What a week for highlighting mental health and mental illness. On Wednesday, we have the Mad World Summit, which I am delighted to be involved in once again for the second year running, and then on Thursday we have World Mental Health Day
To contribute to this week, I will be releasing a couple of articles, which address some of the fundamentals with regards to mental health.
Today, the topic I wish to bring to you is the topic of ‘thriving’.
It is known that thriving employees are satisfied and engaged. In fact, thriving employees actively seek out ways to improve, develop and learn both for themselves and for their organisations – which can be transformational for a business.
What is thriving?
Whilst we will all share similar viewpoints and thoughts, we will all have different ideas of what thriving actually is. Some may equate thriving to feeling good, or being able to function well, and some may feel that it is a sense of vitality and fulfilment – feeling truly happy and content, or being satisfied with your life.
The standard definition of thriving is to flourish, prosper, or grow, and whilst there are many different formulations, at the core of thriving is the idea of ‘well-being’. However, the concept of well-being is turning out to be a rather complex idea, and whilst we can all have an intuitive sense of what ‘well-being’ is, in fact, it is complicated and unique to each and every one of us.
Recently, we have seen the field of positive psychology set out to define, measure, and promote well-being. Now let's make this clear, the idea of positive psychology, is not to suggest that we need to be happy all of the time, or avoid setbacks, failure or disappointment, but rather to embrace and not ignore reality. You see the reality, is that life is not all that great or amazing – and the unrelenting standards we often place on our selves, our lives and the people in it, can often cause us to experience significant distress. Therefore, positive psychology is more about enhancing our individual toolkit, so that we are better able to deal with what life, and the people in it, throw at us.
We define ‘well-being’ as a mental state characterised by positive feelings and positive functioning. When our well-being is high then we are happier, healthier and more productive. We don’t just ‘feel’ good either; it positively affects our physical health too. A WIN-WIN right.
Living in the modern world
You could say that life has changed quite drastically over the last few decades; however, our minds have not evolved to live in the world we now live in. Whilst technology has improved our lives in so many ways, it has also played a significant role in the development of this new, fast, and hyperactive world that can undermine our well-being.
You see our minds are pretty much the same as our hunter-gatherer days, and whilst our brain has undergone some remarkable changes through evolution with the development of language, thinking, and our ability to fantasize for example about our past and our future, the core survival parts of our brain remain fundamentally the same.
It is important that we become more mindful that in today’s modern world, there are two particular characteristics of our minds that can be especially challenging - our negativity bias and our wandering mind.
Our minds have a built-in survival instinct which allows us to be on a constant lookout for potential threats or problems. Obviously, this was a crucial element for helping our ancestors to stay alive - it was necessary to be vigilant so that they were not eaten by the odd saber-toothed tiger who fancied eating them for lunch. However, after fighting or running away, they were able to calmly go back to looking for food – their bodies would return to a state of rest and renewal. You can see how the brain’s quick response to threats is adaptive and useful.
However, despite facing far fewer real dangers than our ancestors did, our brains now perceive deadlines, judgment, and an email in our inbox as potential threats. This sensitivity to perceived threat can be maladaptive, meaning that a person can perceive a threat when none is present, resulting in unnecessary and perhaps undesired emotional distress and unwanted behaviours.
This maladaptive way of thinking keeps us in a constant state of alertness, and our own bodies rarely have a chance for rest and renewal. In today’s modern world this can lead to chronic stress, which can cause damage to us physically and psychologically.
Our minds spend half the time wandering. Our ability to think about the past and the future is what makes us human. In many ways, this aids us to make plans and learn from our mistakes; however, it is also a source of much of our unhappiness. Because of our negativity bias, when our mind wanders too much, we end up ruminating about something bad that has happened, or something bad that will happen.
Over recent years, research in positive psychology and neuroscience has shown that we all have the power to influence our own well-being. Much of our well-being is reliant on how we think, feel and act, therefore if we can learn different ways that are more healthy, and helpful then we can all improve our own individual well-being.
For many years, scientists believed that much of our brain structures were fixed once we reach adulthood. However, through science we now know that the brain, in fact, changes its structure and patterns over our lifetime - this is called neuroplasticity. What science has told us is that our brains are rewired in response to our thoughts and experiences – when we focus on something, neurons fire together in the brain. When these neurons fire over and over together, the neural connection becomes stronger, which means they are more likely to fire together in the future. Fittingly this is where the term ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ comes from.
The POWER of YOU
To summarise, the more frequent you think a certain way - be it positive or negative - the more hardwired that pattern of thoughts and thinking becomes. It will eventually become your default way of thinking.
Just three minutes of good or bad news in the morning determines whether you have a good or bad day. Just shifting your thoughts or behaviour even just slightly, you can activate and strengthen new neural connections (this is how gratitude also works). Doing this over time will lead you to experience a greater sense of well-being.
So, today's top tips are:
- Start meetings more positive. You could highlight an achievement, ask everyone to share something for which they are grateful, or you could, god forbid, tell a joke!
- Make an effort to reframe negative events by looking for ways to interpret them in a more positive way
- Identify key energisers in your workplace. Reward and support them.
If you are interested in hosting a ‘Power of You’ workshop in your organisation, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written by Stacy Thomson, Founder of the Performance Club. She is a coach, speaker, and educator.
The Performance Club is a mental wealth consultancy utilising psychological expertise to enhance organisation and individual mental health, performance, and wellbeing. For more information: www.theperformanceclub.co