School of Coaching Mastery

Coaching Blog

How to Distinguish Healthy Positivity From Toxic Positivity

Posted by Julia Stewart

Toxic Positivity

Most coaches are highly positive and that is a wonderful thing.

Positivity helps our clients believe in themselves and their goals. And that's a key to helping them reach those goals. So positivity is one of the keys to masterful coaching. But sometimes coaches, and their clients, misunderstand what positivity really is, when it is most powerful, how to cultivate it, and how to use it well. Like all powerful tools, positivity, when used incorrectly, can cause problems. Big problems!

This is one of the many reasons professional coaches need to be well trained, so they understand the nuances of the powerful tools they use. Otherwise they may backfire.

Positive psychology researcher, Barbara Fredrickson, calls positivity the experience of positive emotions such as gratitude, serenity, love, and more. Experiencing enough of these on a regular basis can be transformative and leads to flourishing by broadening awareness, building our strengths, and helping us become the best versions of ourselves. She makes distinctions about the most useful forms of positivity, such as positivity that is natural vs. artificial, spontaneous vs. insincere, and positivity that's harmonious vs. obsessive. The latter are less useful, but according to Fredrickson, most people can benefit from experiencing more the the former.

Barbara Fredrickson's definition of positivity is what I call Healthy Positivity.

Healthy Positivity may sometimes include intense positive emotions, but more often includes subtle feelings such as open-mindedness, curiosity, empathy, contentment, optimism, generosity, harmony, kindness, compassion, wisdom, perseverance, flexibility, and belief in others (notice that most of these are Character Strengths). Healthy Positivity isn't 100% positive. It's more like 75-90% positive, over time. You can be positive and still have some difficult moments and even some bad days. The point is that you can respond to life instead of trying to control it. And you use your wisdom to help build positive habits that feel good, but ultimately, help you and the people around you enjoy more health, greater success, stronger relationships, and even longer life (according to some researchers).

In contrast, Toxic Positivity tends to be intense, even relentless. The person has an agenda to be 100% positive and wants people around them to be positive too. Toxic Positivity is self-centered, artificial, rigid, can drive others away, is sometimes desperate, and tends to lead to failure.

What is Toxic Positivity like?

  • Toxic Positivity has a manic quality to it. It fails to notice genuine concerns or to respond to what is going on. It feels fake to other people and they are less likely to trust it (Imagine an overly friendly or excited salesman who makes you want to run away.) Toxic positivity isn't curious or responsive because the person has already decided how they will be - POSITIVE!!! - no matter the cost. Instead of being open to learning from what's happening, or to notice how others are responding, Toxic Positivity claims everything is GREAT!!!. Example: I had a friend I'll call, Bob*, who was studying the Law of Attraction hoping it would help him build his coaching business. He tried a new marketing campaign and I texted him later to see if he got a good response. He replied, "Nope! Not a one! LOL!" I was glad he wasn't discouraged, but curiosity about what wasn't working and a plan to make it better might have led him to success faster.
  • Toxic positivity is judgmental or lacks compassion. It tells others to stop being so negative. It avoids people who are sick or depressed (If being around suffering is harming your mood, do give yourself a break, but you don't have to avoid every friend who is down. Compassion is positive.) Toxic positivity is self-absorbed and others often respond negatively to it. Example: When Bob's city was engulfed in a dangerous weather disaster that knocked out power and internet for thousands, made roads impassible for days, and put countless humans and animals in life threatening situations, I reached out to see if he was okay. His response? "I thought it was fun! LOL!" Wow, Bob, you used to be such a caring person.
  • Toxic positivity is selfish and can't see past its own agenda. This is a disservice to others and people feel drained by it. Example: I took a break from Bob's relentless laugh track and explained why to him. Not surprisingly, he didn't understand, possibly because his agenda was in the way. I know he'll come back to himself overtime. Most people do recover from Toxic Positivity. But if you're being positive and it's annoying or offending people, or friends are just drifting away, maybe it's not them. It could be you.

By now, you have a pretty good idea of the difference between Healthy Positivity, which is transformative, and Toxic Positivity, which can be harmful to you and others. Knowing when to apply Fredrickson's positivity is a key. Continuing to be yourself is another. And don't forget, emotions are just information about how life is going for you. Most people, most of the time, don't need to override negative feelings. They need to pay attention to the information they're receiving from those feelings and respond to it. That's a positive approach. But there are times when negativity really doesn't help and even harms. That's when added positivity can make the biggest impact.

Here are three times when increasing your positivity matters most, depending on your current habits:

  1. THE PAST, if you're a habitual ruminator: someone who mulls over every mistake you've made, every embarrassment, or every perceived slight or criticism from others, every hurt feeling or moment of anger you've experienced, every frustration, etc., you're in danger of making yourself depressed. Shifting your thoughts - toward more positive reframes, such as accepting mistakes or criticisms as opportunities to learn and make better choices, or to design your life so you get to do more of what you're good at and surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you. Caveat: If you're already moderately to severely depressed, positive thinking may not be enough. Do get assistance from a therapist. But cultivating honest positivity is a healthy habit.
  2. THE PRESENT, if you're a chronic complainer: someone who is never quite satisfied, who is disappointed by less than excellence in every area, who does battle with every moment and maybe even with every other human, you're wearing yourself out and everyone around you. Complainers are drainers. They also can be toxic and literally harm their own health and that of those around them. We all have a negativity bias that makes it easier to notice the bad than the good, and when we are stressed, this tendency gets even stronger. Problem is, the more we focus on what we don't want, the more we get what we don't want. Moreover, people start to avoid us. Don't be a drainer. It takes discipline to start noticing what's going well and appreciate it, but it is well worth the effort. Even if the only positive in your life is that you're breathing, that's kind of awesome considering the alternative!
  3. THE FUTURE, if you're a constant worrier: you're trying to control the future, which rarely works, and you're using a costly and ineffective tool, to boot. As they say, worry is not a plan. Worse, worry tends to make us anxious and anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses there is. Again, if you're chronically anxious, let a professional help you, but if you just need an upgrade, try imagining what you want instead of what you don't want. Then ask yourself how you could create it. If you need more resources to get there, start building them. If you're worried something will go wrong, plan how you'll handle it in advance. These tools can help you develop your confidence so fear doesn't get the better of you. Over time, you'll feel better and have better outcomes, too.

 

I hope these distinctions are useful. If you'd like to work with a coach on Healthy Positivity, find a positive psychology coach here.

 

If you'd like to get training to become an effective positive psychology coach, explore our program here.

 

If you just want to learn more about positive psychology coaching, download the FREE eBook here:

Get the Become a Positive Psychology Coach eBook

 

* A few details about "Bob" have been changed for this article.

 

 

Topics: Barbara L Fredrickson, Law of Attraction, coach training program, Positive Psychology, free ebook, positive psychology coach, positive psychology coach training, positivity, become a positive psychology coach, Toxic Positivity

Positive Psychology Coaching vs. Neuroscience Coaching

Posted by Julia Stewart

Positive Psychology Coaching vs Neuroscience Coaching

Yesterday, a new student at School of Coaching Mastery asked me what the difference was between positive psychology coaching and neuroscience coaching.

It's a great question because on the surface you wouldn't know.

He was deciding between our Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program or our Certified Neuroscience Coach Program. These programs some modules in common and a few that are different. What they have most in common are beginner to master-level coaching skills with an evidence-based approach that also acknowledges the integrative power of various spiritual perspectives.

Here are a few differences between positive psychology coaching and neuroscience coaching:

  • The first difference is in the underlying philosophies of positive psychology and modern neuroscience, which have guided the trajectory of research and ultimately the types of interventions that are associated with each.. Early theories and research into positive psychology explored what Western philosophers, such as the early Greeks, had to say about happiness and living the good life, while many modern neuroscientists have explored Eastern contemplative philosophies, such as Buddhism.
  • Because influential neuroscience researchers, Richard Davidson for example, have explored the contemplative nature of the brain, many resulting practices developed that strengthen inner qualities such as equanimity and the ability to be fully present. A person's behavior naturally changes when they experience these qualities. Positive psychology researchers, such as Barbara Fredrickson, have explored inner qualities, positivity for instance, but have also looked at how outer behaviors, such as performing acts of kindness, impact our inner experiences. Positive psychology tends to be more action-oriented and less contemplative.
  • That said, neuroscience is often perceived as more tangible, and therefore appeals more to some clients who "don't believe" in psychology and want hard evidence, because it directly measures what's going on in the body's communication systems and perhaps also because it relies heavily on high-tech machinery, for instance, fMRI machines, to take those measurements. Positive psychology, on the other hand, frequently relies upon research subjects' self reports via surveys, etc., as well as researchers' observation of behaviors, but sometimes positive psychology researchers also take direct measurements, such as hormone levels in the blood, so there is some subjectivity involved in positive psychology research, but not always. Some clients are more attracted to positive psychology than neuroscience, because they love the emphasis on positive thoughts, feelings, behaviors and their power to enhance well-being and flourishing. In fact, both positive psychology and neuroscience tend to appeal to today's coaching clients who want services that are evidence based.
  • In short, the following describes the differences between positive psychology coaching and neuroscience coaching, so long as you understand there are exceptions and that there are many commonalities between these two styles of coaching: Positive psychology coaching is influenced by Western philosophy and employs many outside-in approaches to influence inner well-being via action-oriented practices, such as journaling, practicing gratitude and acts of kindness, and employing one's strengths to promote inner well-being, outward prosocial behaviors, and greater success; while neuroscience coaching is influenced by Eastern philosophy and employs many inside-out approaches that can physically change the brain over time, such as meditation, visualizations, and breath exercises that create measurable states of relaxation and enhanced awareness, and influence thoughts, feelings, and ultimately behaviors that promote a thriving life.

In truth, positive psychology coaching and neuroscience coaching have much in common, enhance each other, often go hand in hand, and should be included together in training programs.

That's why you learn about both in our Certified Positive Psychology Coach® and Certified Neuroscience Coach programs and our advanced program integrates these practices even more.

Oh and the student who originally asked this question? He decided to start with just one module and take a few weeks deciding which program to embark upon. He'll be able to apply the fee that he paid for his module to the program down payment, which will reduce his down payment to just $3. That's a smart way to do it!

Learn more about becoming a positive psychology coach and how neuroscience fits in by reading the free Become a Positive Psychology Coaching eBook. To download it now, click below:

 

Get the Become a Positive Psychology Coach eBook

 

Topics: Certified Positive Psychology Coach, positive psychology coaching, free ebook, positive psychology coach, wellbeing, positivity, become a positive psychology coach, certified neuroscience coach

101 Terrific Positive Psychology Coaching Questions

Posted by Julia Stewart

Positive Psychology Coaching Questions

Here are 101 terrific coaching questions all based on positive psychology theory.

To get full value from these questions, it's important to understand the research and theories behind them. In a nutshell, positive thoughts and emotions are correlated with greater happiness, better health, and more success. That said, 100% positivity is never the goal. Even negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences can have positive outcomes, especially when we take the time to learn from them and to look for benefits and work on our personal growth.

Here is a quick course that will get you started as a positive psychology coach. Or to become masterful, enroll in the Certified Positive Psychology Coach® Program. You'll learn masterful coaching skills, such as how to know when to ask which question, how to follow up regardless your client's answer, how to craft your own questions, right on the spot.

If you're just getting started as a coach, print these awesome questions out for reference.

Download the free Become a Positive Psychology Coach eBook to learn more.

101 Terrific Positive Psychology Coaching Questions:

  1. What's going great this week?
  2. What have you accomplished so far?
  3. What are three good things that happened at work?
  4. What are you grateful for today?
  5. What are you feeling really good about?
  6. What do you want to accomplish in this session?
  7. How will you measure success?
  8. Shall we explore your reasons for making this change?
  9. Which of your personal values will be expressed by achieving this goal?
  10. How will achieving this goal help you express your purpose?
  11. What other reasons might there be that you haven't explored yet?
  12. Are you ready to make this change or do you need to talk about it more?
  13. What would happen if you improved this by just 5%?
  14. What other benefits are there to accomplishing this?
  15. What reasons have been stopping you so far?
  16. How have you been stopping you so far?
  17. How could you address those reasons?
  18. How could you eliminate some the the drawbacks to changing?
  19. What preparations do you need to make before you start this project?
  20. Which of your strengths can help you here?
  21. What will you tell yourself as you take steps toward this goal?
  22. Who else can acknowledge you for your efforts?
  23. On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to your success?
  24. How hard are you willing to work on this?
  25. What obstacles could you encounter and how can you overcome them?
  26. If everything goes perfectly and you're at your very best, what will that be like?
  27. What strategies will help you focus on what you want vs what you don't want?
  28. What's already going well?
  29. When was a time when this went well for you?
  30. What strengths were you using when this went well?
  31. How can you apply the same strengths to succeed this time?
  32. Who do you work well with?
  33. Who has complementary strengths who might collaborate with you?
  34. Who else will benefit from your success?
  35. How will you feel when you've succeeded?
  36. How will your strengths help you express your purpose?
  37. What are you curious about?
  38. What would you like your legacy to be?
  39. What circumstances are effecting your positive or negative emotions?
  40. How would you like to feel? Can you imagine feeling that way right now?
  41. How positive are you on most days?
  42. What are you currently doing to raise your positivity?
  43. What might be possible if you increased your positivity?
  44. How could you increase your positivity?
  45. Who are the most positive people in your life?
  46. How could you spend more time doing what you enjoy?
  47. How would your relationships be impacted by more positivity?
  48. How could you decrease your negativity?
  49. How could you be happy even before you reach your goals?
  50. If you're fully present for a few moments what do you notice?
  51. If you turn off your thoughts for a minute what do you know?
  52. What does your body need?
  53. It sounds like you're using a strength. What would you name it?
  54. How could you master this strength?
  55. What other situations could be improved if you started using this strength there?
  56. How could this strength help you meet an important need?
  57. How can you use your strengths to express your personal values?
  58. Where else could you use your strengths in new ways?
  59. Who could you collaborate with who has complementary strengths?
  60. What strengths do you need to develop to be more effective.
  61. What strengths do you wish you had?
  62. What can you appreciate about the strengths you do have?
  63. How could a weakness also be a strength?
  64. Do you ever overuse a strength? What happens then?
  65. Do you strengths ever get you into trouble?
  66. What would help you feel more engaged at work?
  67. What activities excite or energize you?
  68. Where else could you use your strengths?
  69. How can you use your strengths to help you reach this goal?
  70. When does time seem to fly for you?
  71. Who or what makes you laugh?
  72. What makes life meaningful for you?
  73. What activities feel most valuable to you?
  74. When is a time in your life when you were at your very best?
  75. What's most significant to you about that time?
  76. What do you do to help others?
  77. How could you build resources to support a happier and more successful life?
  78. Who has helped you immensely who you might want to thank?
  79. How do you want to thank others?
  80. Who or what could you be grateful to?
  81. What makes this accomplishment so important to you?
  82. What will help you persevere until you succeed?
  83. Who can support you to reach your goals?
  84. What will keep you on track?
  85. What do you need more clarity about?
  86. What's your first step?
  87. When will you get started?
  88. How will you remember?
  89. Once you've succeeded, how will you maintain it?
  90. What clarity do you still need?
  91. How confident are you of your success?
  92. What will your life be like when you succeed?
  93. What other aspects of your life will be impacted?
  94. How will you take care of yourself while working on this?
  95. How will you maintain other important aspects of your life such as your relationships?
  96. Who are you willing to tell that you're making this change?
  97. How will you maintain your positivity while persevering?
  98. How will you feel about yourself when you succeed?
  99. How will you celebrate?
  100. Who will you include in your celebration?
  101. How will you savor your hard work and accomplishment?

 

Want a FREE course on how to ask great coaching questions?

 

Get this 10-week email course for free: How to Ask Incredible Coaching Questions:

How to Ask Incredible Coaching Questions eCourse

 

 

Topics: coaching questions, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, positive psychology coaching, Strengths, Needs, Values, positivity

Positive Psychology Coaching: How to Use Negativity to Improve Coaching Outcomes

Posted by Julia Stewart

Leadership Coaching Emotional Intelligence

Every positive psychology coach understands the importance of positivity, but the great ones know how negativity can boost coaching outcomes, amazingly.

If you've been reading this blog (subscribe upper right), you know about positivity theory and the positivity ratio (Fredrickson, 2006). The research is clear: Positivity changes lives and delivers wellbeing. But that's not all. People who experience at least three times as much positivity as negativity aren't just happier, they're more successful, more generous, healthier, and have more harmonious relationships. Who doesn't want more of all that?

So how can negativity help?

Here's a story: I once knew a coach, let's call her Wanda, who was new to positive psychology coaching. One of Wanda's first clients was a mid-level manager at a toy company, who wanted to move up the company ladder. Wanda coached him with loads of positivity and he accomplished one step after another toward his goal, until they were both certain he was on the brink of success. Then he got fired. Yep, fired.

How'd that happen? Wanda's client had some inter-personal issues he wasn't aware of. Wanda noticed them during coaching sessions, but didn't want to focus on the negative, so she never brought them up. Too bad. Those issues got on his boss's nerves, disrupted the whole department, and even made his team less productive. One person can cause a workplace to spiral so deeply into negativity, that the whole company suffers. That's toxic.

Positive thinking can't magically fix a toxic situation unless the toxicity is fully addressed. That means you need to deal with the negativity.

Remember that positivity ratio of three to one?

Another way of saying it is 75% positivity to 25% negativity is the gateway to flourishing. You can go higher, say, 90% positivity, but much beyond that and you and your clients will tip into a multitude of unnecessary problems.

What sorts of problems?

  • Obliviousness. Negativity wakes us up when something is wrong (Boyatzis, 2011), but incessent positivity lets us waltz straight into our worst nightmares, just like Wanda's client did.
  • Missed details. Positivity broadens our awareness, but negativity narrows our focus on what needs to be done (Boyatzis, 2011). Details matter.
  • Complacency. People who are constantly positive sometimes coast when they need to work. For example: Children who are told they need to work, make better grades than children who are told they are smart, because the "smart" kids often don't try as hard (Dweck, 2006).

How can negativity help?

  • Resilience. Negativity toughens us up and helps us develop grit. People who persevere through difficulties, are more likely to succeed (Duckworth, 2016).
  • Needs satisfaction. Negativity is designed to drive us toward getting our needs met, so we can survive. While positivity is more useful at helping us reach for growth and ideals (Boyatizis, 2011). Interpersonal problems often arise from unmet needs (Maslow, 1962).
  • Survival comes before growth. We need to reach a critical mass when satisfying our needs before we can effectively focus on growth (Maslow, 1962).

How could Wanda have succeeded better with her client?

  • Be a coach who is naturally positive, but never steps over concerns.
  • Help the client get their needs met, sustainably.
  • Ask the client challenging questions, the ones they're afraid to ask themselves (and the ones nobody else will mention).
  • Help the client bring positivity into their relationships. Train them to ask more, listen more, and look for what's working before focusing on what's not, unless it's an emergency.
  • Be honest. Holding back your observations is never fair to your clients.
  • Help the client grow beyond their immediate goals. Once needs are met, growth becomes available and that's what propels clients into amazing success.

These are just a few ways Wanda could have upgraded the value of her positive psychology coaching, immensely.

Imagine what her hard-working client could have accomplished if he had adjusted his relationship skills in time to win the promotion he passionately desired.

This focus on the importance of negativity is sometimes called the second wave in positive psychology, but it isn't new. Emotional intelligence has always studied the entire gamut of emotions to help people be more successful in their relationships and work. That's especially important for leaders, because they influence all the people they lead. But let's be clear: Everybody is a leader sometime and humans, who are the most social of animals, all need emotional intelligence to navigate harmonious relationships.

That's why School of Coaching Mastery is launching its exciting Master Certified Positive Psychology Coach program with an advanced course on Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Coaching

This is what's next for professional coaching, in general, and positive psychology coaching, specifically.

Learn more about becoming a positive psychology coach. Get the free eBook:

Free Become a Positive Psychology Coach eBook

Topics: ICF, Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Coaching Certificate, positive psychology coaching, advanced coach training, emotional intelligence, positivity

    Subscribe for FREE: Learn About Coaching

    Follow Us

    The Coaching Blog

    If you're a professional Business or Life Coach or you're interested in becoming one, the SCM Coaching Blog covers topics you may want to know about: How to Become a Business or Life Coach, Grow a Successful Coaching Business, Get Coach Training and/or Business and Life Coach Certification, Become a Coaching Master and Evolve Your Life and Business. 

    Subscribe above and/or explore by tag, month or article popularity, below.

    Latest Posts

    Most Popular Posts

    Browse by Tag

    Top Career-Jobs Sites Living-Well blog