I just completed a course on positive psychology. More accurately, I just completed a a Coursera specialization made up of 5 courses on positive psychology.
It was a great course, with some great theory and a lot of meaningful practice. It was full of small things you can do to improve your life and also your coaching of others.
An exercise that I performed in the final course
One of the exercises was to create a “testable positive intervention” for myself.
In order to do that, I had to identify a bad thing that I want to improve about myself. To do this I used a list of “shadow strengths” or a list of overuse, underuse and absence of strengths.
Once I identified an area to improve, I needed to
- Measure my current performance/happiness;
- Do some intervening with myself; and
- Measure my new level of performance/happiness to see if it had an impact.
The result was surprisingly good.
What did I want to improve?
My goal was to improve 2 things that related to a shadow strength of ingratiating, which is an example of overusing appreciation. I reflected on some surprising confusion about expectations and what I thought were agreed goals or actions and how these might have been related to appreciating the good without digging into things I do not appreciate, or things that need to be done.
The two goals I landed on were:
- Set better, clearer expectations and increase accountability:
- Set clear expectations of Myself and hold myself accountable to them;
- Communicate these expectations better to others; and
- Be more explicit in my expectations of others and where I might disagree with things they say, do, or plan to do.
- Pause more when in a conversation in order to listen instead of talk.
- Specifically to count 3 seconds sometimes after talking no more than 40 seconds.
- I found this relevant to the first goal, because the lack of silence meant a potential lack of shared understanding of expectations.
What did the intervention look like?
A standard to aspire to
One of the practices that the course recommended was to leverage a strength to build improvements.
One of my “signature strengths” is “Genuineness, Authenticity and Honesty.” I decided to use this because, if I claim to be honest and authentic, then it should follow that I am also communicating my views clearly.
Also – I think my authentic self is a good team player, which would suggest that I can listen to others and that I can communicate authentically. If this is the case then I am not trying to become a different person with the above goals, but rather being the same person in the moment that I want to be all the time.
So now I have a positive standard to work towards – someone who has authentic conversations and sets clear expectations – me already on a good day and maybe not me when I fall short of who I want to be.
Daily measures and observations
I used a well known “3 good things today” exercise which, not surprisingly, involved reflecting on three good things that happened each day. This is a great exercise, but not surprisingly, it does not always highlight the gaps or progress I made with my gaps that I am working on. However it kept me focused on good outcomes and positive observations.
I complemented that practice with a report card for the day on my successes. This is designed to remind my of successes but also get me to focus on the situation where success was possible. On most days I had some successes (yay) and a couple of misses. This tool got me to highlight when I did not feel I was successful or I was not happy with “my involvement and my challenges.” It worked well because the expectation that I will be successful combined with concrete example from my day to see if I hit my goal.
Planning to observe and practice in the moment
Now I had a daily reflection to review my success, lack of success in adopting my improvements.
What I also needed was a way to actually observe myself in the moment so I could collect the information to reflect on. I also needed a chance to pick when to actually try to change my habits in the moment.
I started the day with a todo list (I use a bullet journal approach) and then selected 1-2 meetings for the day when I would focus on applying my self improvement. At the beginning of each meeting I would check the following questions and try to be aware of them for the meeting:
- In this moment what is driving my choices? (“in this moment” could mean the conversation i am having or meeting I am starting);
- Who am I right now (or what do I see as my role here)? How would I act if that was who I am?
- What am I actually doing?
Then at the end of the meeting I noted the answers to the same question, but restated in the past tense. Then I took a quick not of how I felt about it.
This data (set of rough notes) then gave me something to reflect on at the end of the day, when I did my accomplishments report card. I think the act of reminding myself of these questions also made me more likely to push myself to improve.
A rapid reflection cycle
So the whole cycle looked like this:
- Bullet list at the start of the day, with a cup of coffee and a note about a couple of meetings to focus on when practicing my better practices.
- Reminder before a couple of meetings to act better, with a note on how I went.
- Reflection at the end of the day with the accomplishment report card,
- A quick follow on with a list of 3 good things from the day.
Measuring the result after 2 weeks
I kept all the daily reflections in a google document so I also reflected briefly at the end of each week. This gave me a qualitative view of my progress.
There were a couple of self-reflection surveys that the course included. I scored myself on these at the beginning and end of the exercise. There was also a shift here, whether it was permanent or temporary.
Overall I noticed quite a shift, but I still have to turn things into a habit, so I guess that is my next step.
I think I will stick with these two simple goals for another couple of weeks before I improve anything else. When I do move to the next improvement I will go back to basics and design a new routine/intervention.
The approach worked really well for me. I think the use of a strength as a standard and thing to leverage worked and so did the ongoing focus of my attention.