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Your Recipe for a Happy 2019

Posted by Julia Stewart

Happy 2019

Each new year invites dreams for the future, goals to achieve, and evokes our desires for happiness.

Here's a secret about all that...

There is only one goal.

Every goal you have is a stand in for the one universal goal of happiness...

As the Buddha said, 2500 years ago, all beings just want to be happy and avoid suffering.

We have dreams and goals because we believe they will help us be happy and avoid suffering. Sometimes we have dreams and goals for others because we love them and want them to be happy and avoid suffering. But if we're honest, seeing our loved ones happy makes us happy, too.

Here's the thing...

Reaching goals doesn't make us happy. Sometimes we suffer to get things that leave us feeling disappointed. Other times we're happy when we reach our dreams but only for a short while. Psychologists tell us we over-estimate how happy we'll be when we reach our goals. One researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, has even averaged out how long we're likely to feel happier upon reaching various goals. Buy a new car? You may feel happier for three months. Marry your sweetheart? Two years. Most other goals offer happiness for much shorter time periods. After that, we go back to our "happiness set point" aka "resting dissatisfaction level".

Fortunately, we now know better ways to raise happiness levels sustainably and here they are...

As a positive psychology and neuroscience coach, I help people become happier, reach goals, and flourish. The ingredients I use may surprise you. To create a personalized recipe for your own happiness in 2019, choose three of the ingredients listed below and commit to trying it out. See what happens. Keep practicing. Some ingredients are designed to be used daily, some weekly, some only occasionally. You get to customize your happiness recipe for 2019...

1. Gratitude. Are you an appreciator or a complainer? It's okay to grouse a little; it can help blow off some negative steam, but overdo it and it can pull down your happiness level and the happiness of those around you. Try appreciating more, even the stuff that's not so great. Difficulties, for instance, can be re-framed into opportunities, learning experiences, and endings that make room for new beginnings. Develop gratitude into a habit and it may become an enduring strength. I used to be a chronic complainer and I was pretty unhappy. Now gratitude is one of my greatest strengths and I'm happy most of the time. Try these...

  • Daily practice: Three Good Things. According to researcher Robert Emmons, practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful tools for raising happiness. At the end of each day reflect on three good things that happened. Did you help them come about? Thank yourself for that. Did someone else contribute? Thank them tomorrow. Many people find writing down three good things is especially helpful, but even just thinking about them works. I like meditating at night and I start by spending a few minutes appreciating at least three good things. If you pray, you may want to thank God for the good you've received. Why does this work? It primes your brain to notice the good. Most brains naturally notice what's wrong more than what's right, but we can train ourselves to think more positively. We seem to get more of what we notice, so this can set us up for future happiness, as well.
  • Weekly practice: Gratitude Journal. Choose one day per week when you sit down and write a paragraph about each thing you most appreciate in your life. Put your heart into it. If you treat this as just another to-do it will have little benefit, but if you take a deep dive into what really matters and how grateful you are to have it, allowing yourself to really feel it, this practice will enrich your life immensely. I recommend getting a beautiful journal and hand writing in it. Whenever you need a happiness boost, read through your journal entries and you will naturally re-experience the positive feelings you had when you wrote about them.
  • Occasional practice: Gratitude Visit. This practice, designed by the Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, is perhaps the most profound. Think of someone who has made a real difference in your life, but whom you never fully thanked. It could be a teacher, parent, friend. They may have no idea what a difference they've made. Write a letter to them about it. Tell them in detail how they made a positive difference in your life and what the results have been. Now, if you possibly can, deliver your letter in person and read it aloud to them, making frequent eye contact. Research shows this practice boosts happiness levels even six months afterward for both the writer and the receiver.

2. Be Kind. Kindness to others also raises happiness in ourselves and others. We feel good about helping others especially if we can let go of the desire to be thanked or recognized for it. That said, learning to recognize kindness in ourselves and others and acknowledging it goes a long way toward hard-wiring this positive habit.

  • Daily Practice: Do one unexpected kindness each day and try not to get caught at it. Make it a fun game. You'll start noticing many opportunities to be more kind. Consider using your personal strengths for this. One person may be great at doing favors, another might be a wonderful listener. Still another may know when to give someone more privacy. Be careful about imposing acts of kindness on others. It's only kind if they truly benefit from it. The only aspect of kindness that's about you is the good feeling you get to have as a result. Never attain that good feeling at someone else's expense. Keep score in your gratitude journal. Note how you feel about what you did.
  • Weekly Practice: Track acts of kindness in your journal. Read your journal entries about your acts of kindness for a boost any time you're not feeling good about yourself. Also make note of acts of kindness you observe in others, whether you are the beneficiary or someone else is. When my mother had to be admitted to a nursing home, my first reaction to the place was how depressing it was. But when I began noticing the constant acts of kindness performed by the nurses and aids toward my mother, myself, and other members of my family, my experience transformed. I began to feel honored and grateful to be surrounded by so much kindness and I made a point of acknowledging the staff for it, which made their days happier, too.
  • Occasional Practice: Experience Awe. According to researcher, Dacher Keltner, when people experience awe, which can come about via witnessing natural beauty, human achievements, or spiritual wonder, people spontaneously engage in acts of kindness right afterward. I've experienced this at spiritual retreats, walks in the woods, especially when wild animals appear, going to the top of extremely tall buildings, flying over the Grand Canyon, watching a total eclipse of the sun, experiencing great art, and watching hot-air balloon races. Prime your brain for the extraordinary and let the extraordinary in you spontaneously blossom. You and those around you are likely to receive a happiness boost.

3. Practice Mindfulness. Being mindful is about learning to be present. Like gratitude and kindness, this can be strengthened into a habit and even become one of your greatest strengths. The benefits include actually experiencing your life while it's happening. The cost to not being present is you miss out on everything or feel empty even when life is good. That's a pity.

  • Daily Practice: Use mindless activities to be mind-full. Choose between one and three activities that you do daily but may not really be present for. I often use walking my dog, doing dishes by hand, or eating alone for this because none of these require difficulty or much thought. If you're accustomed to distracting yourself with your phone, tablet, computer, or TV, turn it off during these times. Keep yourself present by noticing information coming to you from all your five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Once you've done that, ask yourself what about this moment you are grateful for. Then look for the opportunity to be kind. Consider following through on that and acknowledge yourself for being present, grateful, and kind.
  • Weekly Practice: Make at least one conversation per week all about the other person. Listen without formulating a response. If the person is going through something difficult, resist the urge to fix it or give advice. Be curious instead. Ask deeper questions. Notice what feelings come up for you. Notice the other person's feelings. Acknowledge their feelings. Notice how this impacts the conversation and even your relationship with this person.
  • Occasional Practice: When difficult situations or conflicts occur, instead of reacting with your usual feelings, count ten breaths first and imagine yourself calm and centered. Let the urge to feel victimized or guilty, or to blame others and resist, fall away, if possible. Then from this relaxed and centered place, choose the best response for all. You'll likely create better outcomes and less suffering.

These are three of the most powerful ingredients for happiness, but you can design many more, yourself.

Savor good experiences for up to 30 seconds, for instance, and you're more likely to develop a happier brain over time. And what about goals and dreams? It's good to have them and to reach them, because they offer meaning and purpose, which are additional ingredients of happiness. Just put them in perspective because they often fail to increase your happiness and reduce your suffering for very long.

Put together three or more ingredients for a happy 2019, notice how they "taste" to you and adjust the mixture as needed. And practice. That's the other secret. Keep practicing and you can raise your happiness over the long term.

To boost your happiness even more, share these ingredients and your journey toward greater happiness with a friend, colleague or client because sharing happiness makes it even sweeter. Be the one who lifts spirits just by being you and have a "happy new year" every year.

Want to learn more?

Our Certified Positive Psychology Coach® and Certified Neuroscience Coach programs go far deeper into the science of happiness, success, and flourishing. Use the tools in your own life and help others have greater lives. It's fun and well-paid. Or just add an important new skill set to your resume.

Learn more, download a free eBook, take just one module, or jump into a fabulous new career.

Click below to get started:

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Topics: gratitude, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, mindfulness, happiness,, certified neuroscience coach

5 Great Ways to Show Love This Mother's Day That Don't Cost a Thing

Posted by Julia Stewart

Gratitude Asknowledgment Relationship friendship mother daughter dog walking

Here's what NOT to do on Mother's Day:

  • Spend hours waiting for a restaurant table so you can buy Mom an over-priced brunch. I used to live in a neighborhood full of restaurants that were extremely popular on Mother's Day. I remember the carloads of families stuck in traffic with everyone staring straight forward, furious. Nobody wants that.
  • Call her up and talk about trivial stuff like, "How's your water aerobics class going?" Seriously.
  • Send a card. Or flowers. Or an expensive gift. Unless that's what she really wants, you can do better. And you'll feel much better about it when you apply some of the ideas below...

What's the best way to entertain Mom on Mother's Day? 

  1. Ask her. She may not tell you, at first, so keep asking. Or maybe she's been telling you all along and you haven't been listening. When you ask what she wants, does she say, "I just want you." or "I want to spend time with you and the kids?" My son-in-law takes his mother fishing every Mother's Day. That's  something they both like to do and they look forward to it. What's something your mom enjoys doing that you could spend a few hours doing with her? 
  2. Put arguments aside. Every family has its designated disagreements. Mother's Day could be a day of truce. That means frowns, sighs, grumbles and other grumpy habits can be left at home, if you choose. Show up with kindness, instead. Researchers say kindness is one of the most direct pathways to happiness, anyway.
  3. Shift your thinking. What if Mother's Day wasn't an obligation? What if it's something you GET to do? My mother had Alzheimers for years before she passed. I used to take her for drives in the country to get icecream at an antique shop. She would thank me for doing it and I would spend time appreciating that I could do something meaningful for her that was easy and pleasant and that she wouldn't be around forever. Eventually, she couldn't go for rides, anymore, but I could wheel her out to the garden and she would say things like, "Oh, the sun feels so good on my face." Was I bored sometimes? Yes. Do I enjoy reflecting on those moments now, years later? You bet. Older people's lives are often simpler and they tend to appreciate small gestures. As Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
  4. Practice a little gratitude. As another pathway to happiness, gratitude can shift everything. Literally, people find their lives go better when they spend time appreciating what they already have. As Tal Ben Shahar says, "What you appreciate, appreciates." Your Mom's probably not perfect. (Mine wasn't.) But I'm pretty sure she did a lot for you and saying thanks doesn't have to be awkward. While you're spending some time with her, reminisce about something that happened and how she helped you. End it with, "That made all the difference." She'll know what you mean.
  5. Practice Love 2.0. Western society burdens the word, "love", with too many meanings. And we destroy our relationships by hanging on to disappointments and trying to get people to be different. Love 2.0 is just shared moments of positivity. It can heal broken relationships and enhance good ones. Regard your mom with a little lovingkindness on Mother's Day and anyday, because we change according to what we do regularly and often other people show up differently because we are different. Even if you can only sustain lovingkindness for a couple of seconds, at first, if you practice it regularly, you'll eventually be able to do it for hours and with anyone you choose. Then life will be filled with meaning, instead of empty gestures, because you've filled it with warmth.

Most people who read this blog are interested in positive psychology or in becoming coaches. That's where many of the ideas for this post came from. If you're maybe interested in becoming a positive psychology coach, I invite you to download the free Become a Positive Psychology Coach eBook, below. Or just subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner.

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Topics: gratitude, Positive Psychology, love 2.0, become a positive psychology coach

Neuroplasticity Coach: How Brain States Become Enduring Traits

Posted by Julia Stewart

neuroplasticity coaching

Lately I've been reading the excellent book, Altered Traits, by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, two giants in the fields of emotional intelligence and  neuroplasticity.

If you're a neuroscience geek, like me, you may enjoy reading all about the research, but if you're just curious, here's the lowdown, plus the connection with coaching.

They wanted to set the record straight about research into neuroplasticity, meditation, mindfulness, and how states developed via positive practices can, over time, become enduring traits.They're concerned about the hype that surrounds these popular topics, especially mindfulness, because it's so trendy right now, and they share what science really knows about tools that change the brain instantly, and over time, sustainably, leading to greater happiness, equanimity, resourcefulness, and transformation.

States are temporary changes in the brain that impact how we think, feel, and act. They are an important driver of human experiences, relationships, well-being, and success.

Brain states can be measured in a variety of ways, such as fMRI imaging of blood flow to various parts of the brain, EEG measurements of brainwave patterns, or measurement of neurotransmitters present in the brain; to name three. They also can be measured indirectly via observance of behaviors or via self-reports by subjects, but this is more the realm of psychology, specifically positive psychology.

States are fleeting. We may not always notice when our brains change states, but trained observers, such as coaches, often can witness these changes. States can be positive or negative, which are generally categorized by how pleasant or unpleasant they feel, how likely they are to promote behavior that results in desired outcomes, and how they may promote wellness or pathology.

Many so-called positive states are pleasant, promote desired behavioral outcomes, and can result in greater health.

Skilled coaches help alter their clients' states in virtually every coaching session. Our main objective is to move the client from a less resourceful to more resourceful state and take advantage of that greater resourcefulness to plan strategies and actions that can promote desired change.

It's pretty profound that coaches can alter their client's brain states, but truth is, we all alter the brain states of others' without even knowing it, often with undesirable consequences. Coaching amounts to communication that leads to positive, or desirable, outcomes for the person being coached, because they are, temporarily at least, more open, more solution oriented, more optimistic, more creative, and more resourceful.

How are traits different from states?

Traits develop over time when someone repeats the same thoughts, emotions, memories, habits, and behaviors. The brain actually changes physically as a result, because the neurons involved strengthen their connections every time the thought is repeated.

As the famous saying goes, by neuropsychologist, Donald Hebb, "Neurons that fire together, wire together."

For example, if you live a stressful life, and especially if you worry and ruminate about what stresses you, the neurons in your amygdala, called "the brain's alarm bell" by neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, will strengthen their bonds and over time, will cause that structure to enlarge. The downstream results could include more stress, more worry and rumination, and perhaps behaviors that make things worse rather than better.

Neuroplasticity can go the other way, too. Positive practices, such as mediation, mindfulness, appreciation, shared warmth, and many others, seem to have a cascading effect on the brain and resulting behaviors, over time. Theoretically, coaching and being coached, as well as following through on many coaching exercises, such as journaling, practicing gratitude or mindfulness, or even following through on resourceful actions and developing new positive habits, can make enduring changes. The new becomes the default.

So there you have the connection between states, traits, neuroplasticity and coaching.

If you'd like to learn much more about these topics, consider taking the Intro to Coaching with Neuroscience course that is coming soon, or even join the new Certified Neuroscience Coach Program. 

Check it out here and download the Fact Sheet:

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Topics: gratitude, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, coaching with neuroscience, mindfulness, Neuroplasticity, positive psychology coach training, become a positive psychology coach

Positive Psychology Coaching: How the Solar Eclipse Can Transform You

Posted by Julia Stewart

Solar Eclipse by Tim Ebbs.jpg

If you live in North America, you know today is the day of the coast-to-coast solar eclipse. And if you're in the path of the totality, that's pretty exciting. Since ancient times, the eclipse of the sun has been seen as harbinger of change. Whether that be turmoil, doom and gloom, or lasting peace, the eclipse is when big things were supposed to happen. Today, we know what to expect from above AND we can CHOOSE what to change down below. How?

Positive psychology offers clues on how the total solar eclipse can help transform us. Where ever you are, follow these coaching tips to use today's eclipse of the sun to begin all over again.

3 Ways the Solar Eclipse Can Spark Your Transformation:

1. AWE. According to positive psychology researcher, Dacher Keltner, the experience of awe changes us, immediately. Awe occurs when we're confronted by something incomprehensibly huge, something incredibly beautiful, or something terrifying. A total solar eclipse can be all three. It's the direct experience of three massive celestial bodies (the ones that matter most to life on Earth) behaving bizarrely, by blotting out the Sun's rays, without which, all life on Earth will die.

No biggy, right? You know the Sun's coming back in a minute. But that won't stop your fight-or-flight response from kicking in during totality. The hair on the back of your neck may stand up as you experience what your intuition says is all wrong. Your brain's error detection system will tell you something BIG is out of order, and if you're within hearing distance, the howling of dogs, and other disturbed Earthlings, will confirm your worst fears. But at the same time, it's so BEAUTIFUL: stars come out; planets may be visible, you might even notice a 360 degree "sunset" on the horizon. People who travel across the world to see eclipses, called "shadow chasers", say the total eclipse of the sun is the most awe-inspiring experience a human being can have.

How does awe change us? According to research, people who've just experienced awe behave differently. They are kinder and more generous to strangers, and feel closer to loved ones, perhaps because they realize how small each of us is and that we're all in this thing called, life, together. That's nice for others, but may matter much, much more to you: because when you're kinder and more generous, without expecting anything in return, you start enjoying more happiness and good things come seem to come to you more easily. A minute or two of creepy darkness, and awe-inspiring celestial alignment, may well be worth the extra happiness and success you can enjoy for the rest of your life.

Even though kindness may seem commonplace (if you've been fortunate), it's one of the most powerfully transformative tools for creating greater joy, wellbeing, success, and good health for yourself, and since happiness is contagious, you'll be helping others be happier, just by your presence. 

Coaching Tip: Later in the day, when you're alone, spend up to 30 seconds recreating the emotions you experienced during and after the eclipse. Use all your senses as you remember the details of your experience. Called "savoring", this technique helps strengthen the neural connections that make transformation sustainable. Do this everyday for a month to maximize the effect and intentionally increase your kindness and generosity to others. Your life will transform.

2. PEAK EXPERIENCE: Similar to awe, the peak experience is intense and transformative. Some people try to induce it via extreme sports, because wildly dangerous experiences help them feel fully alive. But peak experiences are helpful another way: They shake up your sense of "me-ness" and push you out of your usual conditioned responses, if only for a few moments. That's scary, but also exhilarating. In the moments that follow, people often solve problems that have vexed them and come up with innovative ideas. If you're a business owner, artist, or anyone who needs creative solutions to life, peak experiences are everything. You can induce one by jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, but fortunately, the total eclipse provides us with a similarly mind-bending, awe-inspiring, frighteningly overwhelming event without actually threatening our lives.

Coaching Tip: Got a big problem or need a huge idea for your business? Right after the total eclipse may be the perfect time for you to discover the solutions, while your brain is temporarily scrambled  from that super weird experience.

Ask yourself these questions immediately after the totality: What needs to change from now on? What's one way you'll be different from this moment forward? What's the first step you'll take, to make that real, within the next 24 hours? Or sit down as soon as you can, with pen and paper, and brainstorm new ideas. Get crazy (that'll be easier than usual). You may just discover the answers you need. Don't forget to act on them to make them real!

3. GRATITUDE: After two minutes of irrational fear, you'll be GLAD when the sun comes back out. Notice how everyone laughs and giggles with relief. Thank the Universe that this was "just a test". The Sun's not really going away; it'll be back tomorrow, as usual.

Coaching Tip: Just after the eclipse, chat with the folks around you about how thankful you are for Nature and that you just got to experience this relatively rare event. Or when you're alone, list 3-10 things you appreciate most about Nature and for each one, spend 10 seconds savoring your gratitude. It's important to really feel it. You don't have to do this everyday, but it's a good idea to spend some time once per week, or so, thinking and feeling what you're grateful for on a deep, heartfelt level.

And if you need help, get out into Nature regularly, because it's incredible even on "normal" days. In fact, psychologists theorize that the current rise in depression is largely caused by our addiction to screens and our artificial lifestyles. We evolved to experience Nature everyday and we literally need it. Perhaps the greatest boon from the eclipse is that it gets millions of us outside.

Gratitude, like kindness, is one of the most potent ingredients in a flourishing life. You can experience it any time you want. When you do, happiness becomes your default, while anger, sadness, blame, and judgment all evaporate. Practice gratitude on a heartfelt level whenever you can and your life will be more peaceful and serene. And people who appreciate their lives always seem to get more of what they appreciate!

So get ready for a life-altering event. And make the intention to transform your life, and perhaps the lives of others, using the eclipse and a few easy tools.

And if living a life of joy and transformation is what you're built for, why not become a positive psychology coach? The Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program gives you tools to upgrade your life and business and the power to help others do the same. Plus, starting this Fall, The Fully Alive with Positive Psychology Program is included, at no extra charge. You'll have tools like the ones in this post to help your clients flourish. And if you join by the end of this month, you can save on the Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program and still get the Fully Alive program in the Fall. Win-win-win.

Go here for information about the Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program:

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Topics: gratitude, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Positive Psychology, transformative conversations, Fully Alive, positive psychology coach

How to Put Gratitude to Work in Your Life

Posted by Julia Stewart

Express Gratitude JFK Quote by Brainy Quote.jpg

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, or National Gratitude Day, as I like to call it.

We talk about practicing gratitude as if it is nothing but a nice thought, word, or feeling; a pleasant way to practice mindfulness. But it is much more than that. Gratitude is also a way of life. It's way more powerful when you live it, rather than just list it.

We have many years of research from positive psychology giants such as Robert Emmons, Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Dacher Keltner.

Positive Psychology researchers have fine tuned what we understand about the power of gratitude.

We know, as a result, that gratitude practices are among the most powerful in shifting a life from languishing to flourishing. But not every gratitude practice is created equal. Habitually listing what you are grateful for everyday turns out to NOT be the the most effective way to express gratitude.

However, living your appreciation for what you have been given by your family, community, and country is powerful for you as well as for all those around you.

Don't settle just for wellbeing; create the magnificent life that is meant for you and others.

As the beloved American President, John F. Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

What would it mean for you to live by your gratitude? How would your life change? How will you change the lives of others?

Here are a few ways I try to do this:

  • I was blessed with a great Mom. She gave me the gift of knowing, beyond doubt, that I was unconditionally loved from the very beginning. It's something that can never be taken away. She loved all children and loved giving to a particular charity called, the Smile Train, that uses virtually all of its donations to repair cleft palates for impoverished children, who will be bullied at school, or kept home because of their appearance, and may never find a job or spouse. She felt blessed to be able to change the lives of little ones. Now that she's gone, I give to this charity in her name, knowing that I am truly making a difference. It feels wonderful and it is wonderful for many others, as well.
  • I was also blessed to be a student of the late, Thomas Leonard, who was known for his integrity and generosity in establishing coaching as a genuine profession. I pay it forward by teaching his principles to my students and by helping to move the profession forward by incorporating the latest research in positive psychology, neuroscience, and emotional intelligence into the coaching tools we use. Experience early Thomas Leonard with the free ecourse based on his original writings about the Principles of Attraction.
  • And I'm am continually blessed by the incredible caliber of the coaching students, volunteers, and staff at School of Coaching Mastery. They are the true pioneers of positive psychology coaching. Their success means the success of many others who come in contact with them. I frequently thank them by adding new content, resources, and benefits to the Certified Positive Psychology Coach program.
  • And of course, I'm blessed by the over 20,000 readers who visit this blog every month. I try to include useful content in my posts and in the posts of our talented guest writers. To you, I want to say thanks today, by offering you a discount coupon good until the end of this year, for $100USD off any course or coach training program. That's more than 50% off the Best Practices mini-course. Plus, the keystone course of our positive psychology coaching around the "strange attractors" (a.k.a. the little things that make a big difference), Coaching Values, Needs, and Strengths, begins this coming Monday.

Use this code to save $100USD: Gratitude2016

Save $100 on a Course with Code: Gratitude2016

Topics: gratitude, Thomas Leonard, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, positive psychology coaching

Positive Psychology Coaching: 10 Amazing Discoveries About Gratitude

Posted by Julia Stewart

Gratitude coaching

Practicing gratitude, or appreciation, is a classic tool in positive psychology coaching. It's not every coaching client's cup of tea, but for those who are willing, or eager, gratitude pays handsomely. And the following ten discoveries about gratitude may help influence a skeptical client. All are well researched.

  1. What you appreciate appreciates. This one from positive psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar, is a teaching mnemonic based on years of research. Apparently, the more grateful you feel for something, the more of it you'll likely get. Example: let's say you're about to pass the 2-year mark with your new marriage, when your happiness "marriage boost" may expire, like most other newlyweds'. However, you're smart enough to take a few moments everyday to remind yourself what you appreciate about your spouse and to share that with him/her. Guess what? You have a much better chance of staying happily married!
  2. Gratitude needs to be heartfelt. Like many women in America, I started a gratitude journal back in the nineties, because Oprah guaranteed it would make me happier. I kept at it for years and, although I thought it was well worth my time, I didn't get dramatically happier. Now I know why: as positive psychology researcher, Barbara Fredrickson says, in order for gratitude to have full effect, it must be heartfelt - everytime. I made the mistake of turning my gratitude journal into a habit and missed some of the benefits. Read on for ways to make your gratitude practice heartfelt over the long-haul.
  3. Gratitude promotes savoring. This discovery and the seven that follow can be found in positive psychologist Sonia Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness and it uses a neuroplasticity tool, called savoring, which is basically slowing down and experiencing something fully. When we take a few moments to savor, we create more extensive neural nets in our brains and that causes sustainable change. You can use your mind to change your brain - and your life - for good. Read to the bottom for an example of how I used gratitude and savoring to give myself a profound happiness boost.
  4. Gratitude promotes self-worth and self-esteem. Your brain, like everyone's, has a negativity bias, that likely kept your ancestors alive back when they still slept in trees. But in today's world, most of us can afford to focus most of the time on the positive. When we're grateful for the ways others have helped us, we actually feel better - more confident and capable - about ourselves, as a result.
  5. Gratitude helps you cope with stress and trauma. About one quarter of us (myself included) are genetically predisposed toward depression after bouts of high stress. We can obsessively try to control our environments, so we never get stressed (good luck with that), or we can find better ways to cope with stress. In fact, the Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, has been working with US Armed Forces (they have a huge Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder problem) to promote Post-Traumatic Growth. Gratitude can be a handy tool for handling difficult times with resilience and can help reduce pathology, as a result.
  6. Grateful people tend to be good people. Gratitude promotes moral behaviors, such as helping others, giving more generously, volunteering, being fair and compassionate, and generally caring more about the welfare of others. It even helps us be less materialistic, helping to break what chains us to the rat race.
  7. Gratitude strengthens relationships. People who practice gratitude tend to have more harmonious relationships, both personally and professionally. And a large and varied network of engaged relationships boosts our resilience and success.
  8. Grateful people are less likely to compare others. All great coaches know that comparing others just limits them and comparing ourselves to others is a fool's game. Practice gratitude and you'll find it easier to appreciate everyone - yourself included - on their own merits.
  9. Gratitude reduces negativity. Emotions like anger, fear, sadness, envy, worry and more tend to take a hike while you're practicing gratitude, because you just can't feel heartfelt gratitude and feel bad at the same time. And what you practice daily becomes your habit. Practice the habits you want to have.
  10. Gratitude thwarts "hedonic adaptation". That's a fancy term for something you already knew about: humans tend to get used to pretty much everything. So helping your clients get what they want can make them happy briefly, but helping them appreciate what they have can boost their happiness forever.
Here's a suggestion for how to boost your appreciation and get more of what you want - and stay happy with it. Every night before bed, I meditate on Three Good Things that happened that day. This is a classic positive psychology exercise that's been shown to significantly boost happiness levels.

 

Basically, I note three or more good things that happened and what I appreciate about them, including how I helped contribute (even if only to stop and notice them - this is important). Then I savor the experience by adding a neuroplasticity (and classic coaching) exercise to increase connections in my brain, creating a more sustainable level of appreciation.

 

So for instance, one night I appreciated that it had been a gloriously beautiful spring day. Then I asked myself what a beautiful spring day looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes like.

 

  • Looks: lacy light-green leaves against a deep-blue sky, yellow and purple flowers blooming in the sun, long stretches of deep-green grass.
  • Feels: cool air and warm sun on my skin, ease and relaxation, a sense of wholeness, and oneness with everything.
  • Sounds: birds singing, lawn mowers running, kids playing softball.
  • Smells: new mown grass, lilacs blooming.
  • Tastes: asparagus, strawberries.

 

It only took a few minutes.

 

I started the next day with a conversation with my sister about a kitchen remodel that wasn't going well, the last hectic days before a big wedding, an argument with a boyfriend, trying to get Medicare to pay for my Mom's physical therapy. Basically, it was a laundry list of what coaches call, "good problems" (there's a kitchen remodel, a wedding, a boyfriend, and therapy for Mom - all good things), but we weren't appreciating the good.

 

Then I went out to walk my dog while mulling over our various complaints. Upon return, the lawn guys were busily mowing our lawn. Just then, as I was about to walk into the garage, it hit me: the smell of new mown grass!

 

Suddenly I noticed it's a gloriously beautiful day, TODAY. And I experienced both the joy and pleasure of noticing how great life is, right now. That feeling colored about 75% of my day, making me more positive, good-humored, kinder, and nicer to be around. I probably would have missed it, because I was so preoccupied, if I hadn't taken a few moments to savor it the night before.

 

I was able to multiply that wonderful day over and over with the same exercise. Eventually, I may have to replace this exercise with something else, because all habits can become boring and I want to keep it heartfelt. Fortunately, there's a whole host of positive psychology tools that I can try and/or modify and they all can work beautifully.

 

 

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Topics: gratitude, Barbara L Fredrickson, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Positive Psychology, positive psychology coaching, Martin Seligman, grateful

How to Coach Your Clients Through the Holidays and Into the New Year

Posted by Julia Stewart

coaching gratitude

Written by Julia Stewart
The "Holiday Season" officially kicks off this week in the United States. Hanukkah starts this Wednesday and American Thanksgiving is on Thursday, followed by a variety of religious and spiritual holidays, including Bodhi Day, Muharram,  the Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Kwansaa; and it's all tied up with a bow (or bottle of champagne) on New Year's Day.

 

By then, many of us are exhausted, broke, and carrying ten extra pounds. It seems virtually every culture finishes the year with holidays and in this extra-small multi-cultural world we live in, we're all celebrating a lot of extra holidays, too.

I think of my personal end-of-year holiday trio, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, as Gratitude Day, Generosity Day, and Create the Future Day. So I regard the holidays as:

  1. Give thanks for what's gone before (past)
  2. Plug into the spirit of generosity (present)
  3. Decide how to create the new year (future)
And that's how I celebrate.

 

But already my clients are bringing problems to their coaching sessions that are directly related to the holidays: how to deal with difficult relatives, or co-workers, how not to blow the budget - or the waistline, how to deal with the extra-busy schedule - or travel, how not to give in to temptations, etc. All coaches, whether life, business or executive coaches, hear about holiday issues - and we have our own, as well!

 

In my book, holiday "problems" are "good problems", a.k.a. luxury problems, first-world problems, the kind of problems you want to have.Not being able to feed your children is the kind of problem you don't want. Fortunately, most of us are worry-free in that area.

 

So first, congratulate your clients on their great problems. That helps put it all in perspective.

 

Then remind them that becoming their best selves means sacrificing good for great. And everyone benefits when we're at our best (a.k.a.: Grump-free, Sarcasm-free, Tantrum-free).

 

Transforming holiday problems into holiday blessings boils down to just two things:
  1. Choosing what really matters to you (a.k.a. your Values)
  2. Setting boundaries (that protect what matters from what doesn't)
Help your clients identify what matters, according to what they most value, and from there, boundary-setting is pretty easy.

 

Here are a few ideas my clients have come up with, so far: 

 

  • Do plan what you really do and don't want with key family members
  • Do set a time limit for family get-togethers; they don't have to be marathons
  • Do decorate only as much as you really want
  • Do shorten or eliminate activities you do solely out of obligation
  • Do schedule escape activities, so you have an excuse to leave parties you don't enjoy
  • Don't serve alchohol if some guests can't handle it
  • Do attend extra 12-step meetings, if they help
  • Don't expect the whole family to get together, if they don't like each other
  • Don't invite people who repeatedly behave badly - and skip the guilt, please
  • Don't be afraid to stay home if you really enjoy it
  • Do talk to your therapist, if you get depressed
  • Do emphasize the aspects of holidays that are meaningful to you and respect others who focus on other aspects
  • Do cut back on your gift list - or make a contribution to a worthy cause, in their names, if they'd value that
  • If you really want to get into the holiday spirit, do volunteer some time, face-to-face, with others who are less fortunate

 

The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to truly appreciate life. Don't blow that opportunity by celebrating on auto-pilot. You get to choose your life and your holidays. Have fun!

Here's a gift from us to you: Thomas Leonard's 28 Principles of Attraction.

 

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Topics: Coaching, coaching clients, gratitude, How to, Values, Boundaries

Upgrade Thanksgiving With a Gratitude Visit from Positive Psychology

Posted by Julia Stewart

Positive Psychology

Article by Julia Stewart, MCC

I've often said that I wish Thanksgiving was a little more about gratitude and a little less about food. Then again, the food is pretty awesome...

So I'm definitely all for keeping the food! But...

Here's a way to add gratitude to a Thanksgiving feast that's both meaningful and memorable. And according to positive pychology research, this exercise will help you feel immediately happier and...you'll continue to feel happier even six months from now. That's something to be thankful for!

I'm talking about the Gratitude Visit, which evolved out of Martin Seligman's Penn State course on positive psychology.

The holiday season is the perfect time to do a positive psychology visit, because so many of us are traveling anyway. I dare you to add it too your Thanksgiving feast. You'll be glad you did!

Here's how:

  • Think of someone who has helped you in some life-changing way, but who you have never sufficiently thanked.
  • Then sit down with a pen and paper, or sit at your computer, and write out specifically what that person did for you, the impact it had on your life and how thankful you are. 
  • Then travel to that person’s home, or invite them to yours, but don’t tell them about the gratitude visit in advance. An email or telephone call is not enough; you must do this in person.
  • When you are together, whether alone or among others, take out the gratitude story that you previously wrote and read it aloud to them, making frequent eye contact as you read. Then give the story to them to keep.
  • That’s it! Imagine the emotional impact such a strong acknowledgment will have on the person you’re thanking. Interestingly, positive psychologists tell us that the impact on the person who does the thanking is most dramatic.

What more beautiful custom to add to your Thanksgiving tradition? 

This exercise was taken from my course titled, Introduction to Positive Psychology for Coaches. Click the button below to learn more and join the next one.

Learn About Positive Psychology for Coaches

What's your favorite way to express gratitude?

Image by Moonlightbulb

Topics: coach training, gratitude, Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman

Gratitude: Don't Miss It

Posted by Julia Stewart

gifts and gratitudeGratitude starts the wheel turning.

It’s about you.

Come from gratitude and you’ll be instantly happier.

Come from gratitude and you’ll attract more of what you want.

When you struggle to feel grateful, spend time with people who are grateful.

Gratitude is contagious.

Gratitude is not something you feel because things are the way you want; it’s just something you feel.

You can only feel gratitude in the present moment.

If you wait until you get what you want to feel grateful, you have already missed your opportunity.

You will always want things you don’t have. Don’t let “wanting” steal your gratitude from you.

Gratitude is the first step, not the last.

Let your present and future self always be grateful and you will attract everything you really want.

We list the things we are grateful for, not because we need things in order to be grateful, but because we can use those things to trigger our gratitude.

Enjoy feeling grateful while noticing the things you still want and your life will always be rich and joyful. 

Just keep turning the wheel.

Copyright, Julia Stewart, 2008

Topics: gratitude, Attraction Principles, Julia Stewart, grateful

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