
  2. Self-actualised- they were constantly striving to grow, to become an ever-improved version of themselves- personally, professionally, spiritually. In every possible way. They were innately curious and open-minded, and always ready to explore.
  3. Self-transcendent- work wasn't just about them, if not making a greater contribution to others, as well as society as a whole. This was more about losing oneself in service of a worthy cause (whatever that might be) and creating something of a legacy.

 

These people loved their work. There's no question of that. Yet it didn't come stress and worry free, without emotional and psychological hurdles. Undoubtedly though, it was absolutely worth it.

 

If you'd like to infuse your days with a sense of passion and purpose (with or without changing your job itself) Positive Psychology may be able to help you in the following three ways:

1. Creating an awareness of your strengths. A wonderful tool to uncover your character strengths (and thus also glean insight into your core values) is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths found here:

https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/user/login

Once you have a clearer idea of your strengths, you can look for new ways to use them both at work and in life. Using character strengths is correlated with well-being (2) though it's a question of striking a happy balance, as overuse can lead to stress and energy-depletion. Working in alignment with your strengths will create a sense of authenticity, well-being, as well as personal and professional fulfillment.

 

2. Become more competent, related and autonomous. The theory of Self-Determination (3) states that people feel most motivated when they feel good at what they're doing, connected to other people whilst doing do, and have the right to exercise free will. Ask yourself: What steps could I take to continually grow into my potential? How can I strengthen the relationships with the people around me, so as to feel meaningfully connected? What are the ways in which I can exercise more autonomy over my work? However small or insignificant these steps will be, they will incrementally raise intrinsic motivation, and thus well-being.

 

3. Adopt a growth mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck makes a very compelling case for the growth mindset, in which people perceive their intelligence and talents as malleable, rather than fixed. People with a fixed mindset tend to be very afraid of making mistakes, and this limits their potential for creativity, innovation and ultimately growth. On the other hand, a growth mindset recognises the need for trial and error to fulfill their true potential. Unfortunately, too many people have a fixed mindset, and thus give up on their dreams and aspirations. Questions that might promote a growth mindset include:

  • What will I do to challenge myself today?
  • Is the effort today worth the reward tomorrow?
  • How will I keep going when things get tough?
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • Do I spend more time questioning feedback or taking action?

 

Above all, remember we are only ever a work in progress. Yet to make work a vocation may be the marker of optimal personal and professional success. 

 

References

1. Seco, V., & Lopes, M. P. (2013). Calling for Authentic Leadership: The Moderator Role of Calling on the Relationship between Authentic Leadership and Work Engagement. Open Journal of Leadership, 2(04), 95.

2. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and wellbeing. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.

3.Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.

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Do you ever have that little niggling feeling there's something more out there? Something more interesting? More exciting? More fulfilling? You can't quite put your finger on what's missing, but you sure as hell know this CAN'T be all there is. It may creep upon you unexpectedly, in little bouts of frustration or anxiety, or perhaps haunt you in hours, days and weeks of boredom or self-doubt. Perhaps even more dramatically, it may strike you as a crisis- for we all know that which we repress eventually springs out at us like a Jack-in-a- box rearing its comical head!

 

However the realisation hits us, there is no 'undo' key. Once you get the slightest glimpse into your true potential, you cannot stay in the shadow. You're always going to see the crack of light filtering tantalizing through the door of What Could Be. The question is, do you dare to open it?

 

Maslow stated that our capacities are necesities- whatever we are capable of becoming, we MUST become. If we try to repress, deny or thwart our natural inclination to growth, we run the risk of falling into a pit of sadness, frustration or even despair. We may pereceive an existential void- something we try to distract ourselves from in the chaos of life. We're always busy 'doing', because we're secretly a little afraid of sitting quietly and just 'being'. Yet it may be in those moments of solitute, of silence and of deep reflection that we let the quiet, yet insistent voice chime thorugh.

 

We know who we are. We've always known. We know what we're really capable of. We know we simply have to shed the layers of ill-fitting, outdated and mismatched clothes that family, circumstances or life itself may have made us wear. We don't have to look very far- we have all the answers inside of us. Once we rid ourselves of externally-imposed expectations, we get a glimmer of our authenticity. It's dazzlingly bright, and we might have to look away. But slowly, our eyes begin to adjust, and we see ourselves more clearly than ever before.It's from this point of authenticity that you're ready to embrace your true potential. For it's only the fulfillment of these kind of goals that leads to any long-term well-being.

 

I have a difficult question for you:

 

In which area of your life are you the most defensive or reactive?

 

It's taken me a long time to realise that this is the very area that matters most to me. Yet whilst this area of your life may bring the most emotional or psychological pain, growth in this are may generate a deep sense of meaning and psychological well-being.

 

Can we take this just one step further?

 

Now you're clear about the aspect of your life in which you wish to develop your strengths and grow into your true potentialities, I'd like you to try a positive psychology exercise in which you clarify your aspirations, strengthen your resolve and get an instant boost of well-being. Please find instructions here:

 

https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/best_possible_self

 

Now that you've time-travelled into the future, there's no turning back. You've caught sight of the best possible you, and what you can be, you really MUST be. You owe it to yourself this time around.

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I once thought my imagination was a fearless explorer of all that might be. I once thought my dreams were screaming AUDACITY and pushing through the sky. I once even thought all goals had to be realistic. Then I met Simon, and something shifted.

 

Rarely is serenity found in a deep and swirling undercurrent of unbridled passion. Yet that is exactly how I found him- both reassuringly serene, and brimming with an unmistakable passion, vitality and determination. It was this seemingly contradictory force that drew me in, and luckily Simon Crowe- a coach, a leader and altogether rather inspiring human being- agreed to let me into his world for just over an hour. What ensued was insightful, moving and really got me dreaming about the power of a vision.

 

Once the interview was over, I found myself listening to it, over and over again. As I closed my eyes and submerged myself into the depth of the recording, gem after gem gleamed up at me. There were three particular revelations that twinkled particularly brightly, and I feel they may cast light for you…

 

I will call these revelations compasses, for no matter how tiny or gigantic your vision, they will guide you through your journey from dream to creation.

 

The first compass is curiosity. In positive psychology, curiosity is conceptualized as a positive and motivational force, propelling individuals to recognize and pursue novelty and challenge (1). It is this curiosity that has allowed Simon to pursue his vocation; curious to explore his capabilities, curious to uncover the aspirations of those around him, and curious to challenge his preconceived notions.

 

It is curiosity that will pique your interest, tantalizing you to take the first tentative steps into the unknown.(Did I Mention that Simon was building a school in Liberia? Well, you don't get much more unknown than that, do you? More about that in a second).  It is curiosity that will pave the way from your comfort zone to the land of What If? By daring to ask questions, we dare to challenge the status quo, thus setting into motion the wheel of change, spinning ever-faster and leaving an imprint of meaningful and lasting transformation in its wake. Not only is curiosity a powerful transformative tool, but the exploratory side of curiosity is correlated with well-being (2), from which further positive emotions are likely to spring. This is all very motivating, and highly conducive to goal-getting. Whether it’s building a school in Liberia, coaching clients, or simply getting a coffee at his local café, Simon’s insatiable curiosity pushes him to make deep connections with those around him, tapping into their hearts and minds, and creating a vision to serve their boldest imaginings.The inspiration for the school in Liberia came from a series of what-if? conversations, a heartfelt connection the Liberian people and the capacity to dream really big. 

 

The second compass is courage, defined as the ability to take control of fear in a dangerous or difficult situation. The VIA Institute on Character cites courage (or bravery) to be either physical (like firefighters), psychological (facing up to aspects of oneself) or moral (defending that which one believes to be true). Importantly, this does not mean being fearless. On the contrary, we can look upon fear as the motivational impetus to couragously rise above obstacles and push through our self-limiting beliefs. Once Simon's curiosity was piqued, it was his courage that propelled him to move forward and visit a land and a people that many would shy away from. By facing his fear head on and choosing to look poverty and suffering in the eye, he's actually been able to see through to the other side and has seen the love, the light and the hope of the Liberian people.

 

The third compass is compassion. Positive psychology defines this as the identification of suffering in another, followed by the motivation to move towards them and relieve this suffering (3) Compassion breaks down barriers between 'us' and 'them', uniting people in their humanity. As connection to others is a fundamental and universal human need (4) this is a powerful tool. Whilst compassion may have been the foundation upon which Simon's project was laid, this compassion has now transformed into deep friendship, mutual respect and positive and practical action steps.

 

So what happens when curiosity, courage and compassion collide? Let me tell you: an audacious vision. What happens when you take the first few tentative steps towards that vision? You expereince a surge in confidence, you attract the help of like-minded individuals and you begin to make things happen. What happens next?

 

You'e going to have to ask Simon about that.

 

But between you and I, there's something pretty magical about it.

 

So what would happen if you were just a little more curious? Courageous? Compassionate? Might you dare to bring to life that vision? You know- the big dream you've long been trying to contain for fear it might just spring up into the most inspiring reality?

 

Do you want to know more about Simon? Why not take a look at his Big Idea page? Find him at   www.simoncrowe.com

 

References:

Kashdan, T., Rose, P. and Fincham, F. (2004). Curiosity and Exploration: Facilitating Positive Subjective Experiences and Personal Growth Opportunities. Journal of Personality Assessment, 82(3), pp.291-305.

Gallagher, M. and Lopez, S. (2007). Curiosity and well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(4), pp.236-248.

Lopez,'S.J.' and Snyder,'C.R.'(2009).' Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. New'York Oxford'University Press

Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), pp.68-78.