A World in Transition: Insights from Transition Hub - Harnessing What Works to Embrace Change
In ancient Greece, some 2500 years ago, the philosopher Aristotle suggested that ‘change in all things is sweet’ - in that, it is inherently positive.
This may seem counterintuitive, yet with change a constant in our lives - how we embrace it can create the conditions to learn, develop and grow. Understanding and focussing on the positive - and what is working in our lives is encompassed within the field of positive psychology.
Positive psychology is concerned with what works, focusing on our unique strengths to help us navigate change and uncertainty from a place of abundance. It has been defined variously, including by Peterson (UPenn 2008) as ‘…the scientific study of what makes life worth living,’ and its power is that it discovers and focusses on what is working - and amplifies it.
A core premise of positive psychology is its focus on strength – with the Positive Psychology Centre at UPenn proposing that - ‘positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.’
Traditional psychology has largely focussed on making things less bad. It employs a deficiency model and has a focus on weakness. On the other hand, positive psychology has a focus on strength, abundance – and what works - focussing upon that which comes naturally to us.
To further unpack its components, UPenn note that positive psychology has 3 concerns:
1. Positive experiences: Contentment in the past, pleasure in the present and hope for the future.
2. Positive traits: A focus on strengths and virtues.
3. Positive institutions: The study of strong families, communities, and corporations – and the virtues that nourish them.
With its focus on strength, positive psychology provides an accessible approach to crafting the life we seek.
Transition in our work and personal lives is a form of change, that can create a dissonance between the way things were and the unknown road ahead. This can be anxiety producing - yet when we can make meaning from the change - we can move through it and grow. A way to make meaning from such a situation is to use our strengths, combining them with activities that bring them to the fore – so that we can embrace change, find meaning in it and thrive.
In using positive psychology to manage transition, we can employ several tactics such as mindset, gratitude, mindfulness, and compassion to name a few – to focus on the positive, our strengths - celebrating what works.
· Mindset creates a focus for us to see what works. Leading mindset researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that we can either have a fixed or growth mindset – in that, we can either be closed to possibility or open to it.
· Gratitude is concerned with an awareness of life’s blessings and its inherent goodness. It brings happiness and wellbeing, with benefits across the psychological, physical, and social domains and regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates anxiety responses. It can be practiced in several ways including through considering what went well at the end of a day, writing a journal or letter.
· Mindfulness is the impartial, non-judgemental practice of awareness of what is happening around us. It is concerned with the present and is defined by practitioner and author Jon Kabat – Zinn as ‘the means of paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.’
· Compassion is the way we show kindness, empathy, and affection to others - however to be complete it must also include ourselves. What we feel for others - we must also feel for ourselves.
Academic and researcher Kristin Neff suggests that there are 3 elements for self-compassion:
o Self-kindness, versus self-judgement
o Common humanity, versus isolation
o Mindfulness, versus over identification
As a broad and interconnected topic, understanding positive psychology and its power for managing change can be transformative. It is cultivated through an awareness of what works in our lives - and brought to life through practices such as gratitude, mindfulness and how we see the world around us. It builds positive emotion and an acceptance that despite what we may feel - we are enough - just as we are.
As the study of what makes our lives worth living, positive psychology can unlock the potential in us through our strengths, so we and those around us can thrive. When we are in a place of self-acceptance and apply our strengths in our lives, we can transition through change and live our best life.
Expert & author bio: As our resident positive psychology and positive education expert, Andrew Cochrane works with individuals and organisations to maximise their potential through values alignment.