This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine February 2016 Vol 43 No 2, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development. We all desire to be successful but what should you focus on to perform at your peak? The good news is research has identified a number of activities you can do to be fully engaged and flourish at work. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of what makes a person flourish or function at their optimal level. It emphasises the importance of nurturing what is best within us, rather than purely concentrating on fixing weaknesses. Tapping into evidence-based activities from the field of positive psychology can help individuals reach their full potential and develop skills that enhance engagement. But let’s first understand the theory before recommending development activities to implement.
Martin Seligman provides a wellbeing framework called PERMA that identifies five building blocks essential to developing wellbeing to help us perform at our peak. These include positive emotion; engagement; relationships; meaning and purpose and accomplishment. We can incorporate the framework into our lives by:
experiencing positive emotions,
undertaking engaging activities by tapping into our strengths,
building strong relationships,
belonging and connecting to have a sense of purpose and meaning and
Build positivity to be resilient
Research (Fredrickson, 2009) has identified that positive emotions help the brain perform at its best. Our performance is lower when our brain thinks negatively or even neutral, compared to when it’s positive. Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory, suggests when you experience more positive emotions than negative emotions, you broaden your outlook and see new possibilities. Seeking out the positives in your day increases creativity, innovative thinking and adaptability. Positive experiences help you develop a bank of resources to draw upon when facing challenges, making it easier to bounce back.
Play to your strengths to build engagement
Gallup (Sorenson, 2014), discovered that greater gains will occur if an individual concentrates on improving their strengths in comparison to solely concentrating on fixing their weaknesses. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job and teams that focus on their strengths are 12.5% more productive. Individuals can use strengths surveys such as StrengthsFinder, the Values in Action or Realise2. Managers and teams can identify team strengths then build a more mature approach to best apply strengths at work, spot them in others and appropriately dial up or down strengths in specific situations to maximise engagement and team performance.
Build strong relationships
Developing skills to be compassionate and show empathy to others will help build stronger connections. Develop skills to express gratitude in the workplace, demonstrate kindness and respond positively by giving active constructive responses (Gable, 2004) that builds trusting relationships.
Find more meaning at work
People who belong to a community and pursue shared goals are happier than people who don’t (Hansen & Keltner, 2013). We boost our wellbeing if we believe we are using our skills and effort for good so identify the difference your efforts make to the team, company success and the end customer’s experience.
Give positive feedback and celebrate achievement
Working toward clearly defined goals and having aspirations helps us anticipate and build hope for the future. When we achieve success, it makes us feel more confident and optimistic about future attempts. Shane Lopez discovered that hope is a leading indicator of success in relationships and careers and can help us recover quickly from setbacks and continue to perform well. Managers who actively provide genuine and positive feedback motivate and encourage workers to persevere and keep working towards future goals.
Invest in your physical health
Other researchers suggest we add a physical health element to Seligman’s PERMA wellbeing model. In his book, Eat Move Sleep, Rath believes that taking care of your physical health by eating well, moving regularly and sleeping adequately are also required to perform well at work. Just like a good engine, you need all cylinders to be firing to perform at peak performance.These wellbeing pillars form a solid scientific foundation upon which we can help others develop skills to flourish at work which leads to successful performance. As learning and development professionals, we have the wonderful privilege to make a difference to others. We help individuals and teams realise their growth potential and support them to be the best version of themselves. We can actively influence organisations to focus on developing the strengths of their employees to cultivate positive teams to enhance the wellbeing of workers, improve employee engagement and gain productivity and profitability gains.
Fredrickson, B., 2009, Positivity, Three Rivers Press CA.Fredrickson, B.L., 2001, The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The Broaden and build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist, 56(3), p.218.Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A. and Asher, E.R., 2004, ‘What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events’ Journal of personality and social psychology, 87(2), p.228.Hansen, M. and Keltner, D., 2013, “Eight Ways to Find More Meaning at Work”, Greater Good Science Center. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_ways_to_find_more_meaning_ workLopez, S.J., 2013, Making hope happen: Create the future you want for yourself and others, Simon and Schuster, New York.Rath, T., 2013, Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. Missionday, LLC.Seligman, M.E., 2012, Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being, Simon and Schuster, New York.Sorenson S, 2014, ‘How Employees’ Strengths Make Your Company Stronger’, Gallup Business Journal, http://www.gallup.com/ businessjournal/167462/employees-strengthscompany-stronger.aspx
Marcia Ryan designs and delivers training programs that provide practical ways for organisations to create positive change. She applies proven methods learned in her Masters of Applied Positive Psychology and has learning and development experience across various organisations. Contact via WellbeingWorks