Positive Psychology: Educate & Empower

Call it “Positive Psychology,” “Power of Positive Thinking,” or the “Psychology of Achievement,” but by any name it is about learning life skills that make our lives more meaningful.  The idea is that our brains are amazing computing organs, and if we feed a better operating system into our minds, we can help it to run better.  And a better operating brain can make life a whole lot easier to enjoy.

Recently I was introduced to the work of Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, who has taken this body work to a new academic level. In his speech to the educators, Seligman asks two fundamental questions: (1) what do we want for our children in life; and (2) what do we teach or children in school? When we critically answer these for ourselves and our children we find little overlap between the two.  What I admire most of Seligman’s work is he shows us a pathway for educators – verified by academic research – on how we can do better to achieve these important goals for children.  Seligman offers a great tool set for your own “authentic happiness” and has excellent presentations on the topics of happiness and well being.

Teaching individuals how to “be happy” and “achieve goals” is important work. And starting earlier is better, because the alternative to doing so creates burdens across our systems of family, healthcare, and support networks.  One group that organized to build critical “life skills” for youth is Super Camp.  I found Super Camp years ago for my children after studying the work of Brian Tracy.  Like Seligman, I saw thought that my son could benefit from some important life skills that were not being taught at school.  I thought that young impressionable minds were ripe to receive elements of Brian’s Psychology of Achievement into their operating systems – and these concepts were on par with understanding how to read, write, and do arithmetic.  Learning life skills can help youth through the challenges and setbacks that are certain to come in life, and there is no reason one needs to wait until they are an adult to begin.

Following on Seligman’s work is the immensely popular Ted Talk and best selling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance of Angela Duckworth. Angela does a great job of identifying the concept of Grit as a baseline attribute that individuals need to understand and harness in order to get through or over challenges and achieve ones goals in life.

The biggest takeaway I get from Angela’s message is “duration” of effort.  When we live in a world of immediate feedback loops and instant gratification we are often tricked into measuring our progress (or lack thereof) on an inaccurate time scale. I often explain that my work to get to ultra-distance athletic events is mere preparatory training for the marathon of a corporate effort. This means that entrepreneurs need to be in it for the long-game. The amount of sustained effort necessary towards achieving a business goals is unending. Knowing your purpose, always moving forward in action, and understanding what you will “give” in order to get to the finish line is name of the game.

While no operating system, or instruction manual, is perfect or complete – let alone one that attempts to support  the operating system of the human mind – these educators are on the right path. Supporting the inclusion of learning of “life skills” deeper into our educational system can only result in improved outcomes in productivity, happiness and an overall sense of well being. Seligman offers a baseline process for doing this without the hype or novelty of Tony Robbins or Norman Vincent Peale (both of whom are awesome!).  Bottom line, our job as entrepreneurs is to create business environments that  make room for meaningful work and meaningful environments (Principles, Dalio).