Research Paper By Jamie Swan
(Business Coach, CANADA)
The field of Positive Psychology is quickly creating an empirical backdrop for the profession of coaching. The goal of Positive Psychology is to create sound theories of how to achieve optimal functioning and improve the lives of ordinary people, much in line with the goals of coaching.
Martin Seligman was the former president of the American Psychological Association and is the founder of the field of Positive Psychology. He has created a model called the Authentic Happiness Coaching (AHC) model. This model is particularly useful for coaches to familiarize themselves with as it is a great tool for helping clients to achieve their optimal life.
In reviewing executive coaching literature, there is a definite focus on a deficits based view of coaching. Addressing specific problems with the aim of resolving them. There is little light shed on taking normally functioning individuals and helping them achieve greater levels of success and happiness in their endeavors. This type of view taints not only the framing of the coaching relationship but even the language used within the relationship. Positive Psychology aims to change that to a strengths and vision based language instead of a deficits and problems based language. It is about helping clients to identify their unique strengths and new ways of applying these strengths in service of their bigger goals.
It is positive emotions which help us to thrive and build our resilience. The Broaden and Build Theory by Fredrickson, shows that when we feel more positive emotions, it opens up our view of the world and the possibilities we face while negative emotions actually close of view to allow us to focus in on the problem. When our scope of attention is broadened we are able to build up our enduring resources and seek out new knowledge and abilities.
Positive emotions have been shown to increase our immune system function, improve our resilience, reduce inflammatory responses to stress, lower cortisol, and predict greater longevity. With all these benefits, the importance of focusing on building up positive emotions cannot be overstated and coaches are in a great position to do just that with their clients.
When coaching with client’s we can address specific problems but keeping a focus on the bigger vision of what they want in lives can help them to move towards a happier more fulfilling life with less problems and more resilience to face the problems that do come up. There are several activities and assessments that can be used by coaches without the requirement of further education.
So how do coaches begin to include positive psychology in their coaching sessions? The Values in Action (VIA) strengths survey helps to identify top strengths, find ways to capitalize on them and to measure changes over time. It is available at authentichappiness.org. It is an excellent resource to use with clients and assesses a scale of 24 characteristics.
Based on the research from the VIA survey, The Authentic Happiness Coaching Model offers several interventions to use with clients to increase their positive emotionality and life satisfaction.
Coaching to Increase Positive Emotion – The Good Life
- Have the client describe themselves at their very best based on the events of the prior week.
- Have them take the assessments at http://authentichappiness.org.
Increasing Daily Positive Emotion
- Savoring a Beautiful Day – ask the client to set aside a bit of time to do their favorite pleasurable activities.
- Three Blessings Exercise – have your client write 3 great things that happened during the day and reflect on what they did to create them. We often don’t credit ourselves with our positive experiences.
Increasing/Enhancing Positive Emotion about the Past
- Gratitude Visit – chose a person in your life that has done something for you that you are truly grateful for but have not properly thanked them for. Write them a letter and set up a meeting with them. At the meeting, read them your letter and leave it with them.
- Letting Go of Grudges – write the name of a person you have a grudge against on the paper and write all the grudge in a few words. Then create 15 circles around it and fill them with things the same person did that were kind or helpful. Hold it at arm’s length and ask them to find the balance.
Increasing/Enhancing Positive Emotion about the Future
- One door Closes, another one opens – write out a couple times in your life that something happened to thwart your plans unexpectedly, cause a failure or a loss. Then for each of those times, write at least one good thing that came from it.
- Optimism Building – Analyze a past success and a past failure. For successes, identify how you made it happen and for failure, identify where it was beyond your control (circumstances or actions).
- Rapid Fire Disputation - ABCDE method of dealing with pessimistic thinking. A = Adversity, B = Automatic beliefs about it, C = usual consequences, D = Dispute routine belief, E = Energize when it’s disputed.
Coaching to Increase Engagement – The Engaged Life
Engagement with Activity
- Strengths Application - Use a top strength in a new way purposefully
Increasing Engagement with Others
- Strengths date – Your client partners with another person and both identify their top strengths using the VIA strengths finder. Then they plan an activity together that puts into play both of their top strengths.
Coaching to Increase Sense of Purpose – The Purposeful Life
Fun vs. Philanthropy – Clients plan one activity for personal enjoyment on one day. One another day they plan an activity to bring joy to another person. They then reflect on their happiness on each of the days to see what brings them more joy.
Strengths Family Tree – Have family members take the VIA survey and identify their strengths, then a family tree is made up with all the strengths. The family members then tell stories and anecdotes about their strengths and see where the similarities lie.
Life Summary – Have you client write out their life’s summary the way they would want a grandchild to read it. What things are most meaningful to you in life? What are you most proud of? How would you like to be remembered?
Activities for all Three Pathways to Happiness
Diary Exercise – Ask the following questions on an hourly basis throughout a regular day:
- What did I do?
- Was it enjoyable?
- To what extent did the activity have meaning?
- Have the client review at the end of the day and develop a hypothesis about what makes them
Plan for happiness – Using the information from the diary exercise, have your client plan a day around the activities that make them happiest. Have one activity that is pleasurable, one that is engaging and one that is meaningful.
These are activities that coaches can use in their coaching sessions to help people to develop more meaning, engaged lives that make them truly happy. There is no clinical training required but the exercises are more a way to facilitate the client’s self-exploration of what is important to them in life and how they can create a life plan that includes more of that.