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1-250-514-8459 tamara@posminds.com
The 40% Rule

The 40% Rule

Happiness.

It’s hard to define and even more difficult to measure. Until recently psychologists and researchers wouldn’t even use the word. Instead, terms like subjective well-being or positive emotion were substituted.

You would think that humans could agree that a basic goal of life is to experience more happiness and yet on podcasts, in the media, and in everyday conversation I regularly hear people making statements like “it’s not healthy to be happy all the time” or “creativity is born from discomfort, if I was happy I would lose my edge”.

While it may be true that some people use anger to ignite action I think many people would be surprised by how much more creative, successful, and flourishing their lives might be if they allowed themselves to prioritize positive emotions.

The science of positive psychology explores optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive according to Dr. Martin Seligman. When I think of thriving I include an entire spectrum of positive emotions appropriate to different situations as listed by Barbara Fredrickson in her book Positivity

Her list includes:

Joy

Gratitude

Serenity

Interest

Hope

Pride

Amusement

Inspiration

Awe

Love

The Rule

50%

We know from research that approximately 50% of our potential for happiness lies in our genetics. If your parents were depressed, anxious, or tended to ruminate on the negative, you might inherit this potential. The reverse is also true; if your parents were happy-go-lucky types who see the glass as half-full, you may have a greater natural inclination toward happiness. The chemicals released by our brain when we encounter any stimulus (a large dog jumps out at you barking when you run or you smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) are not standardized across all people. Some brains are primed to pump out more of the happiness chemicals where others distribute these more sparingly. Some brains have an overly active fight or flight system compared to others. This is the first 50%.

10%

A tenth of your happiness involves life circumstances like having shelter, food, and safety. This does not mean that people born into extreme poverty or living in dangerous situations cannot experience happiness. If you have ever seen children playing in the slums of India or two terminal cancer patients falling in love you know that happiness is possible even in extreme situations however there is an impact on the ease of experiencing happiness that accounts for about 10%.

40%

What’s exciting about the research is the 40%. This bit of happiness potential is entirely up to YOU. It is impacted by the thoughts you think, the people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, and the beliefs you choose. Taking regular time to reflect, to incorporate happiness-boosting activities like gratitude, mindfulness, and even smiling more into your day can change this number.

 

Image from The Happiness Reset by Tamara Lechner (forthcoming)

I think of happiness as being in constant motion. It’s like a spiral. At any time yours is either spiraling upward or downward. The trick to using your 40% to it’s greatest potential is this:

  1. Learn to recognize when you start a downward spiral.
  2. Have a toolkit of simple things you can do at that moment to turn your spiral around.
  3. Spend more time trending up than spiraling down.

It’s quite simple really. It takes effort that is conscious and consistent at first, but eventually, it becomes second nature like driving a car or riding a bike.

What do you do to turn your downward spiral around? Happiness increases when your share so please comment with any useful habits or tips you might offer.

 

 

 

 

 

Is There a Workout for Your Mental Wellness?

Is There a Workout for Your Mental Wellness?

For many years scientists believed that the brain stopped developing new neural pathways after the first few years of life. This meant that critical periods of development were from birth to 5 years of age and brains would only be plastic during youth. The new science of neuroplasticity has identified the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This phenomenon explains to the brain’s ability to adjust and cope. F We’ve all heard the stories of the miraculous recovery of speech after a stroke where the speech center of the brain was entirely damaged- this is an example of neuroplasticity at work. Sometimes symptoms of disease and impairment can be entirely mitigated by the brains ability to reorganize using brain workouts or brain retraining. This is also true for anxiety. depression, and unhelpful stress. Where happiness is concerned the question of nature and nurture left us asking “how much of my happiness is up to me”? The latest positive psychology research is showing that as much as 40% of our experience of positive or negative is entirely up to our mental habits. What you focus on increases. If you are looking for negative, you will likely find it. So retraining your brain to see the positive makes sense!

Why does this matter?

Many people have limitations about themselves that they believe. Having a history of depression or mental illness in the family might previously have meant you were genetically predisposed for problems. The new research is showing that just isn’t true. If you’ve ever said or thought “I’m just not that smart” by adding the word YET and doing a little work you can maximize your brain’s capacity to learn and change and adapt. Do you need an app or screen to change your mindset or the amount of positive emotions you experience? Of course not! But at a time when technology is getting a tom of negative attention in the media, I love reminding people that technology is a tool. Like all things it can be used to help you feel worse or better. These apps all promote healthy mental growth by strengthening your mental muscle!   Check out these brain changing apps:

Luminosity

This memory app focuses on paying attention, problem solving, and flexibility of thinking. The constantly changing games are timed and competitive. Learn more about Luminosity

       

Jiyo

The Jiyo app connects to the Apple Health App to track your habits and suggest articles, videos and information designed to promote your greatest well-being. Ranging from meditation, finance, relationships and finding meaning and purpose the content helps identify and foster your unique strengths. Learn more about Jiyo

Happify

Happify translates the science of happiness into online activities that can be completed right from your phone or computer. With the advice of a variety of happiness experts, Happify has created a platform to engage in writing activities and games designed to increase happiness. Learn more about Happify

CogniFit Brain Fitness

Designed by neuroscientists this app begins by testing memory and concentration followed by games designed specifically to boost ultimate brain function. Learn more about CogniFit

Greater Good in Action

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has developed a platform called Greater Good in Action to help people engage in science-based practices for a meaningful life. Based on the latest positive psychology research participants use simple activities to that enhance skills like that increase mental well-being like compassion and gratitude. Learn more about GGIA    

Super Better

Super Better has gamified brain training for happiness. Complete quests using activities designed to build happiness-boosting skills. Designed to hook you with quick wins to ignite your curiosity and keep you on the path to greater well-being.   Learn more about Super Better

Why Well-Being at School is the Elephant in the Classroom

Why Well-Being at School is the Elephant in the Classroom

The Problem

We all know that well-being (social intelligence, mindfulness, self-regulation, grit, resilience, etc.) are important.  Mental health is the number one issue in schools today as identified by our teachers, principals, superintendents, directors of education and trustees according to the Ontario School Board in 2013.[1] The epidemic of anxiety, stress, and teen depression is alarming. We are expecting this generation of students to change the world, yet we aren’t giving them all the tools they will need to be successful.

Right now, many schools are making great strides towards changing this. Across Canada we see mindfulness programs introduced, growth mindset curriculum launched, and psychology topics like gratitude and grit being applauded and encouraged.

Despite these massive efforts, mental well-being remains a tricky topic. How much is needed? (More) If you talk about it too much can it make it worse rather than better? (Yes) Are some methods more effective than others? (Absolutely!)

Let’s start by defining exactly what’s needed. According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

When an individual grows or develops in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment it’s called flourishing.

We’re aiming for well-being so students and staff can flourish.

Another Little Problem

Most schools are teaching tools. Gratitude is a tool. Growth mindset is a tool. Getting enough sleep is a mental health tool. Social capital is also a tool. But what if the students, and let’s face it the staff too, what if they are given the entire toolkit but they don’t have the blueprint to know what they are making with these tools?

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Abraham Maslow

 

It’s time to give both teachers and students a blueprint to go with their tools. Every problem doesn’t need a hammer.

 

One More Problem

Everyone wants to know how their child’s school ranks on standardized test scores and rankings like the Fraser Institute School Rankings for Canadian schools. School blogs, magazines, administration, students and their families all broadcast how many students got accepted to an Ivy school but nobody is talking about how many students, both those too overcome by their stress and depression to be successful and those coping with massive amount of depression, stress, and anxiety and still appearing successful,  are eventually falling prey to the lack of balance in their lives. Is it really success to land a place at Stanford or Harvard and drop out second semester? Is it a success to practice grit through med school only to have a massive breakdown and never practice medicine? Defining success to include well-being and balance is key. Research says that success and productivity drop off after 55 hours of work in a week. Many students, whose work includes not only their time in class and their homework but also their extra-curricular sports, clubs and volunteer hours are just depleted physically and mentally.

What Do Schools Need?

We cannot expect teachers to be experts at mental well-being. It wasn’t part of their bachelor’s degree in education curriculum and even if they have an area of professional development beyond their degree requirements, that only provides their students with a really useful tool. Without the entire school system continuing to teach these skills until they are embedded fully into a child’s default brain system, it just isn’t enough. It’s like watering a plant really well for one year and expecting it to thrive. Is it even the school’s role? Some believe that parents should be the primary source of well-being education. Let’s assume that we can all agree that kids with more positive emotion and less mental deficit are better students- they can be more engaged, focused, and successful (and research shows this is true). It would seem counterintuitive for schools to not deliver well-being education.

Well-Being education needs to be:

Measurable

When something is quantifiable it allows us to know if it is working. It stops time and dollars from being wasted on curriculum, speakers, and lessons that aren’t makinga positive impact. How can you measure well-being? Until recently it hasn’t really been easy to do unless your school is part of a research program or study. Who had time to measure and what exactly was being measured? Recent innovations like the Flourishing at School by People Diagnostic out of Australia are changing this. This innovative cloud-based software solution uses a survey as an indicator of mental health, useful for proactive wellbeing interventions at both an individual and collective level. uses a positive psychology approach to assess the degree to which individuals have developed the “pillars” of good mental health to stay well and optimise quality of life.

Proactive

Children can learn to recognize the difference between useful stress and dangerous levels of stress. They are quite capable of turning a negative downward spiral around. They are also able to form social connections with supportive peers and adults who can be mentors. Starting early teaching tools and providing a blueprint for mental wellness is important. School counselors are overwhelmed dealing with the problems and have very little time to help prevent the problems. If schools put well-being as one of the basic required skills for all students, we can prevent the epidemic of poor mental health from continuing.

Embedded

Conversations about mental health more public than ever. Movements like WE Day have made strides in taking topics that used to be hidden into mainstream media and everyday conversation. Talking about suicide, bullying, cutting, and eating disorders is no longer taboo yet talking alone isn’t enough. A whole school model like Geelong Grammar School’s Learn, Live, Teach, Embed model opens conversations, teaches science-backed skills and fosters wellness across an entire community. Until everyone across a campus (parents too) has the same language and understanding of wellness, the depth required to impact community mental health cannot be reached.

Individualized

Wellness is unique. Everyone’s blueprint is slightly different. There are seven domains proven to impact long-term happiness, success, and resilience according to recent research. The tools to boost an individual’s experience of each domain are universal. The blueprint, however, must be customized to match motivation, age, and habit formation tendency.

The problems around delivering well-being at school haven’t changed. But the number of tools available and experts willing to assist is growing. If your school needs help designing and implementing a program, ask for expert help from Positive Minds International and our team of experts or your local positive psychology practitioner.

 

 

[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/586814ae2e69cfb1676a5c0b/t/5894ceede58c62b3280ff685/1486147328328/Leading-Mentally-Health-Schools.pdf

Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Why Worry is the Biggest Time Waste Ever (and how to stop)

Unlike many things in the positive psychology realm, worry is quite easy to define. Worry is a chain of negative thoughts about the same or different topics that can have negative consequences for you in the future if a solution is not reached. Worrying is future thinking worst-case scenario planning and it leads to catastrophic levels of anxiety.
It’s the “what if” thoughts that suck us into worry and anxiety. We’re allowing our imagination to become unleashed and creating multiple bad scenarios of what might happen. When my children were little the only rule we regularly followed in our home was no “what if” questions.
“What if” questions are fine if you are using them to create a plan. For example, if you think “what if my car breaks down and I don’t have anybody to call” then you make the plan of buying roadside assistance your what if was useful. It leads you to productive problem-solving.
When worry isn’t helpful is when it escalates to crisis mongering, a term psychologists have coined to describe worrying that keeps spiraling out of control without stopping. It the “what if I am all alone in my car breaks down and nobody comes and it’s cold and there’s a snowstorm and my phone dies” sort of thinking that is not at all helpful in resolving potential future problems or obstacles.
Worry comes from fear. Psychologist Susan Jeffers teaches 5 truths about fear.
1) fear accompanies growth
2) action is the way out of fear
3) every time you move past fear you get greater self-confidence
4) you are not the only one who gets scared
5)  pushing through fear is less frightening over the long run than the feeling of helplessness that accompanies inaction
Worrying about the future doesn’t help you to be a better problem solver, in fact, it induces that fight or flight stress state and impairs your rational thinking.
There’s always an exception to the rule and this exception is when you are in an immediate life-threatening short-term situation. If I’m going to step out onto a busy street when worry kicks in and says maybe I shouldn’t do that without looking both ways, it is useful.

For Kids

According to Lynn Lyons; child anxiety expert, one big problem that happens when children don’t learn how to deal with their worry is it predicts anxiety and depression later in life. In general children today seem to have the ability to cope with more stress than any previous generation. The fact they are coping so well leads parents and educators to think that a child is doing fine when, in fact, they are on the edge of overwhelm. What can adults do to help?
  • stop the use of words that catastrophize like always, never, nobody, and everybody
  • allow them to take a movement breaks-the flood of stress chemicals that your brain sends out when your body is worried make it really hard to think to act well and to make good decisions so encourage a little shake it off moment helps
  • model appropriate stress responses by saying “I’m feeling stressed- let’s take a break” or “this is hard, let’s take a couple of deep breaths before we continue”
  • take a mindful moment– mindfulness and meditation directly counteract all the physical stress responses

At Work

What about at work there are some things that do deserve a little worry?
  • designate a time- a limited duration where you actually give yourself permission to worry but when it’s over it’s over you need to stop
  • hire a lawyer (not literally) but imagine you were presenting your worry case to a judge. Play the role of the opposition and see what the other side would say. Allow yourself to play devil’s advocate to your own worry system and maybe, in the end, it won’t seem like you’ve got so much to worry about
  • if you can’t worry less, worry more- waaay more. Make your worst-case scenario absolutely ridiculous. Allow that snowball of worries to keep going until it’s so big that it’s obvious it’s not real- it’s all in your head

I come from a long line of worriers. If worrying was a sport my family would have some gold medals! The thing is, worriers sometimes feel like their worry on your behalf is useful (it isn’t). They also think that a caring person should worry about others (they shouldn’t). Your worry is zapping your joy and limiting your ability to engage in life. Every moment you are worried about the future you are missing whatever is happening in the present. I often equate worrying to paying the interest before you have the loan. Decide it’s time to stop worrying. you’ll thank yourself!

If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. ~Don Herold

 

How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

How Do You Know If You Work For a Positive Organization?

A positive work environment is one where employees feel good about coming to work and have motivation that sustains them throughout the workday. What they do matters. And more importantly, it matters that they are the ones doing the work. With the new emphasis on work/life balance (thanks Millenials!) a juggling act between fulfilling the personal needs of employees and getting the job done can be an organization’s key challenge.
Positive psychology differentiates two types of positive work environments showing that not all positves are equal. The first uses positive organizational behavior;  where the environment is organization driven to increase well-being with a goal of getting the best out of employees for the benefit of the workplace. The second is called positive organizational scholarship and although this title might lead you to believe its’ focus is the study of positivity, it’s actually about getting the best out of an organization for the benefit of the employees. This well-being model recognizes that employees aren’t stupid- they can see the difference between a boss who really wants them to be healthy and one who doesn’t want the production decline that accompanies sick days.
The resources in any office can be broken into the physical, the psychological/social, or organizational aspects. Every type of employee training will fall into a category of:
  • being functional in achieving work goals
  • reducing job demands and associated physiological and psychological costs
  •  stimulating personal growth and development
Although the third option speaks more about an individual than a worker we know that individuals with higher levels of well-being and positivity are more productive, creative, workers who miss less time due to work-related stress and burnout and are more productive.
A positive organization isn’t only training you in the hard skills (impact work productivity directly like training on a new software program) but also on the soft skills,  interpersonal skills which affect the morale of the organization.
Looking at an individual workers’ strengths specifically through the lens of the VIA classification of character strengths we know that individuals who cultivate their strengths are happier and more successful than those whose primary focus is improving areas of weakness.
In business,team leaders, managers, or coaches with specialized training can be deployed to help cultivate strengths. Once the strengths have been cultivated it leads to four key qualities:
  •  self-efficacy
  • optimism
  • hope
  • resilience
A strengths focused worker has confidence to take on the roles they need and to succeed at challenging tasks. They make positive contributions toward goals, they persevere, and even when setbacks occur they bounce back and work with resilience to attain success.

We know from thought leaders like Simon Sinek and this TED talk, that aligning with purpose is important. If you can’t get a member of your team to see their role as important and meaningful it’s hard to keep them engaged.

Sinek’s talk led to much conversation about whether you’re at a job (making money without connection to a personal sense of meaning), a career (a route to achievement),  or a calling ( intrinsically fulfilling).

Mental wellness comes from a harmonious relationship between one’s work identity and the other identities you choose. An animal rights activist couldn’t work for a pharmaceutical company who tests on lab animals. In an ideal world we would all do jobs that incite curiosity,  have us spending  time in a state of engagement or flow and that reward us both intrinsically and financially.

Want to know if your work is truly positive? Try this psychometric scale called the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale.

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The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

The Danger of Confusing Empathy or Sympathy with Compassion

We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life.  In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness.  Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a  french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about  actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders.  In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out.  Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Set up a free account to save your quiz scores and track your progress over time.

Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion

1. Notice the feelings

2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?

3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.

 

If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.