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Margaret Moore
Margaret Moore

How Coaching Works: Positive Psychology

How Coaching Works – The Use of Positive Psychology

Watch How Coaching Works: A Short Movie on You Tube

We released a movie titled "How Coaching Works" as a way to explain coaching, via YouTube, using an animated cartoon. This blog series aims to share the psychological underpinnings of the coach approach demonstrated in the carton and utilized by master coaches.

In the late 1990's the world of psychology began to turn itself inside out. Thanks in part to Martin Seligman who was, at the time, the leader of the American Psychological Association, psychologists began to question if there was another way to approach the pursuit of wellbeing.

A new brand of psychology emerged which, rather than studying mental illness, focused on human happiness and optimal functioning. These "Positive Psychologists" began to ask questions such as "What is it contributes to the success of ‘high' functioning people?" and "What can we learn from those who are mentally well?"

To put it simply, there are two ways for improving our wellbeing: one is to rid ourselves of the negative things in our lives, the second is to strengthen those things that are positive. Positive Psychology emphasizes the second.

Coaches who use the principles of positive psychology focus on the potential use of strengths in clients - such as optimism, gratitude, and creativity - for enhancing day-to-day personal happiness. And happiness grows when we have pleasure, engagement and meaning in our lives.

Sound intriguing? Here are a few practices you could apply in your own life to enhance your pleasure, meaning and engagement:

1. Get to Know Your Strengths - Visit and take the "VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire" to learn about your interpersonal virtues. The questionnaire is affirming of those strengths that you most naturally exhibit and gives you clues about ways to leverage your top five strengths to get more out of life.

2. Say "Thanks" - Recall the persons who have supported you throughout your life and express your appreciation to them. Write a letter, detailing what the person did for you and how it impacted your life, and then deliver it to them in person, when possible.

3. Acknowledge What Is Good - Each evening, write about three things that went really well during your day. For each positive event, answer "Why did this thing happen?" Determining the cause of the event is the most important part of the exercise because it supports the recurrence of a similar event in the future.

4. Create a Vision - Those with a sense of purpose, and strategies to achieve that purpose, are far happier than those who don't. In fact, just working toward a goal, even if it's never achieved, is equally beneficial to one's wellbeing. Consider setting and working toward goals which meet the following criteria:

  • They are a reward for you because they are inherently satisfying, rather than a means to an end;
  • They are your own and honor your values - as opposed to someone else's like your parents or spouse; and,
  • Choose a goal that is about what you want versus what you don't want. For example, saying you "want to be healthy and strong" rather than saying you "don't want to be fat."

Masterful coaches share these, and many other techniques, borrowed from positive psychology to enhance the life experience of their clients. Stay tuned for another introduction to the tools and philosophies of coaching, which you can apply in your own life today...

About the Author
Margaret Moore

Margaret Moore is the co-director of the McLean/Harvard Medical School Institute of Coaching.

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