Positive psychology is a relatively new science, whose founders are still alive today. Historically, psychological research and therapies focused on understanding and treating psychopathologies or disorders, such as depression and other mood disorders, schizophrenia, phobias, narcissistic personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A few decades ago, however, researchers and practitioners began to apply the techniques and psychological research to improving the success and happiness of those who are mentally healthy. This new focus is known in the psychology profession as “positive psychology.”
Much of positive psychology research is about happiness and fulfillment – what it is, who achieves it, and how - and how we can use our minds or mind-body techniques to enhance our lives. For example, research indicates that those of us with strong positive relationships with one or more people not only will be happier, but will live longer than those without.
Five rich areas of positive psychology research include the concepts of:
“Flow” activities, in which your greatest strengths are being used to meet substantial challenges;
“Reframing” or “neuro-linquistic programing,” whereby you can change your own outlook or frame of reference (including strengths-based approaches and the potential catalyst of self-hypnosis);
Habits, of mind, such as optimism/pessimism or fixed/growth mindsets, which affect our happiness and our effectiveness; and
Self-regulation and willpower, and ways of improving both.
Among the many groundbreaking findings in positive psychology that our clients can leverage is the realization that happiness is based on attention and that you can choose how you think about things, which in turn, affects how you feel. Just like the Quantum Zeno effect in physics (wherein the mere observation of an atomic particle actually affects the particle’s stabilization), the more attention you put on something, the more it persists. So, ruminating over a problem actually causes it to persist (not resolve). A coaching technique to counter the Quantum Zeno effect is to interrupt our client’s story using a “pattern interrupt” (with an explanation to the client ahead of time). The client comes to recognize that, because he or she has been telling the same story for years and no improvement has resulted, it’s now time to “rewire” the brain network responsible for that story. Unfortunately, traditional therapist questions, such as “how does that make you feel” and “why does it make you feel that way” can actually reinforce the problem. Instead, we might ask “how would you like to feel instead?” or “what are you seeing (or hearing) when you feel this good?” or “where in your body do you feel it?”
Concurrent with this revolution in psychology, a revolution in neuroscience revealed that the tools and techniques of positive psychology can alter the physical structure of your brain – what is known as neuroplasticity.