Thriving means “to grow and prosper.” So what does a thriving person look like?
A thriving person:
- Understands how their mind works and is no longer a slave to unconscious habits.
- practices positive thoughts and an optimistic outlook in order to reap the benefits of positivity while still being realistic.
- practices the skills required to make things happen, and a mindset that promotes life long growth and learning.
- develops and maintains good relationships by building self-awareness and empathy for others.
- understands what success means for them and is not distracted by culturally defined success.
- makes it a habit to dwell on the good moments in their life and practices gratitude daily.
- understands their purpose in the world and sets about fulfilling that purpose, not to gain the respect of others or financial rewards but from a deep understanding of what they can offer and a willingness to give.
- experiences deep sense of joy regularly and seeks to support joy and success in the people around them.
Everyone can thrive! Most people are born thriving, it is our factory setting if you like. As we grow older we can interpret stress and sadness as a natural part of life. While some stress and adversity is unavoidable, (and is useful to us) much of the associated suffering is a function of our perception.
As children most of us experience life as joyful and exciting (although there are notable exceptions) but as we grow older many of us see the world very differently. We begin to believe that joy and excitement are a part of youth that naturally falls away as we get older. For many people responsibility replaces joy and stress drowns out fun and enthusiasm. It is easy to assume that this transition is a natural part of growing up.
But it is not.
In the last decade, a new branch of research has built a body of evidence that challenges old views of adult life. It suggests that stress, lack of joy, enthusiasm, excitement and other positive emotions are not diminished by ageing but because of unproductive habits.
These bad habits can be challenged and replaced with ones that create more joy and wellbeing. In short we can all improve our level of thriving by creating new more productive habits. In the process, we can move to new ways of being and behaving that create a very different idea of what an adult does, says, thinks and feels.
This programme is about reaching your current goals but it is also about developing habits that will allow you to reach every goal you will ever set yourself. It all starts with thriving so this is what we will cover first.
How to Thrive
There are 7 factors that support thriving:
- Positive emotion – appreciation and gratitude. Even small things like our favourite coffee can create “feel good” moments. Taking the time to dwell on and feel grateful for these moments supports long term wellbeing.
- Physical Stuff – exercise, food and sleep, what does the sweet spot for each of these look like for you?
- Achievement – hone your expertise skills.
- Meaning and life purpose – understanding what genuine success is for you.
- Building good relationships – techniques for developing good relationships.
- Growth and positive mindset – mindsets that support life long learning, success and wellbeing.
- Mindfulness – a technique for quieting the mind which reduces stress and increases wellbeing.
Take some time now to review your schedule to build in time to experience more of the first two factors listed above.
- Think about how you might add more time for positive emotion in your daily routine.
- Now think about how you might find 30 mins three times a week to add exercise.
Achievement, mindset, good relationships and mindfulness we will cover in more detail in the session. Please go ahead and schedule activities into your calendar which we will review in the first session.
If you want to learn to thrive yourself and/or learn how to develop thriving in others you will need to make some changes. Not only that, you will need to keep practicing those changes until they become habits, which takes a minimum of 30 days, sometimes longer. It will require commitment but practicing the 7 factors of thriving brings immediate rewards as well as long term benefits, so the effort is worth it.
You may find that many of the 7 factors listed you already do, so the need for change may be small. However, regardless of the scope of change, it’s not always easy to make change.
Barriers to Change
Unless you are one of those people who is constantly craving new experiences, you probably have a pretty comfortable routine organised or at least a routine that is comfortingly familiar.
Even when we know making changes would be “good for us,” it can be difficult. Here are a few barriers to change that might be helpful to be aware of:
1. What the elephant knows
A widely accepted model for human cognition is that we have two modes of thinking. One is automatic, which is very fast and feels effortless.
In automatic mode we use learned sets of stimulus and response that we know are successful. We don’t have to re-process the stimulus and work out what to do, we already have a model. This is really useful. For example, if you are being attacked by a sabre toothed tiger, you can use all your energy to run and you don’t have to stop and think.
Alternatively, we can use the conscious mode, which allows us to think things through, analyse situations and data. This mode is much slower but means we can gather new experiences and work things out.
In John Haidt’s book “Happiness Hypothesis,” he describes these two modes of thinking with the metaphor of an elephant and rider. The elephant is the automatic mode, and the rider is the analytic mind. It is the riders job to keep the elephant going in a sensible direction but it’s not always easy!
The elephant starts gathering data from our earliest days. Much of what we know we have learnt by watching or listening to our parents, siblings and friends. The things the elephant knows represent the most comfortable, familiar, and effortless option. To make change we often need to re-train the elephant which means we have to become aware of when we are in automatic mode and switch to analytical.
Think of a time you have had to re-learn something or you have chosen to react differently in a situation. How did you do it?
If you have never had to make re-learn or change something before please follow these steps:
1.Think of a strategy you could use to make change.
2. Write down your strategy.
3. Identify a small change you would like to make and test your strategy.
4. Make notes on: How well does your strategy work? What were the challenges? How did making that small change go?
Give yourself a rating for this exercise as follows:
A – No problem used my strategy it went great I know how to make changes in my life.
B – Pretty good. Strategy needs a few tweaks but I have a clear way forward when it comes to making changes.
Not yet – Strategy did not work, I need to discover more about how to change habits and make them stick.
Now, consider the changes that you are scheduling for next week, which do you think will be the most difficult to keep make, think about how your strategy might help.
2. Other People
Our friends and family can also become a barrier to change. Even those who are our greatest allies can consciously or unconsciously undermine our efforts. The roles we play within our families and groups of friends are often unspoken but what we do and say and how we are around others forms the basis of our relationships. As soon as we start changing we can, at least temporarily, undermine those relationships. Thinking through new activities or connections we can make with our friends and family while transforming ourselves can be a big help.
What actions might you need to take to manage your close relationships while you make changes? For example, if you try and add more exercise into your schedule does your sedentary spouse or friend encourage you to keep going or start to schedule events in the time you had planned to exercise?
After reflecting on how your friends and family react to changes you have made in the past. Give yourself a “Support rating” of A, B or Not yet.
A – lots of great support.
B – Once I explained the support that would be useful friends and family have been very supportive.
Not yet – Needs work my friends and family seem invested in me “not changing.”
3. What Are You Getting Out of it?
Some barriers to change may need shifting from the inside out. For example, many people who find it hard to quit smoking will say that there is nothing they like about smoking and yet they don’t manage to give up for any length of time. Or some might say they want to give up but it relaxes them. One of the things we know about smoking from a physiological perspective is that it does not relax people. In fact, it does the opposite. Working out what the smoker gets out of smoking is key to sustained success. Does smoking distract you from experiencing unwanted emotions? Does smoking help avoid a sense of inadequacy in some situations?
Being open and honest about what you get from a habit you want to change or what you will have to give up to make space for a new habit, will help you replace those things with better options or deal with the underlying issue.
4. Staying Motivated
Writing a plan is probably the easiest part of creating change. Staying the course when the going gets tough is definitely more difficult. Who hasn’t at some stage given up on some New Years resolution? Similarly, a plan that includes, for example, running at 7 A.M. might be just doable in the summer but it may be tortuous in the winter. Here are some suggestions on how to stay on track:
• Goals: review your goals – are they exciting enough to keep you going?
• Expectations: manage your expectations. If you think a goal is taking too long to achieve you may be disheartened simply because you have not accurately predicted how long the skill will take to build.
• Sticking to the task: If you find focus fading, you might like to try these strategies:
• Make sure your environment is free of distractions.
• Avoid fear of failure by viewing actions and events as learning opportunities.
• Check that your big goals hold meaning for you. Some of the tasks we need to do to build mastery are not fun but our big picture goal should see us through. If it does not, it may be time to reassess.
• Make it easy to get started. Overcome inertia by giving yourself a small task.
Write a goal and a plan to achieve it around the changes you will make next week.
5. Being Fixed
Creating a purposeful self image can be helpful in making positive change, but equally how you see yourself can be a hindrance. If you think of yourself as someone who does not have the will power to keep going, then progress will be even more difficult. Understanding the beliefs we have about how humans are, can be the key that unlocks positive change.
Dr. Dweck has been studying self-theories for over 30 years. Her work on mindset provides valuable insights on how our beliefs about ourselves can hold us back when we want to change the things we do or improve our skills. Dweck identified two common mindsets, fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe their talents and their weaknesses are innate so no amount of practice will help them improve. In contrast, people with a growth mindset see whatever talent they are born with as just the beginning. They know that with practice they will improve. Dr. Dweck discovered that growth mindset people are less stressed and more successful than fixed mindset people. So it pays to adopt a growth mindset.
Do you have any beliefs that will get in the way of the changes you plan to make next week?
Personal Research – Curiosity is Your Greatest Learning Tool
The Thriving programme is based on current research findings which makes them a “generally” proven hypothesis. Some of the research is well established, which means the results have been verified in more than one study. Where as some research has yet to be replicated. Even for findings that have been replicated the research groups are often students or people who are nothing like you. This means even if it is generally true it may not be true for you. Throughout this coaching programme you will be investigating which elements of “Thriving theory” work for you in practice.
Conducting personal research is a great way to explore what works for you
For example, you might like to set up an experiment to investigate how different foods effect your wellbeing. You might choose a food group such as dairy to remove from your diet for a few weeks and see what effect it has when you avoid it and then re-introduce it.
Create an experiment spreadsheet. Add columns that will help you run and assess the personal impact of each experiment. For example, you might want to add spaces for notes on each experiment, the conditions of each experiment, what went well and how you measured it, challenges, benefits and outcomes.
Make a list of experiments you would like to undertake in the next 7 weeks and add them to your spreadsheet. See an example Experiment Spreadsheet here.