As National Psychology Week rolls around again, I am reminded that the reason we choose to study psychology is to derive a greater understanding of the world around us through its people, and to improve our lives as a result.
In my opinion the most obvious way that the latter point manifests is through the rise of positive psychology, particularly in the workplace where we spend a considerable chunk of our lives. It makes sense to make our time at work as positive and comfortable as we possibly can, giving ourselves every opportunity to not just survive, but thrive in the workplace.
Personally I love positive psychology, and to be honest I look to utilise its principles in my everyday life whenever possible, and particularly at work.
This might sound strange coming from a guy who works in what might look on the outside to be a very dry, stats driven field in psychometrics, but I like to think that I’m full of surprises. Being the imperfect human that I am (to the surprise of nobody) I don’t necessarily always execute my plans perfectly, but the beauty of positive psychology is that it is very forgiving.
With that in mind I wanted to share my favourite three strategies for thriving at work. These approaches don’t cover off on every principle of positive psychology or how it applies to the workplace according to theory, but they represent the strategies that work best for this imperfect professional.
This is one that we see pop up regularly in the positive psychology space, and I suppose that it does represent one of the most well-known aspects of the field. This is for good reason though, because I can’t think of anything more positive than singling out what makes you an individual, what your key strengths are, and understanding how they apply in any context.
It is absolutely a key to getting the most out of yourself. Martin Seligman and other positive psychology exponents speak of using your ‘signature’ character strengths, but in an everyday context I’ve found that you don’t need to be prescriptive about it or follow some sort of strengths model.
For instance, personally I am generally a confident speaker, and I also like to take an open, honest and direct approach with people. As a result I can leverage these strengths to speak openly and confidently with our clients and the candidates that sit our tests, providing the best service and support that I can.
Of course, when you come to an understanding of strengths in this context you soon realise that a strength is only a strength in context, and that my confident, direct and honest style can in fact also be a crippling weakness (just ask my very understanding and patient wife and/or anybody who has met me).
Therein lies the core of the concept in my mind: we all have what we perceive to be strengths and weaknesses, but knowing how to apply them both to be a positive in any given context takes us well on our way to thriving in the workplace.
Another favourite of mine is the concept of gratitude, and being grateful for the good things. Another key strategy to come out of this space is the ‘Three Good Things’ exercise which some of you may be familiar with, which is designed to help achieve a sense of gratitude and happiness in everyday life by bringing reasons for gratitude into focus, achieving a positive psychological influence.
Believe it or not (and I think we all know where this is going) this works very well in the workplace. Bringing into focus for yourself the things to be grateful for is not only an easy thing to do, but it brings the positive aspects of your work day back into focus, reminding you why you do what you do.
It’s not something that occurs naturally to some of us, and certainly not to me if I was left to my own devices, but taking time out to think of the good things, and being thankful for them, can be very powerful. If you can’t think of three that’s fine. Often one is enough.
Every day I am thankful that my employer offered me the opportunity to transfer to a new city to experience something new and exciting, rejuvenating my life and allowing me to experience something new every day.
Being grateful is great, but showing that appreciation is also important. If it’s appropriate, let the person responsible know how grateful you are. I mean, don’t be weird about it or anything, but it’s a really nice feeling knowing that we have had a positive influence on somebody.
Showing your gratitude actually spreads that positivity and highlights the strengths of those around you as well, allowing them to thrive with you.
My final strategy is one that, truthfully, I’m usually terrible at. We all have big, impressive goals, and we all probably have a rough idea of how to get there. Celebrating the small wins on the way towards your bigger goal is crucial to maintaining momentum and creating belief that you can make it.
Small steps towards a bigger goal are still successes, and should be recognised as such. Not only does it give you more to be grateful for, it rewards you for the accomplishments that you make, motivating you to keep putting the effort in.
Personally I have never consistently celebrated my ‘smaller’ goals (getting my degrees, becoming a practicing psychologist) and ultimately at some point lost sight of what setting goals really means.
More recently I have actively sought to be much more mindful and present, celebrating my life and the accomplishments that are in front of me right now, as well as the accomplishments of those around me. This has made my work right now in the moment much more meaningful, giving me every opportunity to thrive along with my friends and colleagues.
So to sum up, I believe that when we tap into our strengths, be grateful and show it, and celebrate small wins, we’re well on the way to improving our working lives significantly.