The Noughties, Positive Psychology and New Year Resolutions

The psychological breakthrough of the noughties

One of the most surprising yet little understood results of psychological research this decade has been the Losada ratio.  Simply, you will get depressed if you experience more than 1 minor negative event to every 3 moderate positive events.

How do we remain sane on trains and tubes and cramped uncomfortable workplaces, I wonder.  Well we don’t.  We languish.  We become inflexible.  Our creativity drops.  And all our energy goes into managing the negativitiy.

Of course, we should become resilient.  Some even say we should become ‘hard’.  But we aren’t saying we should extinguish all negative results.  When negative stuff falls below 8%, we get manic.  The flip side of the 3:1 ratio is 11:1.  We need to be somewhere in between.

We will take 17% of nonsense

The optimal rate is 5 moderate positive to 1 mild negative events.  Let’s spell that out.  People will take a mildly negative comment in the company of 5 moderately positive comments.  You can be mildly unpleasant 17% of the time without demolishing the creativity productivity and creativity of your team. Surely that is sufficient quota for you!!

A simple model of 3 factors

The amazing thing about this research result is the positivity/negativity ratio is believed to interact with two other ratios.  In addition to being positive, it is also healthy to ask slightly more questions about facts, figures and other people’s views than to put on the table what we already know.  Moreover, it is healthy to be slightly more concerned with life outside the group than with internal processes.

Groups that interact in these ratios have moments when they are positive, questioning and externally-oriented and moments when they are negative, internally-oriented and pushing their own point of view. They also have all manner of combination in between the two extremes. If we assume they are one-or-the other, they have 2x2x2, that is 8 states they can be in.

Understanding whether a group is healthy

How can we tell whether a group that is presently negative, internally-oriented and pushy is permanently in that state,  or in a natural swoop of mood?

Simply we cannot tell, until they change. Life isn’t a spectator sport.  If we want to know what  kind of group we are in, we have to hang about long enough to find out.

Funnily enough, if we are curious enough to stay, if we are willing to put our eggs in their basket, then they are more likely to swing into a more positive state.  We should remember though that emotion is contagious.  If they are in a very bad mood, take care to give yourself space to stay positive.  And don’t preach.  Ask! Or as Ben Zander says, apologize and invite. Preaching to preachers doesn’t get them to listen!

Understanding whether a group will stay positive

Also remember, that joining a positive team that seems on top of the world is no guarantee that they will stay there.  Indeed, if they are healthy, they will not stay there.  They will swoop downwards and they are probably about to begin a downward sweep.  So be sure you are happy to join them on the ride.  Be happy that you will join them  . . .

That’s the way to judge a project.  Are you welcome and do you trust this group enough to put up with the bad times?  In sickness and in health?

The question for New Year’s Eve

Remember life isn’t a spectator sport.  Who exactly are you loyal too?  That is the question for New Year’s Eve.  That’s the reason for New Year’s Eve.  To remember those to whom are we deeply committed in the year ahead.

Grittiness is happiness . . and prosperity

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Image via Wikipedia

“It’s about survival, not ego”.

So said Techcrunch about Pandora’s founder.

Hmm. Losada used Lorenz equations to find 3 factors to distinguish successful business teams from unsuccessful teams.

  • Sincere requests for information slightly outnumber proposals for action
  • Positive comments outnumber negative statements by 5 to 1 (83% in other words)
  • Talk about the outside world slightly exceeds talk about the team.

So sometimes the team is complaining that the team is shite.   Inactive, negative and internal.  That’s fine.  As long as later in the day they are talking about what their customers like and the positive points they will push off from.

Unsuccessful teams get stuck in a place of gloom, or, in a place of self-congratulation.

Successful teams swoop gloriously around the whole emotional space like a happy butterfly tracing its own shadow and colouring in the outline in 3D technicolor.

Being in touch with reality in all its forms, good and bad, is what it is all about.

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Doldrums to OK to fantastic classrooms

Positive communities are important in learning

I’ve taught in colleges and universities for 25 years.  One thing I am reasonably certain about teaching is that a good class has a strong sense of community.  It is common sense that a good social atmosphere will be more attractive than a cold, totally clinical atmosphere.  There is also a clutch of professional ideas explaining the impact of group norms, collective efficacy, belonging, system boundaries, and so on.

Why, though, do we so much prefer a 500 person auditorium to a pod cast?

What I’ve not been able to put my finger on, until today, is a tight model explaining why communities are so important – why for example we prefer to listen to a lecture in an anonymous 500 person auditorium than on a podcast.

Today my Google Alert flashed up this article on Twittering in Education.  A US College Professor set up a class channel on Twitter.  Twittering lead to more discussion between students and ultimately to writing a book “online” with completely voluntary help from students as far afield as China.

The post also describes the mechanism.

Meta-cognition & meaning

Conversations lead to community (And v.v.  We know it is important to seed a social media channel with conversations.)  The conversations lead to ‘meta-cognition’ – talking about the course.  And talking about the course helps us understand why and how the course and the material fits into our lives.  Greater clarity and shared understandings leads to more community, and more community to better conversations.

Do we get phase states?

Though the article does not say, I suspect that at some stage, the energy moving between conversations, community and meta-cognition (talking about) reaches a tipping point and we see greater levels of learning and action.  So we move from the struggling, to the satisfactory, to the spectacular.

I rather suspect that this is a fractal model, such as we see with Happiness.  The three characteristics of the class – conversations, community and ‘talking about’ – interplay.  When this interplay is healthy, it moves through the broad swathe of emotional space.  When we have done well, we celebrate, for example, ultimately ending with someone suggesting we get back to work.  When things do not go well, we grieve, ultimately ending with someone suggesting it is time to start living again.

My thoughts on this glittering sunny day in autumn in rural England are to ask:

  • are these the three critical variables: conversations, community, and meta-cognition?
  • do they interplay with each other in a self-correcting manner going from positive to negative and back again as the need dictates?
  • is it right to use a phase state model where we look for the tipping points which take this energy system from the doldrums to OK and then to fantastic?
  • do the three variables co-affect each other through a set of Lorenz equations, and if not, how do they inter-relate?
  • how can we explore these variables in a field study?

Enough for now.  The sun calls.  I would love to hear from anyone interested in building communities with or without social media like Twitter.

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