The Power of Organisational Psychology

Organisational Psychology is about more than just making workplaces better. In my mind, it uses systems thinking and provides knowledge/tools about human behaviour that allow us to positively impact any group of people. People’s awareness and desire to address the complex and ambiguous problems in the world is increasing each day. In the true spirit of systems thinking, there is an emerging sense in the world that we will only be able to solve our problems by acknowledging and making use of how interconnected our global society really is. Collective awareness and desire to make the world better is leading to organisations like the one below.

These organisations improve our collective knowledge and collective ability. Eventually, we will be able to intervene skilfully and improve the wellbeing of not just our workplaces but our entire global society. The true reflection of a society is how they care for their most weak and vulnerable. This philosophy no longer only applies to individual organisations or countries but to the world in general. Thank you to Marianne Roux for sharing this new organisation while she is at the SIOP Conference in Orlando!

Bursting the bubble

It’s time to burst the bubble a little. Does Positive Thinking work for everyone?

In my utopian world, it does. Positive Thinking is fact and the way to lead a fulfilling life. Ideas such as positive thinking and the law of attraction are a full-proof guide to solving life’s problems. Moreover, unhappy people that don’t subscribe to these ideas have no excuses. If they took up the same practices they would solve their problems. Everyone starts with a clean slate, the development years mold this slate and finally as a conscious adult we decide where the slate sets. Everyone therefore has the chance to write their path, no matter the culture, country or situation their born into.

It’s a beautiful image, but an unforgiving one. To say that every single person in the world can flourish and lead a happy and rewarding life is dogmatic. Not everyone can drive the vehicle of Positive Thinking down a successful road. Before we explore the limits of Positive Thinking though, we must be clear on the difference between Positive Psychology and Positive Thinking.
Positive Psychology v. Positive Thinking

Positive psychology is a legitimate research field originally started by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1998. Seligman, as the President of the APA (American Psychologist Association), has become the unofficial spokesperson and head researcher for the now global movement based at the Penn Positive Psychology Centre. Between 2000 and 2010 almost 1000 peer-reviewed articles were published in the field.

In contrast, Positive Thinking blindly backs positivity in every situation. The Psychology of Wellbeing Blog highlights the difference very clearly. Positive thinking demands positivity even when the situation doesn’t warrant it, while Positive Psychology studies why optimism is sometimes beneficial and sometimes not.

“Positive thinking is a one-note song that falls flat in certain situations, while positive psychology is about understanding the rich complexity of the positive side of life (The Psychology of Wellbeing Blog: The Difference Between Positive Thinking and Positive Psychology).”

So it seems Positive Psychology is the needle in Positive Thinking’s balloon. Positive Psychology is based on extensive research and recognizes the importance of both sides. Positive Thinking instead likes to spread its wings and send its message freely and without accountability. For example, Positive Psychologists are quick to separate themselves from mainstream books such as, The Law of Attraction (Esther Hicks) and The Secret (Rhonda Byrne).

So if Positive Thinking’s bubble is burst, can we leave Positive Psychology to float along happily on its current path? The APA published article Positive Psychology Advances, with Growing Pains, provides strong arguments for both sides, but is ultimately inconclusive. Seligman defends the use of Positive Psychology because of the decades of research that each program is based on. It’s not fluffy, but based on hard evidence with proven results.

Babara Held’s main disagreement with Positive Psychology is the same as mine addressed at the beginning of this article; it blames the victim. It assumes that despite a persons background or culture, internal wiring or disability, they should be able to follow the steps of Positive Psychology to a fulfilling life. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not quite convinced. That the research of  Psychology is becoming less focused on illness and more on the positive side of life is the key point.


To coach effectively, you need respect. Not just respect from the student, but mutually. The coaching relationship starts as an imbalance; the coach possess knowledge or skill that the student is there to learn. For the relationship to really foster this imbalance must be corrected from the outset.

If you expect respect, be the first to show it

Many coaches expect their students to respect them because of their superiority in age, achievement or skill level. If a coach expects respect from their students, however, they must be the first to show it. Respect is THE most important bridge a coach can build with their students. By simply learning their students names or taking part in an activity themselves, they have started building respect. Mutual respect between student and coach creates a safe learning environment because it harnesses a balanced relationship.A safe environment allows the student to flourish, to ask questions, to challenge their coach and to strengthen their own ideas or skills. Ultimately, the coaching relationship will be beneficial to both sides involved.

Lead by example

If you don’t walk what you talk, don’t expect your students to either. The spotlight is on you when you are a coach. Whether they’re little eyes or big ones, everything you do is being noted. For example, a personal trainer will motivate their clients more easily if they are fit themselves. Put simply, they live by their word. There is an alignment between coaching and practice.

 Fish for a lifetime

Another simple and common phrase, but there’s a reason it is still used. It’s true. Coaching successfully in any scenario is about teaching a method of practice, not an end result. Excellent coaches will provide tools for growth and then allow time and space for the student use them. This point is self-explanatory, but still difficult to carry out. Success is achieved through humility. The coach is there to help the student find their path, not write it for them. Inevitably, the lessons and skills the student learns themselves will be more strongly engrained. Importantly, they will have complete ownership of their achievements.

Mutual respect is a life philosophy as much as a coaching one. Respect is the strongest pillar around which successful coaching can be developed because it acknowledges the other person as equal. Despite all differences, superior or inferior skills or characteristics, each person is treated equally.

Authentic Happiness = 3.92

It’s ironic that Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, detests the word ‘happiness’ (p. 9, Seligman, 2012). Positive psychology is one of the most exciting topics of research in the recent psychology research. Seligman flipped psychology on its head! His simple change of approach has redefined psychology. Seligman decided that instead of studying the worlds problems he’d study its successes. Rather than research how we can fix mental illness, psychology took the new path of studying how we can all achieve authentic happiness.

Seligman preferred to refer to his baby as Positive Psychology, but reveals in ‘Flourishing’ that the editor convinced him the title ‘Authentic Happiness,’ would sell more books. To let go of the title says a lot of Seligman. He cares more about spreading the word than keeping the name pure; a sentiment many scientists struggle to detach from. But positive psychology and authentic happiness are now in the mainstream thanks to Seligman.

Positive Psychology: An Introduction (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000), was the first paper published that outlined the new field. It describes positive psychology as, ‘valued subjective experiences (p. 5).’ The paper describes Positive psychology as focusing on ones satisfaction with the past, our flow and happiness in the present and our hope and optimism for the future. For Seligman, the idea began in his backyard. He was weeding the garden with his five-year old daughter and told her off for throwing the weeds in the air and singing and dancing. She went away and came back a short while later with a request that would transform Seligman’s view on parenting and psychology:

“Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday?

From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000).”

That’s a pretty remarkable statement from such a young girl! It made Seligman realise that parenting wasn’t about fixing a child’s weaknesses but rather identifying and nurturing a child strengths, and by extension that life and psychology is about this as well.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) decided that while research and treatment into curing mental illness had been extremely beneficial to the world, a new page had to be turned. In Seligmans words, ‘If psychologists wish to improve the human condition, it is not enough to help those who suffer (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000).’

The website for Authentic Happiness is well worth looking at if you’re after personal quizzes and current studies in the field. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out where I rate on the authentic happiness scale! 25 questions later and I have a score of 3.92 out of 5. That’s a pretty big topic to put a number on! But as far as psychology has come, it still needs a test and a number to maintain credibility.

Seligman, M & Csikszentmihalyi, M 2000, ‘Positive Psychology: An Introduction’, American Psychological Association, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 5-14.

Seligman, M 2012, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Free Press, New York.

Good Stuff vs Bad Stuff

A lot of stuff is written these days. There’s a lot of stuff in general. Stuff in our closets. Stuff in our car. In our heads. On our desk. Computer. Bench. Bed. Mind.

I’ve got A LOT of stuff. Sometimes we enjoy having stuff. I’ve got my iPhone, my laptop, my printer, my camera, my car, my hockey stick, my cricket bat, my my my. All of these possessions I lay claim to. We get so caught up in the things we own. The next thing we want to buy. That we forget to appreciate all that we have now. In this moment. This day.

Amongst all our stuff, all our emotional and physical baggage, we lose ourself. In fact, now you’ve sat down and read this, you’ve got more stuff! More thoughts running through your head. More supporting or conflicting ideas swirling around your complex brain trying to sort themselves into a neat little queue. As our Primary school teacher had us line up to gain control over the class, we attempt to align our thoughts and goals to feel in control of our lives.

But surely without stuff, we don’t exist. ‘Cogito ergo sum‘ as Descartes put it; ‘I think therefore I am‘. If we don’t have stuff leaping about our minds, are we not then as simple a being as the dog or cat we own? Inevitably we decide on the stuff we have in our lives.

More money means more material stuff. More intellect means more knowledgeable stuff. More insight means more people stuff. At what point does stuff lose value? The word itself is wearing thin it’s been said so much here. Of course there are different types of stuff. None are better or worse. They are simply different. There is though, variations of stuff. There are things I will do that I know will evolve me. There are other things I’ll do that won’t. Similarly with stuff.

We all choice what we surround ourselves with. We choose who and how we will interact with others. There is so much to get lost in today though, that we can quickly lose touch with ourselves.
Joe Dispenza, a very insightful American man, sums up stuff very well:

‘For the average person in the world who lives life and considers their life boring or uninspiring, is because they’ve made no attempt to gain knowledge and information that will inspire them.’

Will Smith On Positivity

ityMost Hollywood stars endorse a product to make money, but someone forgot to tell Will Smith there’s no money in supporting positive thinking. Even so, he doesn’t seem to care. Video one (below) is an interview filmed the week the movie ‘I Am Legend’ was released in 2009 and video two was released in 2007 by Media Trust.

Will openly and passionately talks about the power of positive thinking and the law of attraction. Rather than being an iconic figure, Will wants to be an idea. He wants to represent the idea that anything is possible. He puts forward some pretty big ideas! So I’m going to address just three of his main ones.

“There is a redemptive power that making a choice has, you know, rather than felling like you’re at effect to all the things that are happening, make a choice … the universe is going to get out of your way, its like its water, it wants to move and go around stuff.”

We have the choice to take control, or let the universe control us. I was first introduced to this idea as a young teenager in a book I unfortunately can’t remember the name of. In it, the main character didn’t let himself be taken prisoner, and instead agreed to go along so long as he wasn’t handcuffed. He was still a prisoner, but at least by choice. The overarching idea – that whatever you do, you always have a choice. Take control of that choice, and the rest will move around you.

“If you acknowledge the obstacle, you give it power”

This quote sums up everything I tried to say in my blog post ‘Drop the Not.’ If you focus on the negative, you will attract the negative. When we were children we could never understand how ignoring our schoolyard bullies would help the situation. Surely fighting back was the right way to handle them? But as we grew up, we realised that if their behaviour was never acknowledged, it wouldn’t continue. Likewise for obstacles. If you only pay attention to the positive, and to your goal, you will direct all of your energy towards it.

“My pre-occupation is with the power that we all possess individually, and I refuse to relinquish my power…  that belief in that possibility, is our power”

No excuses. Within us all is the ability to take ownership, to decide what we want and to put our energy towards that goal. As Will puts it in the second video, if you don’t think you can be married happily for fifty years, you’re not going to be! Only with belief in the possibility are we able to access the power necessary to achieve.


As a person highly dedicated to my sport, setting goals has been a pretty big part of my development. Over time, I’ve set a lot of goals. To be selected in representative teams or to win my teams best and fairest. But I’ve learnt more recently, that to set a goal is to set a limit. If goals are viewed as an end point, rather than a bridge to further development, they will limit you. It’s a prospect that scared me when I first came to realise it!

I achieved a goal this year, but knew that I had to treat it as a doorway. I was a part of the team but wouldn’t get a lot of game time, so just had to learn as much as I could at training and during the tournament. Each goal opens up another opportunity to grow and be challenged. It is by no means the end point though. Making the team turned out to be the easy part. Letting go of the social gratitude and knuckling down to achieve the task at hand was the hard part.

Below is the video our coach showed us at a team building night. We set a number of goals that night, but the goal of winning the tournament was quickly crossed off the list. Our goals were instead orientated around process. If the process was solid, the result would take care of itself. Simple enough and most of you I’m sure already understand this. But this was the scary part.

The content of the video was:
– When the player could see the end point, he pushed himself only to achieve that distance
– When the player couldn’t physically see the end he just gave his best

If we set goals, we set limits. If we block out the goals, and focus on the effort, there is no limit. THAT was the confronting part. It was easy for us to set an exterior goal – we will win the tournament. If we didn’t didn’t win there would be plenty of places to place the blame. But when we forgot the exterior outcome and removed the limits on our interior goal, we set no limits. The only request of the team was to do our best. Post tournament, if you could look yourself in the mirror and say you did your best – you’ve done yourself justice.

Watch the video if you haven’t already and see if you agree with what I’m saying. To set a goal, is to set a limit. To set a limit on yourself is easy. To say you will do your best is hard. If you do your best, there are no excuses in the face of failure. But to fully commit to achieving something is a hard thing to do. Don’t underestimate that. It is courageous and should not be taken lightly. But if you want to continue to grow as a person, as a business, as a sporting team – there is only one limit and that’s the one you put on yourself.


“There’s more to human life than the reduction of misery and suffering.”

                                  Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology)

Positive psychology is the core of this blog’s ideas, and Martin Seligman is the father of this area of study. The idea that there is more to human life than not being miserable. Seligman founded the study of positive psychology – a self-maintaining path to authentic happiness.

Positive psychology was the response to psychology’s over-emphasis on researching problems, rather than successes. But positive psychology has tended to have a flimsy hard-to-apply framework. It was previously built upon authentic happiness; what is the path to happiness and fulfilment?

Seligman has recently come to a new stage though: flourishing. Flourising is made up of PERMA (detailed in the video below).

P – Positive emotion. E – Engagement. R – Relationships. M – Meaning. A – Achievement.

If you have the time,  it’s very much worth watching Seligman’s presentation.  The general idea is that fulfilment in life is not driven by positivity and happiness. These are the results of a process of personal development and fulfillment. Happiness follows on from knowing AND doing what you’re passionate about. We’ll discuss this more specifically in the next post!


Google ‘how language shapes behavior’ and you’ll immediately see the psychology of language applies everywhere.

“How language…
shapes your sales success
shapes your organisation
is making you broke and fat

Organisations, self-help books and researchers all understand that language effects behaviour. The importance and effect of language on individual behaviour is generally underestimated though. Not how well we spell, or construct a business paper, but how we think.

The idea I want to explore today is how the language we think in, effects our actions, attitudes and eventually behaviour. That essentially, positive language leads to positive behaviour.

How Language Shapes Your Sales speaks about successfully shaping business culture. According to the article, strong leaders create a constructive working environment by positively outlining their reason for being. Generosity rather than business success tended to underly more successful mantras. The more successful statements tended to focus on mentality, rather than results. In my own words, a business that focuses on the process rather than the outcome will produce better results while creating a healthier working environment.

The Law of Attraction in Language

It’s this simple – what you think about, you’ll attract. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between do and don’t. The message it hears is the subject. If you change the subject, you change your thought-process.

As a coach in any context, give feedback focusing on the desired behaviour. Period. No, “instead of,” “don’t do it this way,” etc.

If you think in positive language, your mindset will be positively geared and inevitably. Your behaviour will naturally shape towards the desired behaviour to achieve what you’re after.

Put simply, drop the “not.”



“The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.”
Bertrand Russell

And the greatest challenge for Positive Psychology is stating the solution in a way that is accessible.

Any good psychologist paper will position itself as filling a gap in the literature. Today I’m going to plug a few of my counterpart positive psychology blogs, and in doing so, show you where Coaching Positivity fits into the wider picture.

Psych Central is a very similar blog to this one. The blog section is an extension of a larger very comprehensive self-help website. The articles present easy to read ‘digestible nuggets’ of personal interest. Psych Central has quality blogs that are very informative, but not overly engaging or intimate.

Positive Psychology and the Science of Well-Being is a twitter like blog. If you want the latest magazine interview or where positive psychology is being talked about in the world, this is the place! The blog features very little of its own writing or commentary, but links to very interesting and up to date articles and events.

The Good Life is an exceptional blog featured by website, Psychology Today. Writer Christopher Peterson, presents in an honest style, seeking to clarify and debunk common positive psychology misunderstandings. His writing is topical and friendly, and most importantly, comes from a man that is well-educated in a still very young field.

The Positive Psychology blog section of website Generally Thinking, successfully treads down the self-help path. It avoids the ‘mummy’ voice that can typify more commercial self-help websites and instead discusses, with evidence, how we can actually enact all those encouraging cliches that have been thrown at us.

Coaching Positivity is designed to simplify the complex. It is a vehicle for teaching positivity so that others may learn and pass on their experience also. My aim is to present and discuss in applicable terms, new and exciting ideas that may allow us to lead the life we desire. Coaching Positivity will be defined by it’s approachable and down-to-earth articles to create an online community of like-minded individuals.