Positive Psychology has been in the news recently (full summary here at Positive Psychology News Daily).

  • EU citizens report themselves as 87% happy! From this Reuters news, the Eurobarometer survey asked social questions to nearly 27,000 people in the EU during Nov and Dec 06. While 87% of people on average considered themselves happy, Denmark led with 97% and Bulgaria (which joined the EU in January) was the lowest with 45%.
    FYI, Map of the EU here. FULL RESULTS of the Eurobarometer survey here.

    Conclusion? What’s the point then of happiness research – if it turns out people are pretty happy already? Depends – if you’re happy, do you still want to know how to get happier, more successful, and more productive? Or is generally happy the goal, and no higher? Maslow says self-actualization is one of the main needs of people – always becoming better at who we are. Is he right? I think so.

  • Scientific American writer calls for more historical-based research of happiness. I disagree. I don’t like historical research when your goal is to find out how a person feels or thinks. FYI, historical research consists of looking at old documents, diaries, newspaper clippings to try to evaluate the person’s mindset. A person could be very crotchety on the outside – sayings to friends, even diary – but could be wonderfully content and happy on the inside.

    I believe one of the VERY BEST THINGS ABOUT POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY is that it BELIEVES IN THE PERSON. Positive Psychology believes that a person knows best about himself or herself. There is no “objective measure” of happiness. In fact, the Ed Diener-created SWB (subjective well-being measure) is explicitly a measure of how the person believes he is.

    I do agree with the author that happiness can be time- and context-dependant. But I think the way to make positive psychology and happiness research more universal is not by going backwards, but by going forwards. George Vaillant has made a research life of studying the longitudinal Adult Grant Study. This is a study of people that were generally healthy people at ages 20, and what happens to them over their lives. He studies alcoholism, mature emotional defenses, happiness, success, and all because he had regular interviews and interesting follow-ups with the same people. (For more information, I recommend the immensely interesting read Aging Well.)

    Conclusion? We will get stronger and more interesting conclusions from positive psychology when we study it both in short-term studies and in logitudinal studies.

  • Dissertation of the Year is on Positive Psychology. Very interesting dissertation of the year. Kudos to Virigina Ambler! FULL TEXT of dissertation here, and summary here.

    Conclusions? 1) It’s a very interesting dissertation, and 2) while there so far only one Ph.D. program in Positive Psychology and only one Master’s program, there will likely be more universities offering both Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in the near future since there is an interest in further research in these fields.

Welcome to Question Friday! We’ve been talking about self-regulation and about streeeetching yourself toward a challenge.

Where are you excitingly pushing yourself? Where are you going to grow? Where are you most alive? Where are you challenging yourself enough to create that “healthy stress” that I love so much – that combination of anticipation and what-if-ness.

Q: What’s your recent intense self-challenge?

I actually think today’s question may be too personal to post an answer as a comment (or you can always post anonymously and just use my email address for the required field – it’s in the upper right under “Email.” If you find it too personal to answer outloud, simply skip the comments section this Friday. Just ponder it for a moment.

Be well, great weekend,

The February 23rd challenge!

I challenge you today to book yourself for an event in the next 30 days (by March 23, 2007) that is just a little more difficult than you are used to. An event where you need to perform just a little more than you are used to!

I challenge you to challenge yourself to play the Book Yourself game with a specific goal and time.

I do my BEST work when I put a goal in front of me – a goal that is just a little higher than I am used to, and then I strrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeetch.

Streeeeeeeeeeeeeetch A woman named Laurie that I know is an amazing volleyball player. She played competitively in college, and I played with her several times in grad school. When she played with us, she was many leagues better than our grad school intramural team, BUT…. but she played as if her life depended on it. She played as if every block, every serve, every hit was the one. Was the one that would make us win. Was the one that would count.

And the single best thing that she did when she played with us was that she would shout out just in time “streeeeeeeeetch” to the person at the net going for a spike. It didn’t matter that more than half of us didn’t jump up when we spiked – we spiked from the ground. It didn’t matter if it was the best player on the team or any player. Laurie yelled “streeeeeeeeetch,” and each of us stretched!

That’s what I’m talking about. Streeeeeeeeeetch yourself. Do that one thing that seems just a little bit above where you are! Streeeeeeeetch and GROW!

Some examples:

  • Exercising a certain number of times a day (that’s self-regulation), and doing a workout that’s just a little harder than is comfortable (that’s streeeeeeeeetching).
  • Booking yourself as a speaker at a conference before you have the full outline prepared (that’s streeeeeeetching). Then working regularly, repeatedly, deliberately on creating a superb presentation for that day (that’s self-regulation).
  • Expanded your business in a direction you’ve never tried before (streeeeeeeeetching), and preparing for each new milestone in the new direction by creating a process (self-regulation) that you can rely on in the future.

So, for the next 30 days, what can you book yourself to do that will challenge you?

(BTW, in case it EVER seems like I have all the answers, please don’t think that could be true. I have a whole bunch of fun questions. I’m changing things about my life and work while I’m writing this website. My answers in the comments. If I suggest something on this site, it’s because I’m thinking about it myself. Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!) :)

Sometimes you need a challenge in order to move yourself into action.
What’s your challenge? :)

CONGRATS for doing this for yourself – for playing this Book Yourself game.

Hugh McLeod at gapingvoid has a post on using blogs to boost the bottom line, from a speech he is giving today. I especially liked the section where Hugh describes EnglishCut, a blog by a London Saville Row tailor that from inception has been all about the suits.
Hugh says in his recommendations:

Passion. Authority. Continuity. Without those three, you have nothing.

I ditto that. Fred at AVC first showed me the importance of continuity with this post.

Here is Joel on Software talking about showing Passion. Authority. Continuity. to your customers: Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service.

Lesson and Take-Away: All three. Passion-Authority-Continuity. All the time.

Here’s a little goofiness on being too passionate about email:
[Recommendation #]10. Reduce the amount of e-mail you receive.
OK, I’ll try. … Would everybody please send me less e-mail? … (Now I have to go see if that worked.)”
Made me laugh out loud!

I remember best by stories, so since today is Story Tuesday, I’ll tell a little story about David Armano’s new Ed experience diamond and what little Eddie is like as a pre-engineer on the hot beach.

Once there was a little boy named Eddie. Eddie was a curious, fingers-in-everything, seven-year-old boy with blond unkempt hair and usually bare feet.

Stimulate the Senses – Hot on the Toes, Charred Hamburger
He had bare feet. He was on the beach on an early Sunday morning with his Mom and younger brother and sister. But he was far away from them all playing on the hot, hot sand by the water. It was already hot enough on the sand that he could only comfortably walk by the water’s edge. On the hot sand, he had had to run on his tiptoes to not burn his feet. His Mom let him play on the shore by himself because he was the oldest. He had tiptoe-hopped off across the hot sand away from his brother and sister because he wanted to bring them something fun to play with. As he was hopping away on his toes and fast, he smelled the charring of the hamburgers from the concession stand and he thought he could almost smell the hot, wilting strawberries through the tupperware that his Mom had brought and had left lying on top of the sun-drenched cotton blanket.

Design for People – For His Brother and Sister
Eddie walked on the shore and saw the shells and smooth rocks. He stopped suddenly seeing two similar-sized flat, white shells. He looked very carefully to find any other white shells of the same size. And he did – he saw two others. He knew what he wanted to make. He stuck the four shells into the ground all parallel, two in front, two in back, and then he looked around carefully. He found what he was looking for. A dead horseshoe crab, or what was left. He set it on top of the other shells, and it looked like a car. Like a car!

Share Meaningful Stories – Horseshoe Crabs and Strawberries?
He picked all the pieces up, and ran toe after toe, hopping over the increasingly hot sand. Straight to their beach blanket. Then he said to his three-year-old sister and four-year-old brother, “Want to see what I got you!?” Yes, they both said. So he built it again – the four shells in the ground, and the fat, somewhat-chipped horseshoe crab on top. And he started telling his brother and sister stories. How the horseshoe crab was the king crab and that’s why the other shells carried him in such a royal way. How the car had traveled all over the beach, stopping at their blanket because not-living horseshoes like the smell of strawberries in tupperware. And other stories.

Built to Last – Building a Stronger Horseshoe Crab Car
Just before noon, Mom said that they were going home for a picnic in the backyard because she told Eddie that she didn’t want his brother and sister to burn. Eddie of course asked if he could take the horseshoe crab car. His Mom hesitated but then said, “Sure, as long as you keep it in the backyard.” That was fine for Eddie. Because he already knew that these four shells and horseshoe crab were just the model for some more elaborate, more interesting, maybe also horseshoe-crab-based car that he would have to make once he got home – a car that maybe rolled and looked ominous for his brother and sister and that probably liked sun-warmed strawberries in tupperware that he could tell stories about.

How should you choose an executive coach? If you are in an organization or if you are working on changing careers, how do you know who can help you with that process? How can you choose someone who will know enough about you, about your business, and about your goals that that person can become like a sports coach for you – giving you exercises, training, homework, and most importantly, direction? In the case of executive coaching, often the direction comes from the client but with the in-depth question-asking and assessment-taking of the coach.

How do you find the best executive coach for you or your organization?

1) Know what you want to work on. (The Topic, The Goal)

You can’t start training unless you know whether you’re training for a marathon, a dance recital, or a mountain bike ride. What are the general parameters of the question you’re asking? What is the general topic? What even is a goal – whether at this point specific or not?

Do you want to be promoted? Become a stronger manager? Create a full work-life balance? Become a better salesperson? Become more valuable to your organization? Grow your own business?

In positive psychology coaching, the goal is the question and the answer. It can always be further refined – and should be! because people are changing. In positive psychology coaching, the client knows – whether logically or not yet logically – but the client himself and herself knows what the goal is. It’s the role of the positive psychology coach to draw out the larger goal and then work on creating subgoals and plans and a training routine (and potentially even some veering directions off the main one), but the formulation of the goal comes from the client. The client knows.

2) Know how you want to work. (The Style)

Are you a rusher or a through planner? Are you in a hurry or do you want to cover all the details? Are you a multi-tasker or a single-tasker? Are you looking forward to this goal or is it a chore?

In positive psychology coaching, there are many assessments that the coach usually presents to the client – many upfront and many during the coaching process. Again, as with the goals, in positive psychology coaching, we believe that the client knows. These self-assessments are just that – self-assessments. They are ways for the coach to isolate certain parts of a client’s personality so that both the coach and the client can examine the subparts together. For example, an assessment may be about strengths or learning style or optimism or various routes to happiness. When the coach and client look at the summaries of the self-assessments, this allows the coaching experience to be more targeted.

3) Know how the coach works. (The Fit)

Do you like to be challenged? Do you like to be listened to? Do you prefer many exercises or few? Do you prefer more general talk or more specific exercises?

In positive psychology coaching, exercises are important for two reasons. Trying something in a new way through exercises allow the mind to play (which is question #5) and exercises isolate various experiences.

Know how the coach likes to work. What kind of exercises does the coach prefer? How frequently? Is this how you like to improve? Is this how you like to train? Does the coach’s demeanor fit with yours? Does it complement yours? These are all questions of fit.

4) Know how much you want the goal. (The Motivation)

Sometimes motivation and self-regulation are large issues and sometimes they almost disappear as issues. Coaches can provide motivation and increase a client’s self-regulation. Is this part of your goal (your answer to #1)? In most cases it is. The key is to realize that for some reason, the client may not have made certain changes before, and that the client may be looking to the coach to change the experience so that in this case the changes stick.

In positive psychology coaching, both self-regulation (mindful self-control) and self-efficacy (the belief that one can do something) are key parts of a coaching experience. Like an athletic coach giving exercises and training regimens, an executive positive psychology coach creates the environment for success in the coaching. Some of the tools of positive psychology make self-regulation fun, and the tools that do this for hte client are the best ones to use for that particular client.

5) Know what is fun for you in coaching. (The Play)

How do kids learn best? By playing. One of the only ways to learn so that it doesn’t feel like learning is by playing. If it feels like learning, often the brain closes down, and says, “not now, no thank you.” Play jumps right through that barrier. The brain never knows that it’s working. Some of the best ways to learn are by making mistakes and trying new ways. The best place to make mistakes is in practice (although often in real events the mistakes stay stronger), and that practice can come in the form of play.

In positive psychology coaching, there are many tools and techniques that you can play with on an active level, experientially. But you don’t ever need to be “working” or “intellectually learning” to get something. A lot of the tools from positive psychology allow a person to get himself fast and thoroughly. Many of the assessments and exercises in positive psychology do not appear to be work or effort, but appear to be unusual and sometimes inexplicable until they are completed. That’s what makes many of these tools games as opposed to work.

In summary, you will end up choosing an executive coach based on the coach’s jizz, that overall impression of Goal, Style, Fit, Motivation, and Play. Enjoy!

Q: What’s your best tip for organizing? What do you do well in organizing that you think works great?

My answers:

  • My biggest new find is Backpack! Love it. The free, 5-list version works great. This is like a to-do list on drugs! It’s so easy and so useful to have everything laid out simply. A lot of people have raved about Backpack, including Kathy here and Dave here and Jeff Bezos here. I’m a new convert!
  • I plan the night before (mainly!) so that during the day I can spend time doing, not planning.
  • There are some things that I always do – there is no no-doing (a la Yoda). These are the constants – such as exercising a certain number of times per week and replying to emails within 24 hours and completing at least three important things every day. Because I have these rules for myself, it helps me organize everything else!
  • I use Dave Seah’s tools, especially the Emergent Task Tracker (Flash version) to do things faster within the day.

What are your best tips for organizing? Would love to hear them. The more tips, the better. This is Question Friday. Looking forward to reading your thoughts! Thanks and great weekend.

Whether you are a villain or a good person is for you and you alone to decide: you are worth precisely what you want.
~ André Comte-Sponville

We talked earlier about how being good can be hard. And yet…. And yet…. At the same time as potentially being hard, being good can feel so right. As Will Smith says, “Think of yourself as two people, and one of them is inside of you, and he’s a scorekeeper. And he keeps score of your idea of the world. … And when you have a conflict with your scorekeeper, that’s unhappiness. Happiness is being completely in sync with your own perception of goodness.”

White lies are bad for the soul.

White lies can harm your soul. Every time we take an action, we strengthen the neural pathways for that action. Why would you want to strengthen the neural pathways of deceit?

Alvin talks here about how showing yourself personal commitment can strengthen your emotional core. While lies can be like worms. One won’t phase you, and you can just brush it off your pant leg. But a whole bunch of them can … well, you get the picture.

Imagine a seesaw. “One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.” ~ Maimonides (from here. Related: this and this.)

Every time a person makes a white lie, a person’s inner scorekeeper says, “Huh?” We are people and we use some types of defense mechanisms, so our brains would need to give that “huh?” an answer. And the answer can be, “It’s ok that I white-lied – I need to / I was in rush / It doesn’t hurt anyone anyway.” Or the answer can be, “No, that’s wrong. I feel wrong about it, and I don’t want to feel wrong. I won’t white-lie next time.”

People are always doing things to be in sync with their beliefs about the goodness of themselves. Whether it’s rationalizing something away or belittling the importance of being good or just adopting an attitude of not-caring. And the simplest thing to do to be in sync with your own perception of goodness? The easiest thing to do is to be good.

How can you decide whether to white-lie or not?

You could decide very logically, “Is the worth of the white lie worth more than the harm of it?” Almost an economic approach. When has it been worth it to say to yourself, “No, I’m not a bad person?” Why would it ever be worth it to put yourself into a situation in which at the end of the situation, you have to reassure yourself that you actually weren’t being bad? …. If you have to reassure yourself (even it it takes a nanosecond and even if the thought is semi-automatic), then your mind already knew that you had done the wrong thing. Why would you ever take an action that embeds into your brain that you are ok with sometimes doing something that feels a little bit wrong?

Another way that you could decide whether to white-lie or not is that you could decide from a very principled stance, “Is that something I do?” Here’s where our earlier discussion of self-regulation and creating new habits resurfaces. Perhaps your self-regulation for yourself is that generally you do not white lie. It’s just not worth the thinking about it. It’s just not worth the questioning of your core principles. (I’d recommend putting the “generally” in there because on the extreme side if it’s a question of life-or-death vs. a white lie, of course you’d white-lie. An extreme position just makes it easier to fall later. I just had a talk with a friend about rarely using the words “always” and “never.”)

“Everyone tries to define this thing called Character. It’s not hard. Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.
~ Anonymous (from this set of quotes)