Thursday, 28 July 2016

A journey from Ego to Selflessness in Elite Sport.

I have never given much thought to sports psychology; I will skip references to sport when they are introduced even by my favourite researcher,Adam Grant. It sometimes feels as if male positive psychology writers all conspire to introduce ‘soccer’ into any book.  I  do however appreciate the cross over with leadership across all areas and in the interest of expanding my knowledge attended a talk at the BPS in London by sports psychologist SteveSylvester.

Steve shared his personal journey on ego mountain and his discovery of the selfless route. He explored his career as both a  professional sportsman and psychologist to highlight the way in which his own ego challenged the success (and otherwise) of his career. He detailed of how he was able to trace the variations in his results by looking at his own ‘ME’ focus and how his research has continued to show a correlation between selflessness and winning across many sports.

Steve’s research methodology is time consuming and meticulous, he observes and listens to both individuals and teams, evidence gathering without judgement, before collecting data with in-depth interviews and group discussions. His qualitative research seems to produce rich layers of information at both micro and macro level; ideas that can be applied to individuals, teams and the culture of contemporary sports. His findings challenge the assumptions that in order to win we must be focused on beating others rather than being the best version of ourselves.  The line that kept occurring to me was ‘there is no I in team’. Looking through a PP lens many of his discoveries tally with concepts of flourishing, flow and mindfulness. I especially like his views on giving, they reflect Adam Grant’s work in showing that, contrary to popular expectations, when we ask how can I help rather than what can I get from this situation we create personal success as well as promoting collective success. In sports we expect the individual to be the centre of their universe; Steve’s work shows that when the motivation to be the best comes from a more collective mindset everyone wins. He told anecdotes about times when the difference between ‘about to fail’ and going on to win were attributable to an outward-looking mindset; the desire to be authentically your best for those you love or the team rather than forcing  a  ‘I must win or else’ approach.

Steve has developed simple steps to enable his research to be applied to all areas of life. Detox your EGO, is a straight forward approach to losing ‘What is it about for me?’ To becoming ‘What can I do for others?’

Takeaways for me last night include:
  • What do I avoid about myself?
  • Are my heart and mind aligned?
  • Am I having fun? Is everyday a Saturday?
  • Do I seek evidence that I am ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or am I able to just accept?
  • Can I tolerate ambiguity?
  • What’s going on below the surface?

My favourite insight from the evening is ‘How can I create a bright sunny internal climate when I perform?’  As a coach and practitioner I hope to generate environments in which my clients are able to flourish; in my own personal way of ‘being a coach’ rather than ‘coaching’ I want to lead others to shine. I want to lose my EGO and run naked with Balloons! (note to self :perhaps not whilst coaching.)

Steve has a vision of elite sports leaders who show us a new way to behave, to reflect positive personal selflessness that we can all model. His work with schools to teach children that you can be ‘nice and a winner’ is taking his research to the next generation of champions.  I was left last night with questions about applying this research to politics and leadership. Do female leaders find it easier to adapt these views to creating flourishing cultures? Are there studies exploring gender differences in selflessness, success and sports?  To what extent is a positive psychology sport coaching culture affecting the way that male dominated sports, such as football, are enabling men to explore their mental health and well-being? Can we as coaches use this research to encourage better ‘Mental Wealth’ in a population (men) that has been traditionally more resistant to self-reflection? And yes I am Aware that I have many gender stereotypes going on here but the views in the room last night appear to confirm that male sportsmen still feel that expressing emotions may make them look weak.

By his own admission Steve is still surprised that his research consistently uncovers the same results, I’m looking forward to seeing more real life evidence.  So how likely are we to see a culture of kindness in the premiere league this season? And what will this mean at Stamford Bridge? Can I look forward to more hugs and smiles at home games?

Find out more at:

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Collaboration,Community & Creativity: ECPP 2016 (Part 2)

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. My background is in the arts and I am still reflecting on why any ‘proper’ science department would have taken me on board to study for a master’s in Psychology.  So thank you, UEL, for taking that risk!

The ECPP 2016 was my first chance to experience the positive psychology world beyond UEL. I was expecting experiential happiness. I was looking for others to creatively collaborate with in order to feel I belonged in this community of ‘clever, proper scientists’.

As someone whose signature strengths include creativity and a love of beauty and excellence, I was looking for ways to explore these areas at  ECPP. At first glance, the programme didn’t seem to offer any such opportunity. Where was the art and creativity? The programme had two entries mentioning creativity: Sue Langley – who was using emotions intelligently to enhance creativity and innovation, and Auguste Dumouilla – whose poster was about creativity, emotion and well-being.

Due to the hectic nature of the conference, I didn’t get to Sue’s session or find Auguste’s poster. However, I did find plenty of creativity to celebrate in Angers:

  •  The conference centre was teaming with individuals expressing themselves through the way they dressed; so much research material for my flourishing fashion project and an Instagram feed on its own!

  • There was also a constant thread running through the keynotes I attended that in order for PP to evolve we need to look outside of the sciences and reach across to other disciplines; collaborations which harness divergent views to create original outcomes.

  •  Coaching Psychology and creativity: I attended a symposium on coaching and PP, perfect partners for systemic change in which all of the speakers expressed creativity in the manner they presented as well as the content.

  •  Illona Boniwell’s closing keynote called for ‘making PP tangible’ which to my ears was a shout out to arts, crafts and design to get involved.

My vision for interdisciplinary collaboration to form a positive psychology art community begins with the very spaces the science of PP already inhabits: universities. UEL is a centre for amazing arts education. I would love to see the Psychology Department  reaching out to the arts in order to create a bi-directional culture of sharing research and ideas. Art graduates would benefit from accessing the wellbeing interventions that applied PP has to offer. Stress levels of the staff could be reduced with individual PP coaching, perhaps using coaching students who had a particular interest in creative practises to offer lunchtime sessions.  

The architects could collaborate on ways to make environments of flourishing informed by PP research. Research for innovative ways to make PP concrete would be enhanced by designers who aren’t constrained by the boundaries of science.  Who better to take a complex concept and make it useable than artists? It’s what they do in every area of their work. And of course the fashion department could make collections that make us all happy!  

On my last afternoon, I explored Angers galleries with a friend; bonding over art is one of my favourite experiences. There is a very special connection that occurs when we share the feelings that surface when we encounter art. I have ‘coached’ whilst wondering in galleries, the impact of imagery on allowing creative ways to surface never ceases to amaze. That very personal end to my first PP conference shaped my overall impression of the event.

If the success, on an individual level, of a conference is making one contact and finding one piece of inspiration then ECPP 2016 exceeded that. I came away with so many ideas that it has taken me a month to filter them and make any sense of where they fit with my personal vision. (I am a percolator not a procrastinator!) I cemented existing connections and made new contacts with positive people from all over the world. I hope that in sharing my ideas about the conference on social media I will continue to form new associations that offer me opportunities to hear differing opinions and perspectives.

On the flight home – so full of positive people that the cabin was buzzing with energy – I chatted with Felicia Huppert. It’s always exciting when you can talk to one of your heroes,  I mentioned how well her dress had stood out at her keynote speech and the impact it had from the back of the auditorium. She replied: “that’s my happy dress, I wore it for a special birthday and it always makes me feel good.” I apologise for not asking if I can use the quote, Felicia, but the validation you gave my research made me feel as if there is a place for me in Positive Psychology. Perhaps fashion and PP is the perfect fusion.

I went to Angers looking for the three ‘C’s: collaboration, community and creativity; I found them.

For more inspiration on links between art and well-being: 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

10 transformative takeaways from ECPP 2016 (Part 1)

        1.  Lisa Vivoll Straume (MIND)  - Toolkit Strength Based Development Workshop

I learnt:  i) How to map my own strength quadrant.         
               ii) The importance of individual strengths when building a team
               ii) The power of Table Top and Simulations to create solutions.

I felt:      Elated. Inspired. Energised.  

I will:       Take care not to overuse my core strengths and to pay attention when my ‘allergy’ strengths are activated so I pause and respond rather than react.

Want to know more?    MIND

Straume, L. V. & Vittersø, J. (2015). Well-being at work: Some differences between life satisfaction and personal growth as predictors of subjective health and sick-leave. Journal of Happiness Studies. 16, 149-168. doi:10.1007/s10902-014-9502-y

Straume, L.V., (2015). "Leadership development in positive psychology: Practical methods for balancing the use of core values and strengths» Symposium presentation at the EAWOP Conference, Oslo: May 22

Kvernmo, A. (2015). Symposium "Magic Moments. Strength-spotting in value-oriented leadership development» Symposium presentation at the EAWOP Conference, Oslo: May 22, 2015

     2James Pawleski- What is positive psychology? The importance of Theory for Research and Practice.

I learnt:  i) Work is still needed to clarify the core concepts of PP and communicate them more effectively.
                 ii) I can give you a RED cape which will let you stop “bad” things. Or I can give you a GREEN cape which will let you grow good” things. Which cape will you choose?
                ii) Fractal flourishing holds out for the well-being of individuals and groups, valuing happiness in the short-term and in the long-term. This   approach  works both locally and globally.

I felt:      uplifted that the positive in PP is still relevant.  

I will:       Always pack a reversible cape.

Want to know more? James Pawleski

     3.  Bob Vallerand  It's about time: The role of passion in adaptive self process.

I learnt:  i) Harmonious passion is good for us.
                 ii) Optimal functioning is temporal.
                iii) The highest level of well-being is achieved with a positive present state combined with a positive/resolved past and an optimistic future.

I felt:      passionate…. All-be-it with a touch of obsession.

I will:       Take a positive outlook on time and combine it with harmonious passion in order to achieve optimum psychological well-being.

Want to know more? 

    4. Barbara Frederickson Why Prioritize Positivity?

I learnt:  i) Prioritizing positivity can trigger upward spirals of lifestyle change and the development of harmonious passion.
                 ii) Individuals who seek positivity, with decisions about how to organize their day-to-day lives, may be happier than those who don’t.
                ii) Studies suggest that seeking happiness, although a balancing act, is a worthwhile pursuit. 

I felt:      Absorbed and engaged…And also a little bit awed (bit of a crush going on I think!)

I will:       Set aside time each day for feel good activities which are as vital to my wellbeing as exercise, nutrition and sleep.

     5.  Mohsen Fatemi -Positive Psychology and Psychology of Possibility 

I learnt:  i) Infinite possibilities unfold themselves in emergent modes of mindfulness.
                 ii) Langerian psychology of possibility concentrates on what can be.
                iii) Only one participant is needed to substantiate that something is possible.

I felt:      Validated for  wanting qualitative research, most especially IPA, to be more prevalent in PP.

I will:       Notice new things. Live proactively in the moment. Be sensitive towards context. Celebrate multiple perspectives.

     6.  Neil Garret how the brain forms optimistic beliefs

I learnt:  i) People incorporate good news into their existing beliefs in a normative manner but they discount bad news leading to optimistically biased beliefs.
                 ii) This asymmetry fluctuates in response to changes in the environment in a way that may be adaptive.
               iii)  Balanced variation in this is more likely to be observed in depression and middle age.

I felt:      Not clever enough to be a doing a science masters!  

I will:       Adjust my beliefs in response to external information with more consideration.

     7. Felicia Huppert  What makes people flourish? 

I learnt:  i) The real reason well-being matters is that well-being is an end in itself – an ultimate good.
                 ii) The skills of attention, emotion regulation, and self-compassion all underpin flourishing.
                ii) Mindfulness is the key to unlocking these skills.

 I felt:      Mindful. Kindful. And amazed at the fact that Felicia’s dress was such a good choice as it created an impact even from the very back of the auditorium.  

I will:      Continue to be mindful.

8. Neil Thin - Aspirational social planning: beyond social problems and living standards.

I learnt:  i) Good minds need good societies.           
                 ii) The importance of  social transformations required to support individual flourishing.
                ii) A cross –disciplinary approach is needed to find innovative ways to inform public policy in bringing about the changes necessary for great societies.  

I felt:      Elated. Inspired. Energised.  

I will:       Take small steps to collaborate with others to find ways to make our environments more conducive to well-being.

    9. Coaching psychology and positive psychology – perfect partners.  Symposium.  Stephen Palmer,  Suzy Green & Ilona Boniwell

I learnt:  i) there is no ‘I’ in team.           
                 ii) You can take the psychology out of coaching but not the psychology out of coaching psychology.
                iii) Problem Island can be transformed into the solution island with the right  coaching questions.
                 iv) Creating a positive culture fits naturally with coaching.
                v) Happiness bubbles exist.

I felt:      In the right Room, at the right time with the right people.

I will:       Not groan (GROWn) when I use the GROW model yet again.
               Create my own ‘dashboard’
               Not be embarrassed about being creative with PP; its OK to embrace my deviant thinking…being original can be an asset in this field.

Want to know more? 

10. Ilona Boniwell –  Positive Education :making positive psychology tangible

I learnt:  i) THINKERING – Think + tinker : the creation and understanding of concepts in the mind while tinkering with the hands.  
                 ii) ‘Hands on thinking’ – purpose, framing, sharing, exploring, combining.      
     ii) “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” Plato

 I felt:      Delighted to be part of this ‘family’ of PP. Sad that this was the end of my first experience of a PP conference. Positive that we can make a difference by applying this science stuff with creativity, originality and flair.

I will:       Take my new found confidence ( I wouldn’t have dreamt that I could be so brave as to ask the closing question!) into my life.

Want to know more?