Leaning on our character strengths for support in tough times

Leaning on our character strengths for support in tough times

Leaning on our character strengths for support in tough times

As we are all, in some way or another, affected by the Coronavirus situation, I wanted to share with you some ideas of how you can utilise your character strengths to keep on top of your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. 

Our character strengths

Character strengths are “positive traits – capacities humans have for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that benefit oneself and others. Specifically, they are the psychological ingredients for displaying virtues or human goodness.” (VIA website)

The VIA Classification consists of 24 different character strengths, which we all have within us and can draw on to support us in all aspects of life.  

By implementing a character strengths approach, our main focus is on what’s right and what we do well, as studies have shown that this where we can experience the greatest positive impact. For example…

  • higher levels of happiness 
  • lower levels of depression
  • lower levels of stress
  • higher levels of life satisfaction
  • higher energy levels
  • etc…

How you can lean on them to support you now 

I’ve selected 5 character strengths that can be tapped into at anytime of the day, with a few ideas that you may consider trying:

Kindness

  • ask how you can support your family, friends and neighbours at the moment
  • show compassion for others – ask how they are doing, and really listen to their answer 

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

  • literally smell the roses – intentionally take notice of how the new season is developing and acknowledge the simply beauty that nature offers us
  • look for examples of excellence in your world – amazing work by a colleague, a beautiful example of architecture in your street, or even one of your recent accomplishments

Gratitude

  • appreciate even the smallest things in your life. The chair you sit on, the phone you have to keep in contact with loved ones, the food in your cupboard…
  • set up a daily routine where you reflect on these before bed, or even discuss together at dinner with your family

Hope

  • if you haven’t already, start a bucket list of places you want to see and what you want to do when you get there!
  • Be in contact with people or online groups who are optimistic and lift you up and choose to read positive news or books that bring you joy

Zest

  • dance to your favourite music, nap when you can, cook and eat delicious food, and find peace in meditation and nature

Useful resources

The VIA website has many ideas to support you in using any of your 24 character strengths

And I’m here to help you too. Please get in touch if you’d like my support in this difficult time.

Over to you….

  • Do you have any other tips for these character strengths?
  • Do you apply other character strengths in difficult times?
  • And which have helped you the most?

 

 

 

5 easy ways to reduce overwhelm – in any situation

5 easy ways to reduce overwhelm – in any situation

5 easy ways to reduce overwhelm – in any situation

Do you experience moments at work, when deadlines are fast approaching, to-dos are piling up, you’re feeling overwhelmed with competing priorities; where you feel it’s difficult to concentrate or focus on one thing at a time, emotions are running high and perhaps you even feel a physical reaction?

I’ve put together a couple of strategies (a couple that may be surprising!), that are useful to reduce stress during your work day so that you can quickly get back ton track.

You can try these in different situations – whether in a meeting, on a crowded train, or when you are alone:

  1. Connect to your senses, slowly and one by one. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you taste? What can you feel (touch)?
  2. Put both feet on the ground and imagine strong, healthy tree roots growing from your soles, right down to the middle of the earth. Feel anchored, strong and supported.
  3. Connect to your breath. Notice your inhales and exhales and slow your breathing down. Count in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4. Try this for about a minute
  4. Literally slow down. Walk more slowly, speak slower, type slower. If it helps, pretend you are underwater and it’s simply not possible to do things quickly.
  5. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for.

Which of these tips do you think would be most useful for you?
And do you have any others to share that have worked well?

Useful Resources

Please get in touch if you’d like my support to manage your stress better!

20 ways to be happier at work in 2020

20 ways to be happier at work in 2020

20 ways to be happier at work in 2020

Try out these 20 small and easy actions to make your time at work much more fulfilling.

 

Define your why. Seek to explore who you are, your reason for being, the impact you have on our world – and why you do what you do.

 

Discover, understand and use your character strengths. Do the VIA Character Strengths survey to find out the ranking of your character strengths, and intelligently apply what you naturally have within you.

 

Ask for feedback. To enhance your performance, let your colleagues know that you value their views and ask them for their input on how you can improve.

 

Be generous. Do kind deeds without expecting anything in return.

 

Be thankful. Bring forward your character strength of gratitude and show others that you appreciate them by saying thank you.

 

Get the support that you need. Whether it’s a mentor, coach, therapist, trusted colleague –having the right kind of support can have a hugely positive impact on your happiness at work.

 

Learn continuously. Activate your character strength of love of learning and attend training sessions that are provided by your employer. Identify any gaps in your knowledge and research appropriate courses. Or simply commit to spending 10 minutes a day learning something new that’s related to your work.

 

Create moments of flow. Plan activities into your day that you are good at and enjoy, in which you are fully invested and where you lose all sense of time.

 

Think in terms of solutions rather than problems. Set a positive intent before starting a task. Focus your attention on the best possible outcome.

 

Set specific goals to strive for and review your successes regularly. Recognise, reward and feel proud of even the smallest of your successes.

 

Make your wellbeing a top priority. See which of your PERMA wellbeing pillars are in balance, and which need attention – and take action now.

 

Strengthen your private relationships. Prioritise time with loved ones who know you and care about you.

 

Strengthen your work relationships. Reconnect with old contacts and actively pursue new ones. Schedule at least one coffee meeting or lunch a week. Join professional associations, volunteer for committees and attend networking events.

 

Protect and maximise your time off. Set clear boundaries of when you finish work for the day, and use your time outside work wisely. Spend regular time doing activities that you really enjoy and that relax you. And make sure that holidays really are holidays.

 

Cultivate positive emotions. Deliberately plan daily activities that spark one of these 10 positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, love.

 

Integrate mindfulness. Consciously create moments where you focus on the present moment. Bring forward your character strength of curiosity and listen to others deeply and with interest; meditate; and eat, breathe and walk mindfully.

 

Work smarter. Plan your week’s activities on Sunday evening. Navigate distractions, even if you have to say no. Plan tasks that require deep concentration at times of day when your performance peaks.

 

Single-task. To avoid cognitive overload and increase your efficiency, stop multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time. Turn off email and social media alerts and do what you can to reduce all other distractions.

 

Be more playful. Enjoy yourself and see the lighter side of work. Dial up your character strength of humour at work, and use it to encourage your colleagues through challenging situations.

 

Smile!

How to generate positive emotions to improve your wellbeing

How to generate positive emotions to improve your wellbeing

How to generate positive emotions to improve your wellbeing

Here are some simple things we can do to boost our own positive emotions, influence those of others and the many ways in which they can benefit us.

Positive emotions are one of the pillars of the PERMAH wellbeing framework that I utlise with my clients, along with Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment and Health, and can lead to many positive outcomes:

  • being more creative
  • better problem solving
  • being more open to learning
  • better cardiovascular health
  • better coordination
  • maintaining relationships
  • creating new relationships
  • develop higher levels of resilience
  • have a better sense of identity
  • living longer!

As we experience these outcomes, as in an upward spiral, our positive emotions continue to increase! And we can then essentially call on this ‘bank of stored positivity to support us to overcome challenging situations faster.

Have you noticed the positive impact when you’ve experienced positive emotions?

What are examples of positive emotions?

Here are 10 that have been found to be experienced often in our daily lives:

joy
gratitude
serenity
interest
hope
pride
amusement
inspiration
awe
love

When was the last time you felt one of these emotions?
What were you doing?
What else gives you this feeling?

How can you generate positive emotions?

Studies have shown that there are actions you can take that can reliably increase your positive mood for up to 15 minutes:

  • watching an exciting film
  • reading an exciting story
  • reading positive statements about yourself
  • recalling a positive event that you’ve experienced
  • listening to music
  • spending time with a cheerful friend

Do you experience a boost to your mood when you do the above?!
What else can you do to generate positive emotions?

How can you boost the positive emotions of others?

How good does it feel to make others happy, contented and joyful?!

Research shows that by:

  • surprising someone with an unexpected gift, like a coffee or bar of chocolate;
  • giving positive feedback, and;
  • simply by being cheerful and attentive with them…

… you can increase the positive mood of others.

So, what will you do today to help others feel great?!

 

(Reference: Hefferon & Boniwell, 2011)

Useful resources

Here you can read my blog to learn more about the PERMAH framework and how you can use it to improve your wellbeing

– or book a call with me for my support with your wellbeing – I’d love to help you!

 

Flow-the ‘secret to happiness’

Flow-the ‘secret to happiness’

Flow-the ‘secret to happiness’

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of positive psychology, interestingly describes flow as “the secret to happiness”.

What is flow?

Here’s his definition of flow: “The intense experiential involvement in moment-to-moment activity, which can be either physical or mental. Attention is fully invested in the task at hand and the person functions at her/his fullest capacity.

And this can apply to any activity that captivates us and where we forget time – socialising, sport, reading, studying, etc, etc. I experienced flow when I was researching for my assessments – my attention was fully focused on the content I was researching and writing about, I wasn’t checking my emails or worried about the time – I was fully immersed and very much enjoying what I was doing. 

Does this sound familiar to you?
When was the last time you experienced flow?
What were you doing?

How can flow make us happier?

When we experience moments of flow we:

  • lose our sense of self temporarily, and with it the self-judgment and comparison with others
  • are focused and doing an activity that moves us towards our goals
  • are being challenged
  • are positive and energised
  • are feeling in control and are not self-conscious 

By having experiences in flow, it also helps us to: 

  • make better decisions about what enriches us, and what depletes us
  • know our strengths and what we can do well 

Reflecting after spending hours researching and writing for my papers, I have to say that I definitely do feel happier! I have been focused, productive, cemented new knowledge, learned new things, and I felt particularly happy that what I was learning can help others. I also felt satisfied, accomplished and that I’ve worked hard.

How about you, when you’ve been in flow, what emotions have you experienced?
And how about after – what impact did it have on you afterwards?

What can you do to find your flow? 

According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are a few common characteristics of flow:

1. The activity must have a clear structure, set of milestones or rules, and the participant must know what they need to do within the activity. 

For example, I have very clear criteria for what is being assessed. I also wrote on my to-do list each day the sections of my papers I wanted to complete by the end of the day, and from the detailed criteria I knew how long each section needed to be. 

2. There must be an immediate sense of awareness that participants are on their path to achieving their goals. 

My to-do list helps me with this. Once I’d finished each section, I crossed them off my list. And when I finish writing a section of paper, I highlight it in yellow.

3. This is the characteristic that I find most critical – When the challenge and the person’s skill are balanced, they become lost in the activity and flow is the likely result.

If the skill and challenge levels are unbalanced for the activity, it’s possible to experience boredom, anxiety or even apathy. 

The work I do for my assessments is compatible with my skill levels – I’ve already completed a research degree and therefore have the experience and skill for this task, and the challenge is at the right level as the content I’m researching is not basic, but it’s also not extremely complicated. Therefore, creating the right conditions for flow to occur. 

In comparison, when I reflect on an activity such as surfing through websites looking at pretty dresses, I quickly see that there is absolutely no challenge, and only basic internet skills required, so when doing this (even though I do like pretty dresses) I quickly become bored and even apathetic. Which brings me into a state of negative emotion. 

How can you help others to find flow? 

Whether you are a parent, a leader or someone who simply likes to support others, think about the positive impact that it would have on those around them when your child, team member or colleague experiences more moments of flow!

Here are some questions to consider to help others find moments of flow. 

  • How could you design an activity for the person you have in mind, that has the right balance of skill and challenge to get them to flow?
  • Do they know enough about their activity to achieve flow?
  • Think about what their natural strengths are, and in what activities they can use them to get them into flow?
  • How can you encourage them to stop activities that result in apathy or anxiety?
  • What else do they need to support them to find flow – do they prefer to work quietly, or do they thrive in noisy, stimulating environments?
  • How can you best explain your moments of flow to them?! 

I’d love to hear your experiences of flow, please leave your comments below!

Useful resources

– Watch the TED talk from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Read my blog on how to reduce your multi-tasking to create conditions for flow to occur

 

How integrating mindfulness can improve EVERYTHING about your day!

How integrating mindfulness can improve EVERYTHING about your day!

How integrating mindfulness can improve EVERYTHING about your day!

 “It is our mindlessness that imprisons us. We get better and better at being out of touch with the full range of our possibilities, and more and more stuck in our cultivated-over-a-lifetime habits of not-seeing.”
John Kabat Zinn

 

My heartfelt wish, therefore, would be for you to gain even the smallest insight from this post to help you ‘see’ more clearly and increase your range of possibilities. 

What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness can be simply defined as a mental state that’s achieved by focusing attention on the present moment. This can be outwards (on what we see, hear, smell,…) or inwards (on our thoughts, emotions, body sensations, …). 

Being absorbed in a great book, noticing the signs of spring or basking in the wonderful feeling of warm sunlight are examples of mindful activities.  

You can be mindful in any moment, if you consciously choose to engage with what you are focusing your attention on.  

Professor Ellen Langer, who has been researching the western approach of mindfulness since the 1970s, suggests that to be mindful we need 3 components:  

  • Self-regulation of our attention: practicing self-control to override our habits or automatic responses
  • External stimuli that we can focus on (the meditative Eastern approach includes internal stimuli too)
  • And consciously engaging with this stimuli in a creative and curious way.  

For example, a friend VERY kindly brought me 3 creme eggs back from Australia. I really love creme eggs and it’s basically impossible to get them in Switzerland. So they are really valuable to me! Eating them mindfully therefore REALLY helps me to stretch out the enjoyment. 

So using Professor Langer’s components, here’s the process I followed: 

  • I’m normally doing something else while I’m eating, so I had to practice my self-regulation and consciously not work or read the news on the web while I ate my creme egg today.
  • The external stimulus was the delicious creme egg.
  • I was curious about: how the foil wrapping gets around the egg in the manufacturing process, where it was made, the wonderful smell, how many chemicals they needed to use to get the white and yellow of the yolk, and of course without any other distractions I was easily able to savour the gorgeous flavour… etc, etc….  

Because of the increase in enjoyment I was able to gain through this process, it is something that I’ll definitely be doing more often (especially when I’m lucky enough to have creme eggs!).  

What do you think of this process? 
What’s a recent mindful activity that you were engaged in?
 

How can increasing our mindfulness benefit us?

I think the question is, how can it not?!

Studies have shown that once participants practiced mindfulness regularly over a period of around 8 weeks, results included: 

  • Increase in beta activity in the brain, leading to more wakefulness
  • Increase in alpha and theta brain waves, leading to increased relaxation
  • Growth in grey brain matter in the areas that are linked to attention, cognition, self-awareness, introspection, regulation of emotions and behaviours
  • Inducing a state of physical rest
  • Strengthening of immune function
  • Improvements to learning skills and creativity
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain
  • Improvements in skin conditions such as psoriasis
  • Improved sleep and reduced fatigue
  • Lowered symptoms of psychological distress such as anxiety, panic, depression, anger, substance abuse
  • And from the positive psychology perspective, improvements to wellbeing, including increased:
    • happiness
    • life-satisfaction
    • psychological wellbeing
    • quality of life
    • positive emotions
    • hope
    • coherence
    • sense of control, autonomy and independence
    • resilience
    • self-compassion
    • self-esteem
    • trust
    • empathy
    • improved relationships
    • … and more! 

In contrast, what is mindlessness, and why is it also important? 

Mindlessness is where we rely on habits or automatic thinking to perform a task.   

Think about your day so far… in which situations were you in autopilot mode?  

To be mindful all the time is impossible! Many researchers have found that mindless tasks free our limited conscious attentional capacity up for activities that really need them – so there are definitely benefits to being mindless some of the time.    

How can we spend less time being mindless?

For many of us, reducing our mindless moments and increasing our mindful or intentional ones to achieve more in our lives is a challenge.  

The point at which we can stop these mindless moments that we want to reduce is in the moment in time where our habitual processes kick in. For example, mid-afternoon at work, you feel a natural energy slump, head to the coffee machine and eat one of the biscuits that’s right next to it. This has become a mindless activity or habit each afternoon that is hampering your goal of eating less sugar.  

To be aware of what triggers you to eat that cookie is the first step – the mid-afternoon coffee to beat your energy slump. This is where you have the chance to practice your self-regulation, let your conscious mind kick in and make a healthier, mindful choice, say to walk around the block to recharge your energy instead.   

You can also plan mindful moments in your day. Perhaps do a morning meditation, or simply set the intent to observe new things when you go for your daily walk.   

Which mindless moments would you like to stop?
What mindful moments can you plan into your day?

Something to ponder…  

“Most of our suffering, psychological and physical, is the direct or indirect effect of mindlessness.”
Professor Ellen Langer

 

 Useful resources 

Try the meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center 

Watch an interview with Professor Langer 

Get in touch for my support to create and embed mindful practices into your life

 

 

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