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{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED talk – Flow: The Secret to Happiness

 

As I’m nearing the end of the Positive Psychology cycle of the rethinked*annex project, I have decided to include two additional ideas–flow and growth mindset–before moving on to the next and final cycle. Because the meaningful happy life is so deeply dependent on the successful and recurring deployment of one’s signature strengths in as many of life’s arenas as possible, I have decided to turn to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow for some additional guidance on how to nurture and cultivate my pursuit of what Seligman terms, “the gratifications.” And because the nurturing and deployment of strengths and skills can be so radically improved by the cultivation of a growth mindset, I have decided to reread Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ll share a couple more interventions to experiment with based on these two ideas in the coming weeks.

For now, I invite you to watch Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk – Flow, the secret to happiness, in which he gives some context to his research around the core question of “what makes life worth living?” and gives an overview of the flow experience.

Martin Seligman – An Overview of Positive Psychology …*

Taking a quick break from writing about my experiences with the Positive Psychology interventions given by Martin Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness, to share this TED talk he gave in 2004, fittingly titled: The new era of positive psychology. In this talk, Seligman provides context for the development of Positive Psychology while sharing a compelling overview of many of the ideas discussed in his books.

watch, learn & rethink …* 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness?

In times of trouble, does the understanding and alleviating of suffering trump the understanding and building of happiness? I think not. People who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These persons care–sometimes desperately–about virtue, about purpose, about integrity, and about meaning.” -Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness

I am currently in the discovery phase of the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project–reading the books and getting a deeper sense of the discipline. There is a lot of information to unpack, so this is the first of several posts in the coming week about what exactly Positive Psychology is, how it came to be, and what type of impact it might provide. I am deeply excited by the potential of an empirical science that attempts to help us thrive and live meaningful, joyful and fulfilling lives. Positive Psychology was made even more special once I discovered that it started as a wonderful “what if?” and as a challenge to the status quo. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman walks his readers through his thought process leading up to his founding Positive Psychology as an official field of study in 1998. Noting that “psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life” and that, “For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness,” he decided to do something about it.

{ QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO } 

THE PROBLEM – 

For the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only–mental illness–and has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure such once fuzzy concepts as depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism with considerable precision. We now know a good deal about how these troubles develop across the life span, and about their genetics, their biochemistry, and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve these disorders. By my last count, fourteen out of the several dozen major illnesses could be effectively treated (and two of them cured) with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. But people want more than just to correct their weaknesses. They want lives imbued with meaning, and not just to fidget until they die. Lying awake at night, you probably ponder, as I have, how to go from plus two to plus seven in your life, not just how to go from minus five to minus three and feel a little less miserable day by day. 

THE SOLUTION – 

My most grandiose aim […] is to correct the imbalance by propelling the field of psychology into supplementing its hard-won knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotion, as well as about personal strengths and virtues.

{ DEFINITION } 

So what exactly is positive psychology? Seligman defines it thus:

Positive psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions.

I will unpack and get into more details about how Seligman classifies positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions in next week’s post.

{ REFLACTION } 

This week, I am beginning Tal Ben-Shahar’s Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal For Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, which is the companion workbook/playbook to Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and which is a way to put into practice some of the findings and insights from Positive Psychology:

Engaging in reflection and action –what I have called “ReflAction”–brings theory to life. I have adopted the practice of reflaction in my academic classes and public workshops, and I recommend that all teachers and students in any field who are concerned with real learning do the same. 

What a splendid term reflaction is, and it so brilliantly captures what I am attempting to do through the rethinked*annex project. The playbook is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week, and grouped around various themes (see my picture of the table of contents below.) This week’s theme is “Being Grateful.”

Ben-Shahar starts by giving a brief overview of the findings of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s studies on gratitude, which demonstrated that “putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences:”

Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness. 

He then recommends a daily gratitude exercise to be completed every day:

Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or reexperiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with partner,” try to reexperience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner. 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness? | rethinked.org

Robert Steven Kaplan On Why You Need To Be Aware of Your Failure Narrative & Other Tips For Reaching Your Potential

“You’ve got three stories, I’m only interested in one of them. There’s the facts of your life story: where were you born; where did you go to school; your parents; your family–just the facts. There’s a second story, which you’ve got a lot of practice at, it’s called your success story, which is the story of how you overcame obstacles, excelled and got to where you are now. It normally has drawbacks, it has failures, it has terrible things that happened to you and you said, “I will not stand for that! I will overcome that and I decided right then, I was going to do this and then I went and I did it.” There’s a third story, this is not one that you’re telling in your job interview and this, I would call, is your failure narrative. And every one of you has got one and it’s based on the same facts of your life. “

 …*

I first heard about Harvard Business School’s Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Robert Kaplan’s, concept of the ‘failure narrative’ last week while watching this short excerpt of an interview he did with Big Think. I was thrilled to hear him stress the importance of writing down one’s perceived narrative to drive awareness and facilitate change as I’ve been experimenting with a similar type of cognitive intervention entitled Self-Authoring these past two weeks (more on that next week).

In the video below, Kaplan elaborates on the failure narrative while highlighting the key steps of the process he outlines in his new book, What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential, to help people reach their unique potential.

Kaplan argues that the reason why so many of us don’t reach our full potential is that we don’t understand that it is an ongoing process, instead we “tend to think of it as a magic answer or a destination.” Kaplan notes that most of us would find it a bit ridiculous if one of our friends told us that they were trying to lose weight and wanted to go on this diet and then never have to worry about their weight again. Obviously, that wouldn’t work, change needs to be maintained. Same thing with growth–reaching our potential is a never ending journey, not a destination. Here Kaplan highlights five critical steps of the process necessary to reach one’s full potential, while providing tips on how to put each of them into action.

1. Assess Your Skills ~ Reaching your potential starts with an honest, accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses relative to a job. You need to learn to get in the habit of writing notes down, relative to a job and seeking the feedback of those that observe you so you can do it accurately. 

2. Find Your Passions ~ Passion is the rocket fuel that allows you to work on your weaknesses, makes you get advice from people and helps you do all sorts of other things, bad days, bad months, bad years–tolerating adversity. Passion is the rocket fuel that lets you do it but you do need to know what tasks you’re passionate about. You’ve got to be able to write that down. It is hard to perform at a very high level for a long period of time unless you’re passionate about what you’re doing. 

3. Understand Yourself ~ Why do people fail? Why do people fail to get feedback? Why do they fail to be able to understand their passions? Why don’t they go for it when they see something they want to do? Why do they keep quiet when they should speak up and act like owners? Normally, it’s doubt. 

  • What is that doubt for you? 
  • Can you write it down?
  • Are you aware of it?

The reason why being aware of your own failure narrative is so crucial is that, as Kaplan points out, “The biggest issue many people have is they don’t understand themselves.” We can’t always explain our rationale for our decision making and behavior. To develop more productive habits and further our chances of reaching our full potential, we need to be aware of our own beliefs. We need to examine what it is that is holding us back and triggering the self-doubt that we all feel throughout our lives.

Injustice happens. The key is, for most people, it feeds into your childhood, maybe events growing up, injustices that happened to you, maybe a difficult boss feeds into your self-doubt. And all of you have a narrative that’s in your head, whether you’re aware of it or not, right now that says, “I’m not good enough, I can’t do this. I doubt that I’ll ever be a _____ at ___, I don’t think I can.” And if you don’t think you’ve got [ a failure narrative], let me give you an assignment: write down your failure narrative. And the reason I urge people to write this down, this is [a narrative] that’s not politically correct to talk about, you’re not sharing it with your peers. Most of us wear a mask every day but we have self-doubt about something. And I might ask it to you this way: what’s your biggest fear? What is your biggest area of self-doubt? What is it you can’t do? And for many people, they’re not even aware that it’s in their head, but I can tell you it’s affecting what you do every day. It’s affecting your ability to reach your potential. Write it down, it may surprise you. 

Here’s the reason I like talking about the failure narrative. First of all, if you have the failure narrative always in your head, it might make you feel better to know, you’re not the only one. Everyone, to varying degrees has one. Most people think that their failure narrative is unique to them and they’re the only one–not so. Everyone has a failure narrative that is in their mind much more than you would believe. Now, they cover it over, they look great and their hair is nice and everything is great but I’ll tell you, if you watch them enough and you see what they can do and where they just can’t do it–that failure narrative is there. So step one is to realize you’re not the only one–there’s not something wrong with you because you have a failure narrative. Step two is, do you know what it is? And then step three is, how is it affecting your behavior now? And then you get to a question: do you need to be a prisoner of it? You’re not going to get rid of it, by the way, I have no clue how to get rid of one, but I do believe, if you’re aware of it and you try to address it, you don’t need to be a prisoner of it.

4. Performance and Career Management ~ What’s the vision? What are the top two or three tasks you must do well? Can you write them down? You should gear your skill development against those. Your dream job–you’ve got to think about the tasks you would dream about. You need to take ownership of thinking about these things. 

5. Good vs Great: Character  & Leadership ~ Once you’ve done strengths, weaknesses, passions, your story, matching all that to the job you’re in and what’s most important–do you act like an owner? […] Do you stick your neck out, appropriately? Do you help others who need help even though you don’t get any credit for it? This is what makes the difference, in my experience, between the people who are decent or good and great. Great companies are built around people who act like owners. Do you? 

via AtGoogleTalks, published on YouTube, August 9, 2013.

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