I Went to a Positive Psychology Class
To become a better leader at work, I signed up for a leadership course to help me in this noble pursuit. Below is what I learned.
- Emphasize what is right. Positive psychology is a concerted effort to focus on what is right with people rather than what is wrong with them.
- All is not well. The pandemic has left many in Canada’s workforce “languishing.” Not burned out, not depressed, but not at all flourishing, just aimless, foggy, joyless and stagnant. We have become “Indifferent to our indifference.” Positivity is the antidote to these doldrums.
- Toxic positivity is not what we are talking about. Positivity becomes toxic when we deny the difficult; when, with a fixed grin, we force out tactless and excessive optimism. This type of leadership is a disaster. Never say, “don’t get upset” or “others have it worse” to employees. These comments don’t help.
- Accept the credit. Positive leaders naturally accept the credit when things are going well and are not overly hard on themselves when things are not going well. We all have a “self-sabotaging voice” that dismisses our successes. Positive leaders refuse to listen to that voice.
- Happiness is primarily an internal thing. 10% of happiness is connected to externals, and 90% relates to how I process reality with my brain. Our brains operate positively, negatively, in neutral or stressed. When we use our brains positively, dopamine is released. Dopamine increases both learning and happiness. Happiness is found in those who process reality by scanning the world for positives.
- Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy. Without connection, we die. Shame is the great disconnector. Shame-filled thoughts of “I’m not worthy; I’m not good enough.” detach us from others. Vulnerability is the only means through which we can connect. None of us wants to be vulnerable, but we can’t be happy without it. It is the birthplace of joy. Positive leaders have the courage to be imperfect; they are authentic and open. They believe everyone, including themselves, is worthy of love and belonging. They are the ones that love wholeheartedly without guarantees.
- Savour every moment. Good leaders have acquired the skill of leaning into joy. They savour the past by taking time to remember good moments; They savour the future by squeezing out the joy that comes from anticipation.
- Relegate the importance of what I can’t change. We all have aspects of our life situation that we don’t like but can’t change. It’s a waste of energy to focus on those things.
- Is Optimism bias a good thing? Optimism bias recognizes that smoking kills but thinks it will kill the other guy who smokes, not me. It’s easy to see that this perspective can lead to risky behaviour and bad planning. But are there benefits to choosing optimism over reality? Our teacher said optimism makes you try harder and makes you a healthier person. Is he right?
- Compartmentalization — Instead of saying, “It’s going to be one of those days,” when something bad happens, the positive leader is able to compartmentalize the negativity, believing that bad events are temporary. Instead of saying, “why is this happening to me” the positive leader asks, “why is this happening for me.” This change of perspective pushes aside negativity and allows for curiosity and growth.
- Framestorming. Don’t like how things are going? Change the narrative. Life isn’t just how things are. It’s how we perceive reality. Is this thing sucking the life out of me? Then reframe how I see it. Internal beliefs always colour our perceptions.
The realist in me says we should lower positive expectations. Better to shatter the illusion optimism brings than be shattered by it when life doesn’t work out as you hoped.
But if I can shove my skepticism and realism aside for a few minutes, is there anything I find of value here? Yes, plenty. I want to savour the good memories and anticipate more to come. I want to compartmentalize my negativity and learn from it, rather than be dominated by it. I understand how our belief system shapes how we perceive reality. There is no such thing as objective reality, all of us have a spin, so why not spin it in a positive direction? Evidently, it creates more dopamine – and who am I to say no to dopamine?!