Tag Archives: Positive Psychology

Doing Well and Doing Good: The Soul Hits the Big Time

Who’d have thought?  This morning, Maria Bartiroma of the Wall Street Journal interviewing Deepak Chopra, “a spiritual leader” on the practical application of the spiritual to leadership in politics and business.   How?

He says leaders can learn spiritual leadership skills.  “You learn to ask the right questions.  Where are we now?  Where would we like to be?  How do we get there?” Chopra says.

So what is Chopra’s definition of what a good leader does?

His acronym for effective lead-from-the-soul leaders:

  • Look and listen
  • Emotional bonding
  • Awareness
  • Doing
  • Empowerment
  • Responsibility
  • Synchronicity

Bartiroma questioned – on her mainstream Sunday morning business talk show – how he keeps the focus on his “core values, the integrity of the brand that has (his) name on it.”   Seems like any lingering stigma connected to the application of growth psychology, psychotherapy, emotional intelligence and questions of meaning and values to Wall Street companies has all but disappeared.  The words “spiritual” “soul” “psychological” “emotional” can now be found in the same sentences as “business growth” “practical” “successful company” “the economy” “the stock market” – and those sentences can be spoken out loud!

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.


On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part III: Learned Optimism

glasshalfemptyLEARNED OPTIMISM. Master this and you can change, with or without therapy.

The Pessimist reacts to setbacks from a presumption of personal helplessness. His assumption: bad events will last a long time, will undermine what he does, and are his fault.

The Optimist reacts to setbacks from a presumption of personal power. His assumption: bad events are temporary setbacks, isolated to particular circumstances which he can overcome by his own abilities and effort.

Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Director, University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, is the psychologist generally credited as the founder of the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology focuses on the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.

Research has demonstrated that positive psychology interventions can decrease symptoms of depression and allow people to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, and have higher hopes,

An Exercise in Learned Optimism. Do try this at home:

1. First, you must know what situations get to you. Identify adverse situations or events you routinely face. Which ones typically bother you, creating negative emotions?

2. Note (and record) beliefs about those events that come to mind (the “recordings” you play in your head). What do you tell yourself about why what is happening is indeed happening?

3. Note the consequences of those beliefs (and write them down). How do those beliefs affect such things as your energy, emotions, and will to act?

4. Dispute those beliefs. Disputation can involve challenging the usefulness of the belief, focusing on evidence that contradicts or undermines the negative belief and supports a more positive interpretation, challenging negative implications on which harmful beliefs rely, and generating alternative explanations.

5. Distract yourself. Use distraction to stop the repetition – and recitation – of negative beliefs. You might take a breath, or snap a rubber band on your wrist and say “stop” when a negative belief comes into your mind. Writing down worrisome beliefs and fears to consider at a future time can leave you free to act.

6. Notice what happens to your energy and will to act when you dispute negative beliefs. With practice, disputation becomes more rapid and effective, as the energization it creates serves as a reward for your effort. With practice, the positive explanatory style becomes your default response.

Practice, practice, practice. And let me know how it works for you, ok?

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part II: Is Optimism Really Better than Pessimism?

glasshalfemptyOn the way to the “How to” portion of the psychology of Learned Optimism, a small but important detour.

Query: Is optimism always the better way to go?

It would seem so. After all, a positive attitude is certainly the great American way: Westward ho! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps (bootstraps?)! If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. Land of opportunity, culture of self-improvement. Work hard, fly right. No contest.

Consider this: Recession 2009

Rising unemployment. Declining real income, industrial production, wholesale-retail sales, consumer confidence. In the U.S., in the world.

The Optimist – sees bad events as temporary setbacks and presumes personal power to alter them.
We are on our way! The dollar’s the global reserve currency. Let the stimulus package, health care system overhaul , new lending programs and industry rescues do their work. Declining consumer prices mean we’ll keep inflation in check.
We are solving this! Roll up your sleeves and buy, invest!The worst is over!

The Pessimist – sees bad events as likely to last a long time and presumes no personal power to alter them.
Are we on our way to hyperinflation? stagflation? All this new money meets lack of demand. Higher prices in a weak economy with rising unemployment is a dangerous combination. Countering stagflation can worsen inflation, and vice versa.
We are sunk! Roll up in a ball or sell, short! The worst is coming!

Query: Did irrational optimism play a part in getting us (You and me. We’ll get into the financial institutions and the government another time.) into this overspending, overleveraging, living on credit cards, investing in things we didn’t understand, taking out mortgages we couldn’t afford, not saving enough for the future (along with a whole lot more) mess?

Did we see what we wanted to see (think Bernie Madoff), believe what we wanted to believe (housing prices always go up), spend what we wanted to spend (doesn’t it seem that everything’s “designer” now?), get lazy and not do our due diligence and trust the experts instead – all because we want to believe things always get better? If only…

Maybe, just maybe, we need to see the glass as both half-empty and half-full. Couldn’t hurt, might help.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part I: The Research

glasshalfemptyTough times, right? It’s easy to feel pessimistic. Well, read on. More evidence that an optimistic outlook correlates with better health, both physical and psychological.* After this week’s post on depression, that’s a pretty positive thing!

Results of a longitudinal study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, provide yet more support for the value of learned optimism. Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 569 individuals from age 7 to their mid-30s to see if certain personality traits influenced health later in life. Their findings: Children who were able to react less negatively to situations at age 7 – who viewed the world through the lens of optimism rather than pessimism – reported better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

According to Dr. Kubzansky, “Certain characteristics already evident early in life are likely to spark positive or negative emotions, and also influence biological and behavioral responses to stress. Some traits may contribute to developing healthier behaviors and better social relationships, and ultimately more resilience in mid-life.”

Trained observers rated the 7 year olds’ behaviors, which were then assigned to three personality attributes, one of which was distress-proneness (the tendency to react negatively to situations). To determine adult health, participants rated their health and reported whether they had any of the following illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis or hepatitis.

For all the participants, having a more positive outlook (along with the ability to pay focused attention) in youth affected health the most. These effects were greater for women, suggesting that women may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology, perhaps predisposing them more to certain health risks, such as heart disease. No differences in effects were found across race or ethnicity, childhood health or socicoeconomic status.

“Behavior and emotions generally linked to certain temperaments play a crucial role in long-term health,” Says Dr. Kubzansky. “Fortunately, early childhood characteristics can be shaped and guided by social, family and peer interactions. Interventions can focus on altering certain ways of responding and behaviors that frequently accompany particular traits to prevent certain diseases.”

Next up: Part II: How to change that half-empty glass into a half-full one. A slightly tougher task, so give me a few days, please?

*With special thanks to the American Psychological Association Public Affairs Office and DS who inspired this series.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


straphangers1You know how, when the subway lurches suddenly, there is always that one person standing who doesn’t lose his balance at all? The one who manages to keep reading his paper, calm and steady on his feet, smiling and making room for you when you almost bash into him? How does he do it?

He plants one foot firmly, maintaining his own immovable center, regardless of whatever lurches and short stops the subway always surprises us with when we least expect. And he lets his center of gravity shift as his other foot moves with the movement of the train: leaning out, pulling back, gliding and adjusting as necessary.

In his fascinating new book, THE AGE OF THE UNTHINKABLE, Joshua Cooper Ramo exhorts leaders and policy makers in today’s complex and interconnected world to regard adaptation to change as a constant if unpredictable given, and to view problems in a larger, interrelated context. Since change in the world financial markets and political systems no longer (if it ever did) occurs in linear fashion, it’s seldom obvious exactly which one particular detail will tip the balance. How best to adapt and thrive? We need to hold our center (he talks about the need to build resilient societies with strong immune systems, like health care and education), while “riding the earthquake” (remaining open to creative approaches to the predictably unpredictable).

But as crucial as it is to adjust and re-adjust, you don’t want to be constantly in motion, changing your perspective so often that you lose sight of what your perspective really is. And as necessary to survival as it is in our interconnected globalized world to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes, you don’t want to get stuck there, walking his mile, do you?

So while you’re busy adapting and adjusting, make certain you also check that the center – your center – holds. Because if it doesn’t, you are going to bash into some guy on the subway. And you can’t be sure the guy you bash into will be one who’ll help you regain your balance.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

3 Minutes to Conscious Dreaming

cow_jumps_over_the_moon_bwAre your anxious kids having trouble falling asleep? Help them dream away their troubles with Conscious Dreaming.

If you’ve been following the Soothe the Stress posts, you know the first steps to relaxation. Teach them to your kids! No time like the present. The sooner you help them develop the capacity to soothe their own stress, the more practiced and prepared they’ll be for the as-yet-unimagined stresses they’ll encounter in their lives. And along the way, you’ll be helping them develop the emotional intelligence to recognize how they feel when they feel it, as well as what to do when those feelings are getting in the way of the good life.

Start with this: “As you lie in bed, focus your awareness on your breath, and let it fill your belly full full full! Now let your breath slowly slowly slowly out through your nose. Three times, and you’ll notice you’re feeling more and more sleepy. As you drift off to sleep, remind yourself that you will not only remember your dreams tonight, but you’ll dream about…”

Have your four year old who’s afraid of monsters in the dark imagine a magic sword in his hand, which, when pointed at said monster, lights him up and makes him giggle.

Tell your anxious teenager to put his problems on a stage, one at a time, while the audience (all him) and the director (him, too) come up with possible solutions.

Or tickle the arms of your anxious daughter while telling her to imagine she’s skiing down the mountain, fast and free and in complete control.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

But Can It Last?

loveluckofthedrawBianca Acevedo, Ph.D. and Arthur Aron, PhD, reviewed 25 studies with 6,070 individuals in short- and long-term relationships. According to research findings in the March issue of Review of General Psychology: More relationship satisfaction = happier, with higher self-esteem. AND:
• Passionate love, which includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, has an obsessive component that helps drive shorter relationships. More passion, more satisfaction. In short-term relationships. But not in long-term relationships.
• Companion-like love? Moderately associated with satisfaction in both short- and long-term relationships.
• Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component. Greater romantic love, more satisfaction in both short- and long-term relationships. Over the long haul, Romantic relationships don’t have to morph into companionship/friendship.
Romance can last.
What’s this got to do with the recession? It’s a stretch, but: SOME THINGS CAN LAST. And here comes the corny but true part: those are things that matter more over the long haul.
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.