Shaping Your Future in Times Of Change and Transition

Shaping Your Future in Times Of Change and Transition

In life, times of transition can often be the most challenging. But whether we like it or not, life is full of change. From an early age, we begin to navigate life’s transitions, going to school for the first time, moving out of our parents’ homes, and then on to university or the workplace. Overtime, many of us change careers, move apartments or houses, find new roles, or even experience redundancies. In our personal lives we experience loss, become parents, retire or experience many other unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

Throughout our lives we experience a number of stages. Transitioning is the period of change from one stage to another. You can think of transition as a bridge, providing a path from one point in life to the next. Although these times can be stressful, they can also be an exciting opportunity for positive change. Fortunately, research shows that there are strategies that can be applied to influence the things within your control and hopefully make your transitions a bit smoother.

Look Beyond Short-Term Future

Scientist and coaching expert Alex Linley and his colleagues have discovered that people are more likely to focus on the short-term future of change or transition because it is easier to imagine. Unfortunately, people tend to focus more on the stresses of the transition rather than the adaption that will almost certainly follow. This happens because our brains are wired to pay attention to negative threats for survival. This concept is known as the negativity bias. However, we have the ability to override our negative bias to help us bring our focus on possibilities and solutions rather than negative possibilities and worry. To move past the negative bias, it can be helpful to picture your life 3, 6 or even 12 months after the transition and write it down or describe it.

Identify What is Already Working Well

One strategy that you can use to help manage life’s transitions is to reflect on the things in your life that are already working well. This can help boost your positive emotions during times of change. It can also promote self-efficacy by helping you to identify the things that you can do well and continue to do as you transition to a new stage in life.

Be SMART

Another strategy is to coach yourself with SMART goals. A SMART goal meaning, Specific, Measurable, Authentic, Realistic and Timely; can help you think about what you would like to accomplish before, during and after a transition. The SMART goal framework can take these ideas from broad vision to realistic actions.

Transition is inevitable through our lives as we experience constant change and move onto new stages. The best thing we can do is implement strategies that will help is transition during each phase of our lives with as many skills and resources as possible.

Looking for more science-based resources?  APPLI have put together a toolkit called ‘Shaping Your Future in Times of Change and Transition’.  This toolkit will provide you with additional strategies and practical tools that you can use to navigate COVID related changes, manage your current transition and help move forward with further transitions throughout life.

Shop APPLI’s toolkits here: https://shop.appli.edu.au

References

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, P.A., Biswas-Diener, R., & Trenier, E. (2011). Positive Psychology and Strengths Coaching Through Transition. In S. Palmer & S. Panchal (Eds.), Developmental Coaching: Life Transitions and Generational Perspectives. Hove: Routledge.

The importance of knowing & living your values

The importance of knowing & living your values

Perhaps you have been thinking long and hard about what you want in your life. Or maybe, you’re reflecting on how you want to contribute to something bigger than yourself. You could even be thinking about your relationships and the role you would like them to play in your life. The answers to these big questions in life are often a reflection of our values, or our deepest desires and attitudes about the world, other people, and ourselves.

Research shows that understanding our values, strengths, and the things that make our life meaningful are all valuable skills that can help us navigate challenges and support our mental fitness.

Knowing and Living Your Values

Understanding our values can help us live a life that is more meaningful and in alignment with what we desire and believe is right. According to Psychologist Russ Harris, it is important to understand that values are not the same as goals. A value is not something that you can just cross off or achieve. Instead, it is something that you continuously aim to live and move towards. As stated by Harris, “for example, if you want to be a loving, caring, supportive partner, that is a value – an ongoing process. If you stop being loving, caring and supportive, then you are no longer a loving, caring, supportive partner; you are no longer living by that value. In contrast, if you want to get married, that’s a goal – it can be ‘crossed off’ or achieved. Once you’re married, you’re married – even if you start treating your partner very badly.”   

Each person has their own set of values, and only you can determine what those values are. No one else can define this for you. When you are exploring your core values, it is not always easy to pin them down therefore, it will take time for you to identify.

Do you know your top 5 personal core values? What about your top 5 work values?

If you would like some resources to help you identify your values, feel free to use listen to the core values activity below from our Appli Work Fit Digital Wellbeing Platform.  The Appli Team have also created an evidence-based toolkit called “Living a Meaningful Life” which can help you discover your values and live with meaning and purpose during the COVID pandemic and beyond.

https://shop.appli.edu.au

References

Martela, F., & Steger, M. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. The Journal Of Positive Psychology, 11(5), 531-545. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1137623

Robinson, P. L., Oades, L. G. & Caputi, P. (2014). Conceptualising and measuring mental fitness, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Wollongong. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4269

Robinson, P. L., Oades, L. G., & Caputi, P. (2015). Conceptualising and measuring mental fitness: A Delphi study. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(1), 53-73.

Robinson, P. L. (2018). Practising Positive Education: A Guide to Improve Wellbeing Literacy in Schools (2nd ed.). Positive Psychology Institute: Sydney.

Ryff, C. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069-1081.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and wellbeing and how to achieve them. London, UK: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

Steger, M. F. (2009). Meaning in life. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 679-687). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (2012). A meaning-centered approach to building youth resilience. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 585-617). New York, NY: Routledge.

Wong, P. (2011, July 5). The Positive Psychology of Meaning in Life and Well-Being. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/ the-positive-psychology-of-meaning-in-life-and-well-being/

How to manage your energy, not your time

How to manage your energy, not your time

Do you ever find yourself feeling exhausted when you wake up or maybe unable to completely focus during your workday?

Research shows that working long hours without taking breaks leaves us unendingly exhausted and unable to fully engage with our family and loved ones. As a result, this leaves us feeling unsatisfied and harms our wellbeing. In the workplace, most of us are responding to ongoing demands causing us to put in long hours. This inevitably takes a toll not only on us physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Studies show that this leads to declining engagement levels, higher levels of distraction, higher turnover rates within an organisation, and rising medical costs amongst employees.

The main issue with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy, however, is defined in physics as the capacity to work. Performance psychologist Jim Loehr and his colleagues have a solution; it’s called ‘Energy management’.  According to Loehr, energy is drawn from four main areas; our body, our emotions, our mind and what he refers to as our spirit. Thankfully, for each of these areas, there are habits we are able to implement in our lives to increase our energy levels.

  1. Managing Our Physical Energy

It is well known that lacking nutrition, exercise, sleep and rest periods weakens people’s energy, as well as our ability to manage emotions and our attention span. To better manage our physical energy, focus on setting yourself an earlier bedtime, during sleep our body is working to support healthy brain function, maintaining our physical and emotional health. Sleep allows your brain to form new pathways for learning and remembering information, enhancing your learning and problem-solving skills. Take the time to exercise a few times a week, focusing on cardiovascular exercise three times and strength training once. Additionally, take regular breaks away from your desk to allow yourself to recharge.

  1. Managing Our Emotional Energy

Our emotions are affected when we overwork ourselves. Most people realize that they perform better when they are feeling positive. If we don’t take breaks, we are then incapable of positive emotions for long periods. Work demands and unexpected challenges push us towards feeling more negative emotions. To enhance your positive energy focus on (a) deep breathing, (b) take time to think about what you’re grateful for and express appreciation to others, (c) look at upsetting situations through new lenses. For example, ask yourself ‘what would the other person in this conflict say and how may his point of view be right?’, ‘how will I view this situation in six months or a year?’, ‘how can I learn and grow from this?’.

  1. Managing our Mental Energy

Multitasking harms our productivity as the shift in attention from one task to another increases the time necessary to complete the task by 25%. Over working and unnecessary multitasking has an effect on our mental energy. To improve your mental energy, take away distractions like your phone so you’re able to focus. Allocate times during the day to respond to voicemails and emails. Each evening, write down the most important task for the next day and focus on that first when you arrive at work.

  1. Managing our Spiritual Energy

People tap into energy of their spirit when their work and activities align with their values. This gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. If the work they’re doing truly matters to them, naturally they’ll feel more positive energy. To increase your spiritual energy, pay attention to what activities give you feelings of effectiveness and fulfillment. Find ways to do more of these. Allocate time and energy to what you consider most important. For example, if consideration is important to you, however, you find yourself constantly running late. Practice showing up five minutes early.

To learn how to identify your values, follow this link and complete the exercise.

http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/valuescardsort_0.pdf

These changes may not happen in a day. Take steps by introducing them into your day to day life. We often overwork ourselves and forget the importance of our mental health and wellbeing. Once you implement these changes it is proven that you’ll feel more positive energy and vitality as well as a improved overall wellbeing.

Take a moment to think about how you will implement these rituals into your life.

Loehr, J., Christensen, C., Goleman, D., & Drucker, P. (2010). HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Managing Yourself. Harvard Business Review Press.

Miller, W., Baca, J., Matthews, D., & Wilbourne, P. (2001). Personal Values Card Sort. Retrieved 16 June 2020, from http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/valuescardsort_0.pdf

 

Is Now a Great Time to Contact an Old Acquaintance?

Is Now a Great Time to Contact an Old Acquaintance?

At some point, we have all lost contact with a friend or family member over the years. Maybe we had a disagreement, or perhaps it’s just our busy 21st Century lives that cause us to lose touch with people we care about.

COVID-19 and our time of isolation may offer us a golden opportunity to reach out to those we have lost touch with. If you are feeling a bit embarrassed, ashamed or guilty that you haven’t made contact with someone in years, get in touch with them and say that this time of isolation has made you think of them. Ask them if they are interested in having a virtual catch up. If you don’t want to use the phone to reach out, there’s always social media or perhaps through another person who also knows them.

Remember, Like you, your long-lost acquaintance may be thinking the same as you but just haven’t had the courage to reach out. You can be the brave one. It might be one of the most positive events that comes out of this crisis for you, who knows!

Research suggests that relationships are our number one source of joy and misery, depending on the circumstances, so make this a joyful event, reach out to someone from your past!

Need help dealing with uncertainty? Here are 3 quick tips


Need help dealing with uncertainty?  Here are 3 quick tips

One thing Coronavirus has shown us is how quickly circumstances can change. With our lives being disrupted we have had to learn how to adapt. There are a few particular strategies that can help us manage the stress and uncertainty effectively and remain optimistic during this time.

Here are 3 tips we can do to assist us to manage uncertainty and help us adapt:

1.     Recognise what we can and cannot control
With the government implementing new rules and changing the way we would normally go about our day to day lives, we need to realise that these new rules are out of our control. However, we can control our own response to make the most of the situation.  For example, I can still exercise every day.

2.     Keep making plans
We may have not dealt with uncertainty on this scale before, but we have dealt with uncertainty to some extent previously. If we survived that, we can overcome this. Continue to make plans and new goals that you want to achieve. These plans allow us to have something to look forward to and help us avoid getting caught in the trap of avoidance.  For example, write down something you are working towards right now.

3.     Focus on the best of what can be
The tough situations can often be an opportunity to look for a silver lining. If we fall into the trap of focusing purely on the negatives it becomes a downward spiral. In not only this situation but any stressful time for that matter, focusing on the positives can really help.  For example, “I’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life more than I did before”.

These tips may not prevent Coronavirus, however, they can assist you in limiting and preventing the negative effects of this challenging time on your mental fitness.

If you are interested in learning more ways to build mental fitness in your home, school, workplace, or community, visit our website at www.appli.edu.au.  We also offer digital wellbeing programs, online courses, training programs, and consulting services for individuals and organisations. 

Boost Your Wellbeing: Building Mental Fitness Habits

Boost Your Wellbeing: Building Mental Fitness Habits

During times of unprecedented uncertainty, adults and children can feel much higher levels of stress, fear, anxiety and our mood can regularly be much lower than usual. I think the word ‘resilience’ is often overused in the 21st Century. Still, we all need tips on how to stay mentally fit to help us all try to navigate the next months and beyond.

If you haven’t already, add these activities to your DAILY routine, commit for 3 weeks!

Structure your Monday to Friday as much as possible 

Have set times to do things every day. It can be helpful put a schedule up on the fridge for the whole family to view each day. This can help ensure each member of the family has a formal structure no matter what age. Having a basic daily routine and sticking to it is key to keep order in our weekly lives and helps us adapt. Weekends can be much more flexible but Monday to Friday stick to your routine!

Boost your Mood 

Get rid of some of those negative emotions. This can be done more easily than you think. For example, you can build it into your daily schedule. At the same time every day, ask the family to get together. Then, designate one person the responsibility to boost the mood of the rest of the family. This can be done in countless, creative ways: playing music, telling jokes, dancing, exercising, sharing online clips, connecting with other friends and family through Facetime, Skype or Zoom, playing cards, board games, or charades…the list is endless. The important thing is to have a laugh!

Practice Acceptance 

Write down what you can and can’t change during this crisis and focus as much as possible on what you can control. For example, you can’t change the news feed and what is happening everywhere else, so don’t watch this too much. Research shows that a child who sees something bad on TV in the morning can carry this mood with them for 5– 8 hours! Another example is you can’t go out for dinner, but you can have a picnic in the garden. Focus on what you CAN do within your own circle of influence. This will give you all more feelings of empowerment.

Gratitude 

Every day I feel incredibly grateful that I am not sick with Covid-19, that I have food in the house, a place to live, a family for support and that I live in the lucky country. I say this regularly to my family and friends to ensure we focus on the importance of the simple things in life. Many others around the world aren’t as lucky as us. Ask your family to share what they are grateful for and have conversations regularly.

Give 

Help others as much as possible. This is a big predictor of mental fitness. If someone is struggling, take time to sit down or call them to give support. We will all have low times during this crisis so supporting each other and keeping our relationships strong is crucial.

I hope these few simple tips help a little. The key is not just reading them and being aware. The real value is actually practising them every day. It takes 3 weeks to create a habit!

Finally remember, “this too shall pass”.

3 Tips to Support Your Mental Fitness in the Age of Coronavirus

3 Tips to Support Your Mental Fitness in the Age of Coronavirus

If you’ve been thinking that the world has become consumed with the Coronavirus, you’re right. A recent article states that “Coronavirus” was mentioned in the media more than 18,000,000 in one day.  Everywhere you turn, someone or something is talking about the virus.  It is clear that this issue is one of global concern, worrying governments, schools, workplaces and families around the world.  Governments and organisations are taking extraordinary cautions that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes in order to reduce the potential negative impact of the virus.  We are beginning to see schools and businesses close, instructing students and employees to conduct their work virtually.  Some countries and states are in total lockdown with the exception of pharmacies and groceries stores.  Even travel has been restricted to and from several countries around the world, changing plans of travellers and affecting industries many countries like Australia rely on.

For many people watching this situation unfold, thinking about the possible physical and financial impacts is causing significant stress and worry.  Some have even started to panic, hoarding the essentials that all households rely on. While it is important to take this situation seriously, it is equally important that we all continue to stay calm, support those around us and look after our own physical and mental wellbeing.  In this article, we will give you some strategies that can help you stay more mentally fit during these challenging times.

1. Reduce the Time You Spend Watching News and Engaging in Social Media

It’s important to stay informed about the current situation.  However, spending too much time reading about the negative can incite fear, chronic stress, anxiety and poor health. Research shows that watching bad news can significantly increase the tendency to catastrophise a personal worry, even if it’s not related to the content of the news story.  Research from a 2001 study examined how 9/11 coverage impacted viewers.  In some, it was enough to trigger PTSD symptoms.  Interestingly, the severity of symptoms was correlated with the amount of time people spent watching television. 

If you have children in the home, be particularly mindful about what is on the tv while they are home.  Children’s developing brains do not have the ability to reason the same way as adults.  One study suggests that just five minutes of distressing news daily (i.e. disturbing stories, images, or videos) may lead children to struggle with fear, anxiety, aggression, sleep problems, and behavioural difficulties. 

What You Can Do

Develop healthy boundaries with media and technology.  Limit your access to social media and other apps through features such as Apple Screen Time on your mobile phone.  You can even set a time limit for each day so that you can unplug from the 24-hour news cycle.  Also apply these tools for any family sharing plans to keep your family safe and healthy online.

If you have children in the home, be sure to talk to them about the messages they are hearing in the media.  Assure them that they are safe, and it will be ok.  Turn the tv off when they are in the room and engage in a positive activity instead.

2. Understand the Negativity Bias

Negative emotions have allowed us to survive as a species. They protect us from danger and still remain an important part of our evolution. However, this evolutionary mechanism in our brains, known as the Negativity Bias, makes us pay more attention to the negative experiences or things in our life than the positive. 

There’s a good reason for this. For survival, our ancestors had to be attuned to those things that were life-threatening (predators). Paying too much attention to the positive things around them (that did not pose a risk) made no sense when survival was a day-to-day proposition. 

Fortunately, life is much safer in the 21st century. However, the Negativity Bias is still alive and well in the primitive part of our brain. Our brains are, in fact, hardwired to ‘Velcro’ the negatives and ‘Teflon’ the positives. This can cause problems for us by creating an unhealthy positive-to-negative emotional ratio, particularly during times of stress.  

What You Can Do

Examine your thoughts and think about how they are making you feel.  Sometimes, we experience Automatic Negative Thoughts (we call these ANTs).  It is important to remember that your thoughts are not facts and sometimes we all tell ourselves things that may not be true.  Watch out for thinking traps and try to change them when you can.  One common thinking trap you or someone you know may be experiencing is something called catastrophising.  Catastrophising has two parts, the first is predicting a negative outcome.  The second part is jumping to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did in fact happen, it would be a catastrophe. Catastrophising can make people feel helpless and cause rumination. 

You can help balance the negativity bias by first spotting you ANTs and challenging them in a realistic way.  When you have this thought, ask yourself (or the other person with the ANT) a few challenging questions:

  • How much do you believe in this thought? 
  • What is the evidence for and against this thought? Could you convince a jury that your negative interpretation is the best or only valid one? 
  • How many times in the past have you had this kind of thought? Have you ever been wrong? 
  • If the thought is true, are there some things you can do to improve the situation? 
  • THE KEY QUESTION!! Is this thought helping me?

Promote healthy thinking by catching your own ANTs and helping those around spot and challenge theirs. 

3. Think About Who’s on Your Team

Isolation is, well, isolating.  With isolation becoming more frequent, people are beginning to express the challenges that they are experiencing from connecting less with others.  Being isolated for medical reasons, or even working from home can make people feel flat and lonely.  It is no surprise that this change is having a big impact on people around the globe.  Research suggests that our relationships are one of the biggest predictors of physical and psychological wellbeing across all ages.  During this unusual time, it may be important for all of us to find new ways to stay connected and support our families, friends, co-workers and communities.  

What You Can Do

It can be helpful to think about who in your life you can reach out to when you need some support, a laugh, or just looking for a chat.  You can create a list of people to ring or video chat to have on hand when you need a bit of a mood boost.  To get your list started, you may want to ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Who could you turn to for help with daily chores or work tasks if you were sick?
  • Who makes you feel energised when you spend time with them?
  • Who is someone that can give you information to help you understand a situation?
  • Who makes you feel good about yourself?
  • Who is someone you can count on to listen to you when you need to talk?
  • Who is someone to have a good time with? 

You can schedule a time to connect with the people in your life and set a reminder on your calendar.  It can be as simple as a quick text, a phone call, a video chat or even sending a card or letter.  Remember, if you’re feeling a bit lonely there’s a good chance that others are as well.  

Stay Calm and Healthy

The tips above may not prevent Coronavirus, but we hope that they provide you with a few ideas on how you can stay mentally healthy during this challenging time.  Just like physical fitness, your mental fitness requires regular practice and good habits.  Practising the tips above regularly can help you stay mentally fit and bounce back more successfully when things are tough.

If you are interested in learning more ways to build mental fitness in your home, school, workplace or community, visit our website at www.appli.edu.au.  We also offer digital wellbeing programs, online courses, training programs and consulting services for individuals and organisations. 

Can DIY Activities Improve Wellbeing?

Can Participating in DIY Activities Improve Wellbeing?

With so many television programs and social media sites decided to hobbies, crafts and “do-it-yourself” activities, there is no denying that the DIY or “Maker” movement continues to gain momentum.  While many people report that they enjoy participating is such activities but there is less scientific research on if participating in these kinds of activities ultimately increase quality of life.

One aim of a recent study explores the self-identify of “Makers” and if Maker activities create an immediate or long-term benefit in life. In the study, participants were given a list with 18 activities that were later grouped into 3 categories: Domestic Activities (scrapbooking, baking, cooking, gardening; fishing/hunting); DIY (woodworking, electronics, fixing mechanical, metal work); and Arts and Crafts (photography/films/movies; quilting; drawing/painting; sewing; Making jewelry; knitting/crocheting; ceramics; computer graphics/web design).  Participants answered questions related to how and when they engaged with the activities, the reasons for participating the activities, the extent to which each activity was considered arousing or activating, the extent to which each activity induced a type of positive mood.  The participants also answered questions about their psychosocial characteristics such as the tendency to ruminate after stressful events, self-focus (using the Quiet Ego Scale), subjective wellbeing and positive and negative affect.

The results showed that the Maker identity was significantly associated with enhanced SWB and higher positive mood scores and higher QES scores.  According to the authors, high QES scores reflect preferences for valuing the well-being of others as well as for the self, personal growth, empathy, and an ability to live in the moment without judgment.  For the individual Maker activities, the highest positive mood scores were reported for baking, photography/films/movies, cooking, drawing/painting, ceramics, fishing/hunting, and knitting/crocheting.

While the sample for this study was predominately female college students, it does shed light on some opportunities for future research on how hobbies, maker and DIY actives may promote personal wellbeing.

What type of activities do you participate in that you find rewarding, enjoyable, or fulfilling?  We would love to hear your thoughts.

 

References

Collier, A. and Wayment, H. (2017). Psychological Benefits of the “Maker” or Do-It-Yourself Movement in Young Adults: A Pathway Towards Subjective Well-Being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(4), pp.1217-1239.

Wellbeing – the simple truth behind this latest buzzword

Wellbeing – the simple truth behind this latest buzzword

The term ‘wellbeing’ has become a hot topic in the past decade.  Wellbeing is mentioned everywhere from TV commercials to corporate values.  It is used to sell supplements, medical products, self-help books, ‘super food smoothies’ and even makeup and beauty products.  With the vast array of applications, it is no wonder that there is confusion about what wellbeing actually is.

In reality, wellbeing is more than a trendy buzzword.  Psychological wellbeing refers to the scientific attributes that allow people to flourish at school, work and life.  The World Health Organization (2014) defines wellbeing as “a state in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.”  Wellbeing is the ability to develop skills and resources that outweigh the challenges that you may face in life.

What contributes to this state of wellbeing can be quite complex.  Most researchers agree that wellbeing is a ‘multi-dimensional construct’, which simply means that it is made up of a number of separate but related ideas. A good example of a ‘multi-dimensional construct’ is the concept of physical fitness. Physical fitness consists of strength, flexibility and endurance. They’re each a separate element, but all are components of physical fitness.

Some of these underlying constructs that contribute to wellbeing include psychological concepts like meaning and purpose in life, resilience, positive emotions, satisfaction with life, mindfulness, relationships, social and emotional skills, workplace engagement, creativity, gratitude, optimism, goal setting and attainment, leadership skills, and many more.  In fact, there are hundreds of specific constructs that are being studied by scientists and wellbeing researchers.

Unlike traditional psychology which focuses on what is wrong in the brain and how to fix it, the study of wellbeing (sometimes referred to as Positive Psychology) focuses on discovering how people with very high levels of mental health think, feel and behave.  By analyzing these attributes, scientists and researchers have now developed many evidence-based ways of teaching people with low to moderate levels of mental health how to cultivate these skills and improve their wellbeing over time.  When practised regularly, these resources serve as a protective buffer against mental illness, stress and burnout.  You can think of wellbeing resources as an inoculation, boosting the psychological immune system to assist when critical challenges arise.

Why focus on wellbeing?

Around the world, schools, workplaces, communities and governments are focusing on how they can help their people build these critical psychological skills.  The evidence is compelling: low levels of wellbeing have huge implications for individuals and communities. We know that mental illness accounts for between 3% and 16% of total health expenditure across many countries (OECD, 2011).  In a report to the World Economic Forum in 2012, Gerald Bloom (a physician and health economist at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex) predicted that the global cost of mental illness would be more than $6 trillion by 2030. It’s a staggering figure that includes loss of labour supply, high rates of unemployment, high incidence of illness, absence from work and study, and decreased productivity (Mental Health and Work: Switzerland, 2014).

Globally, depression is the number 1 cause of illness and disability in age group 10-14, and suicide ranks number 3 among causes of death. Some studies show that half of all people who develop mental disorders have their first symptoms by the age of 14 (Espinoza, 2015).

Martin Seligman is one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology. He suggests that we have much to gain both economically and socially by beginning to think about wellbeing and mental health promotion in conjunction with mental illness prevention and treatment. He argues that if we continue to focus on simply responding to diagnosed mental illness alone, the best we can hope for is to reduce levels of diagnosed mental illness (Seligman, 2011).

Building on this idea, many scholars and practitioners today propose that we focus on developing wellbeing for its own sake (because our families and communities are stronger when people have high levels of wellbeing), rather than simply to reduce and prevent mental illness.  There is good reason for this paradigm shift.  Research suggests that improved levels of wellbeing are associated with many benefits, including:

  • faster recovery from surgery
  • lower incidence of cancer
  • improved immunity to colds and flu viruses
  • reduced incidence of heart attacks
  • increased ability to cope with stress
  • higher levels of worker satisfaction and productivity
  • increased life expectancy
  • stronger verbal communication skills
  • improved memory
  • more openness in social relationships
  • fewer illnesses
  • fewer marriage breakups
  • more creative and flexible thinking
  • increased creativity
  • higher levels of mental acuity
  • better performance at work
  • improved ability to make decisions
  • greater resilience following trauma
  • greater tolerance towards others

In an education setting, improved levels of wellbeing are associated with:

  • better academic results
  • higher levels of academic engagement and participation
  • higher retention rates
  • stronger social and emotional skills
  • pro-social behaviour
  • higher levels of optimism
  • improved health-related behaviours
  • greater levels of self-control
  • fewer symptoms of depression
  • less hopelessness
  • lower clinical levels of depression and anxiety
  • reduction in conduct problems
  • lower levels of procrastination

(Seligman, 2011; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008; Dutton & Ragins, 2007; Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson, 2008; Durlak et al., 2011; Gray & Hackling, 2009; Noble & McGrath, 2012; Bird, & Markle, 2012; Brunwasser, Gillham& Kim, 2009; Seligman et al., 2009).

So how can we do it?

Anyone can learn to build their wellbeing resources.  But, it takes the cultivation of habits and regular practice of evidence-based activities.  Just like physical fitness, your mental fitness our mental fitness also requires our constant attention and the cultivation of good practices (Robinson, 2017; 2014; Robinson, Oades & Caputi, 2015; Zolezzi, 2017). Evidence suggests that individuals are able to learn the skills of wellbeing and achieve measurable improvements in their daily functioning and personal and professional performance. So which practices and activities should people practice?  Follow the Appli blog to find out…

References

Bird, J., Markle, R. (2012). Subjective wellbeing in school environments: Promoting positive youth development through evidence-based assessment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82, 61-66.

Bloom, D.E., Cafiero, E.T., Jané-Llopis, E., Abrahams-Gessel, S., Bloom, L.R., Fathima, S., Feigl, A.B., Gaziano, T., Mowafi, M., Pandya, A., Prettner, K., Rosenberg, L., Seligman, B., Stein, A.Z., & Weinstein, C. (2011). The Global Economic Burden of Noncommunicable Diseases. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

Brunwasser, S.M., Gillham, J. E., & Kim, E. S. (2009). A meta-analytic review of the Penn Resiliency Program’s effect on depressive symptoms. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77(6). 1042-1054.

Durlak, J., Weissberg, P., Dymnicki, A., Taylor, R., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: a meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x.

Dutton, J. E. (Ed); Ragins, B.R. (Ed). (2007). Exploring positive relationships at work: Building a theoretical and research foundation. LEA’s organization and management series (pp. 387-400). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Espinoza, J. (2015, March 18). ‘Stress pushing teachers to leave profession,’ figures show. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11480108/Stress-pushing-teachers-to- leave-profession-figures-show.html

Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in Positive Psychology. The broaden and build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.21

Fredrickson, B. (2008). Promoting positive affect. In M. Eid & R. Larsen, The Science of Subjective Well-being (pp. 449-468). New York: Guilford Press.

Gray, J., & Hackling, M. (2009). Wellbeing and retention: A senior secondary student perspective. The Australian Educational Researcher, 36(2), 119-145.

Heaphy, E. D., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 137-162.

Mental Health and Work: Switzerland. (2014). Mental Health and Work. http://dx.doi. org/10.1787/9789264204973-en

Noble, T., & McGrath, H. (2012). The positive educational practices framework: A tool for facilitating the work of educational psychologists in promoting pupil wellbeing. Educational & Child Psychology, 25(2), 119-134.

OECD. (2011). Health at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi. org/10.1787/health_glance-2011-en

Robinson, P. Leading with Mental Fitness. In Koonce, R., Robinson, P, Vogel, B. (Eds.) (2017).  Developing Leaders for Positive Organizing. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing.

Robinson, P. L., (2014) Conceptualising and measuring mental fitness, Doctor of Philosophy thesis,  Department of Psychology, University of Wollongong. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4269

Robinson, P. L., Oades, L. G., & Caputi, P. (2015). Conceptualising and measuring mental fitness: A Delphi study. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(1), 53-73.

Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive Psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 298-311.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and Wellbeing and how to achieve them. London, UK: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Zolezzi, S. (2017), Mental Fitness at Knox Grammar School, Koonce, R. (Ed.) Developing Leaders for Positive Organizing,Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 243-261.

World Health Organisation. (2014, May 14). WHO calls for stronger focus on adolescent health. Retried from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/focus-adolescent-health/en/