Positive Psychology – Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently started using The Book of Extraordinary Things, a guided journal to help explore the principles of Positive Psychology and see what impact they have on my own health and well-being. I thought I would share how things have been going since I started using it a few weeks ago. But first, a little background about my journaling history…

I have kept some sort of diary or journal since my adolescent days, although I admit I have not always been consistent in my efforts. There are definitely gaps where I (sadly) did not write at all and there are years where I documented my thoughts and experiences every day. I often like to look back at these journals to see what I was doing or feeling at a particular time in my life.

In January of this year, I committed to journaling every day and I have made it a part of my bedtime ritual to put my thoughts to paper before going to sleep. However, in the last couple of months, I started to notice that my entries were becoming quite rote – mainly just a rehash of my daily routines, and often a bit of fussing over something negative that happened to me. As helpful as it was to get these thoughts out of my head before going to sleep, I wasn’t feeling inspired and started to notice that it even soured my mood to revisit the “bad” parts of my day. For these reasons, I was excited to start using The Book of Extraordinary Things as a way to refresh my whole perspective on journaling.

Preparation

I first set aside some time to answer the questions in the “Preparation” section, a self-inventory where you can describe who you are and what you want in your life. It is a place to identify your strengths, values, and achievements as well as your goals and dreams. I especially loved the questions regarding what you want to do more of (reading for pleasure!) and what you would like to do less of (worrying!). There is also a “visioning” section where you can list things you want to celebrate in the next three, six and twelve months – and a full-page mini vision board for your complete creative expression around these desires.

Exploration

The majority of the journal consists of the “Exploration” pages, which can be used daily or weekly. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, the left side of the page has “Top Three Quests,” where you can list your most important tasks for the day. Below that is the “Field Notes” section which is flexible space that you can use however you’d like, e.g., plan your day, make lists, draw, doodle, etc. Personally, since I journal at night, I use the Top Three Quests to identify the most important or meaningful things I accomplished that day. And so far, I have been using the Field Notes as a general overview of the day, capturing any key thoughts or experiences that aren’t covered by the journal prompts – which are my favorite part of the journal (so far).

On the right side of the page are journal prompts based on the PERMA-V principles of Positive Psychology (click here for a refresher or if you missed Part 1 of this post). These questions are designed to cultivate awareness around what is “going right” with you and your day. It starts with identifying one good thing from your day (or week). Then, you can share how you used your gifts, and how you helped someone – or how someone helped you. You can describe something that inspired you as well as something of which you are proud. Finally, there is a line to simply express your mood.

I have found these prompts to be so helpful in expanding – and shifting – my perspective on what I want to document about my day. Even in just three weeks, I feel like I am much more focused and aware of all the good things that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes it takes a little time to think about it, especially at the end of a long day but I can always come up with something. It may be as small as patting myself on the back for making dinner at home when I really just wanted to order takeout. Or expressing gratitude for the super-friendly post office employee who made my day with her pleasant attitude in our five-minute encounter on a Friday afternoon.

I believe these journaling exercises are also helping build my resilience, as I find myself looking for the silver lining on those days when it seems like I am surrounded by negativity. For example, in the wake of all of the recent mass shootings in this country, I chose to focus on the brave police officers and emergency responders who put their lives on the line to help others in need. I was also inspired by the El Paso community members who rallied around the gentleman who lost his wife, his only family member, and feared there would be no one at her funeral. At his request, the funeral home invited the entire community to attend – and strangers came from El Paso and all over the United States to support him. The response was so overwhelming the funeral home had to move the service to a larger facility to handle the crowd. It is acts such as this that restore my faith in humanity in these challenging times.

Reflection

At the end of the journal, there is a section called “Reflection” with some prompts to examine your journey and reflect on the path forward. The journal is essentially designed to last three months if you use it on a daily basis, or close to two years if you use it weekly. I currently plan to continue using it on a daily basis and I look forward to some reflection and introspection at the end of three months. I plan to write a follow up post at that time too.

I typically refrain from endorsing health and wellness products, but I am willing to make an exception in this case. I love The Book of Extraordinary Things and I am so proud of my colleague, Alexis Buckles, for sharing her vision and bringing this book to life. It is beautifully designed and crafted from front to back and filled with the magic of possibility on the pages in between. If you are looking for a way to increase self-awareness and positivity in support of your well-being, I highly recommend checking out The Book of Extraordinary Things.

(Note: I am not being compensated in any way for blogging about this journal. In fact, I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to help Alexis bring the book to life, so I paid for my copy. I just believe in supporting other wellness practitioners who have high quality, meaningful products or services to offer to those of us wanting to optimize our health and well-being.)

Positive Psychology – Part 1

It seems more and more of my health coach colleagues have pursued further certification in the field of Positive Psychology. One of them has developed a guided journal – The Book of Extraordinary Things – based on the principles of Positive Psychology. It is designed to encourage self-awareness, positivity and well-being. And I recently facilitated a program about resiliency and one of the key skills to helping build resilience is the ability to harness positive emotions – to find the silver lining in even the most challenging circumstances. All of these factors prompted me to learn a little more about Positive Psychology and how it can help individuals maximize their health and well-being.

What is Positive Psychology?

Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology and resilience. He has written several books about it including his recent one, Flourish. He describes Positive Psychology as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” It is grounded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. In other words, it helps us move beyond just surviving to thriving, or even flourishing.

Traditionally, psychology has often focused on dysfunction – what is wrong with you – and how to treat it. Positive Psychology moves the focus to what is right with you (such as your character strengths) and is built on Dr. Seligman’s PERMA™ theory of well-being, which includes Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. In recent years, Emiliya Zhivotovskaya, a graduate of the Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, modified the theory and added Vitality – a focus on healthy habits such as eating well, moving regularly and getting enough sleep.

PERMA-V

Let’s take a brief look at each of the components of PERMA-V and how they can help you flourish and achieve “the good life.”

Positive Emotions: Focusing on positive emotions is about more than just being happy. It is the ability to remain optimistic despite life’s ups and downs. Keeping a positive outlook can help in your personal relationships as well as your work. You can increase positive emotions about the past by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness. You can savor the present by practicing mindfulness. And you can relish the future by building hope. Do more of the things that make you happy and bring enjoyment into your daily routine.

Interestingly, Seligman notes that this building block of well-being is limited by how much an individual can experience positive emotions – which is partly linked to biology/genetics as well as the fact that our emotions tend to fluctuate within a range. Due to this limitation, the other components may play an even more important role in our ability to thrive.

Engagement: Engagement is experienced when you are fully absorbed in a task or activity in which self-awareness disappears and time seems to stop or fly by quickly. You may recall this concept of “flow” put forth by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when the experience is so gratifying that you are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what you will get out of it. The activity is its own reward. Achieving this state of flow or total engagement is natural, especially when you are involved in creative activities you enjoy and are good at. Pursue hobbies that interest you, develop your skills, and consider professional work that is linked to your passion(s).

Relationships: Humans are social creatures, and we rely on connections with others to truly flourish. Connections to others can give life purpose and meaning. Positive relationships with your family members, friends, peers, and colleagues is a key source of joy. Support from and connection with others can also help you navigate through difficult times that require resilience. Having deep, meaningful relationships with others is vital to your well-being. Reflect on the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your relationships with friends, family, and other significant people in your life.

Meaning: A sense of purpose can be derived from belonging to and serving something bigger than the self. Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can family, professional pursuits, and volunteering for social causes that are important to you. Having an answer to that million-dollar question – “Why am I here?”- is a key ingredient to finding fulfillment. Seek out meaning, whether it be through your work, personal hobbies or leisure activities, or serving others in your community.

Accomplishment: People pursue achievement, mastery, and success for its own sake, whether in the workplace or in personal pursuits and activities. We all thrive when we are succeeding, achieving our goals, and bettering ourselves. Setting goals and putting in the necessary effort to achieve them are important to well-being and happiness. Achievement helps to build self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. Keep your focus on achieving your goals, but also remember to keep your ambition in balance with all of the other important things in life.

Vitality: As you may have noticed yourself, the original PERMA building blocks of well-being tend to be very head-centered or “above the neck,” as some people like to refer to it. This was one reason why Emiliya Zhivotovskaya decided to add this component with an emphasis on the mind-body connection as well as healthy habits around sleep, food, and exercise. It addresses the need to take a more holistic look at well-being, including the inseparable connection between mind and body when it comes to flourishing. Eat healthy foods to fuel the body, move your body every day and develop good sleep habits that allow you to wake feeling rested.

This is clearly just a high-level view of Positive Psychology but if it has sparked your curiosity, I encourage you to learn more through some of the books, speakers and websites cited in my post.

The Book of Extraordinary Things

As I mentioned earlier, a coaching colleague has created a guided journal to help explore the principles of Positive Psychology. I ordered one to support my continuous journey to optimal health and well-being. I plan to use it to focus more on the good things in my life and the strengths that I bring to the table in both my professional pursuits and my personal life. I am just starting to explore my journal so stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I will share my experience with it. (And if you think you’d like to order a copy, you can do so here.)

PERMA-V-Poster
Source: https://www.stac.school.nz/why-stac/well-being-at-stac/perma-v/