Information and inspiration for Newcomers to Canada

This site is the result of many months of sharing experiences and information between talented professionals, amazing people, great teachers, and generous volunteers who bring their time and ideas providing newcomers informative and entertaining news, capacity building, and the opportunity to meet other people. I encourage your participation, whether you recently arrived or you have been in Canada for a while.

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By Kathryn Britton

You can found this article at: Positive Psychology News Daily

Three weeks ago, I posted an article about self-talk on the Smarts and Stamina blog, encouraging people to lighten their moods by mindfully choosing responses to the events in their lives in a spirit of self-compassion and realistic optimism.

One question came back: What do you do when truly horrible things happen in your life? When your child becomes addicted to drugs, or you lose your job, home, and livelihood, or you receive a diagnosis of a terrible disease or … Most of us can dream up a long list of disasters that could happen, and sometimes they do.

What can you say to clients or friends facing major difficulties in order to help them effectively manage their moods without sounding like you are downplaying the true magnitude of their sorrow?

This question is an important one for people applying positive psychology, the science of well-being. While we are all for turning threats into opportunities and focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong, we aren’t here to draw happy faces on top of suffering or in any way to deny that it exists.

Learn from the Masters

My own answer comes from contemplating people who have suffered, people like Victor Frankl, Nick Vujicic, and others that have faced horribly difficult situations with fortitude, patience, and courage.

I put it like this: For any given form of suffering, some will face it more effectively than others. How they face it depends on choices they make. If you think of putting yourself on the high side of the bell curve with respect to handling a particular adversity, here are a few things to learn from survivors.

  • Some strive to see the meaning in their suffering, as Victor Frankl did in a concentration camp. He came up with the equation: Despair = Suffering without meaning.
  • Others try to make the best of what they have, as Nick Vujicic does with his single limb, a foot that he calls his chicken leg that he can use to type, drive, and walk. Nick is compassionate with those who lose their limbs later in life. He never had limbs, so he never had to mourn them. It makes sense when he says it, but it’s not my immediate response when I see him to think how relatively lucky he is.
  • Yet others look for the beauty and humor in life, the way Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living holocaust survivor at 109, does.
  • Yet others accept consolation from the people around them. This can be harder to do than it sounds, as I found when my friend died in a car accident (see Sudden Loss: How to Help).
  • Yet others let go of lost possible future selves, honoring dreams that will never materialize, but turning their focus to new futures. The term, lost possible future selves, comes from work by Laura King and colleagues, who state “We defined lost possible future selves as representations of the self in the future, which might have once held the promise of positive affect, but which are no longer a part of a person’s life.”

    “That is why we view the capacity to face one’s lost possible self in a detailed way as a sign of maturity. Such a capacity reveals a person’s willingness to admit to imperfection, to erroneous assumptions, to failed expectations, in short, to humanity.” King & Raspin, p. 609

You Don’t Have to Wait Until Disaster Strikes

I believe that in good times, people can practice skills that will help them through hard times.

  • They can learn how to calm themselves down physically, so that they can turn their minds to effective problem-solving rather than whirlwinds of doubt, blame, and catastrophizing.
  • They can collect personal heroes, such as mine above, so that they have a sense that suffering can be endured.
  • They can collect a social support system that can help them through hard times.
  • They can collect portfolios of pictures, cards, books, music, art, stories, and other artifacts that lift their spirits. In her book Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson has described hunting and gathering items for positivity portfolios. “I encourage you to view your positivity portfolios as living documents. Let them evolve. Update them.”

Positive Emotions in the Face of Loss

Never deny the magnitude of the difficulty. But be ready to remind people that positive emotions can still be felt, and they are allowed, healthy, and signs of emotional maturity. Kindness to others can still lift spirits, as Marie-Josée Shaar and I described in the Kindness: The Most Reliable Mood Boost Ever! chapter of Smarts and Stamina. Self-compassion, as described by Steve Safigan can still help you find ways to interpret events that lighten the darkness.

But say it with humility. We never know what we’ll be called on to face.


By Suzanne Hazelton

You can found this article at: Marie Claire – Think Smart, Looking Amazing

Let’s face it, Mondays are tough. But they don’t have to be. Find out how you can make the most of your time at work.

There are many pressures on our time, and so if having a great day at work is not on your ‘to-do’ list, it’s not surprising. But there are two good reasons that having a great day at work should be at the top of your priority list (and your boss should encourage this!). Firstly, the happier we are at work, the more likely we are to be successful – this is supported by research. Secondly, perhaps you’ve noticed that emotions in one area of our life ‘spill over’ into other areas. Even if your approach to work is to ‘work for the weekend’ – to have even better weekends, we need to have great weeks. Here are some practical tips for increasing the likelihood of having great days at work:

1. Believe that you can make your days at work better

The first step in having great days at work is to believe that you can. As Henry Ford suggests ‘whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right’.

2. What does a great day at work means to you?

We all know when we’ve had a bad day at work, but take a moment to consider what a great day at work is for you. With this knowledge you can take action to create more great days. Focus on the work – and also on your breaks.

3. Find ‘flow’ – activities that give you can lose yourself in

You probably have a couple of work activities where you find that long stretches of time pass in what seems like moments. Find more of these activities. If an area of your job has become too easy – it may not be giving you ‘flow’ and you may need to increase its complexity – perhaps by setting yourself new challenges, could you complete it a shorter amount of time?

4. Have small goals – and achieve them consistently

I’m a strong advocate of having a big vision – but I combine this advice with having small goals. Consistently achieving your goals creates a positive re-enforcement loop, which means you’ll get more done, feel better – and be working towards that big vision.

5. Find ways to have ‘micro-rests’

Technically there’s very little difference between tennis players at the top of their game. However studies have shown a big difference in how players recover between points (micro-rests). In your day find moments where you can have a micro-rests. Perhaps you could do some calming breathing walking between meetings, or take a moment to savour an enjoyable memory. Or even consider who you will meet for coffee or lunch – and focus on having some fun.

6. Design your work day to include more positive emotions

To thrive you need at least three positive emotions for each negative. Sometimes the negative is unavoidable – but we can focus on increasing our positive emotions. List what gives you positive emotions. Find ways to incorporate more of them into your life. Gratitude, acts of kindness, and savouring are all free and boost your positive emotions.

7. Give energy to the positive

What we talk about and think about solidifies. Often situations are a mix of good and bad – use the three to one ratio (above) as a guide to focus more on talking about the positive (without being Pollyanna).

8. Don’t look back in anger

Not everything always goes to plan in business. In the heat of the moment, it can be too easy to pass the blame. Next time you feel the urge to allocate blame, take a moment to consider if there is a way to keep the conversation future focused; focused on finding a solution.

9. Emotional Contagion

Emotions are contagious. That goes for negative emotions as well as positive. Workplaces with positive emotions are more productive. Most of us get satisfaction from being productive. Be part of creating an environment where the emotions that are ‘caught’ from you are positive. For example, look for things that have been done well by a colleague, or even your boss – and pay a genuine compliment. You might feel better as a result – emotions are contagious, and positive emotions contribute to success.

10. Learn to be more assertive

None of us likes to feel that our ideas have been walked over – so assertiveness is a key skill in having great days at work. Assertiveness can start with something simple like better posture.

11. Keep things in perspective

When something irks you, ask yourself if ‘it’ will matter 10 years from now?



By Susan David

You can found this article at: HBR Blog Network (Harvard Business Review)

New data on employee engagement is in, and it’s downright discouraging. As this post by HBR’s Gretchen Gavett noted, Gallup’s research shows that engagement among US workers is holding steady at a scant 30%. This means seven out of ten people are either “checked out”, or actively hostile toward their employers. Seven out of ten.

Study after study shows that employee engagement, an index of bringing one’s best and full self to work, is not just an organizational nicety. It is a business imperative, linked to a number of performance outcomes, including profitability, customer satisfaction and turnover. A A 2012 report on human capital from McKinsey added to the evidence, noting that organizations with top scores in employee motivation are about 60% more likely to be in the top quartile for overall business health. Companies I work with in my consulting practice who have done their own internal research have found similar linkages

Of course, engagement is an emotional and deeply personal experience; it’s not simple or straightforward to address. But leaders must do so, for the sake of not only their employees but also their companies. Here are pointers to help you to make real inroads in this area:

Understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research. At the end of her post, Gavett refers to HBR classic on employee motivation, in which the famed management psychologist Frederick Herzberg argued that workers respond positively to more responsibility and authority in their daily tasks. This finding is resonant with self-determination theory, a well-established research program in psychology that has identified the universal human need for autonomy. In other words, people generally do well when they are empowered to make choices and decisions for themselves. Plenty more research has been done on work engagement, showing that factors such as social support and feedback can drive positive experience. Managers and HR professionals need to understand these and other robust psychological theories to more effectively shape their engagement efforts. A wealth of information is out there, ready to be put to good use.

Find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s

While broad research is a valuable resource, it can only take an organization so far. No theory or model is useful in the abstract. What matters is your business and your people. Ironically, most organizations use engagement results punitively; they focus on what is going wrong, and on why people aren’t as engaged as they could be. A better approach is to figure out what’s already working in your business, and find ways to replicate it. Go to the most engaged individuals, teams and business units, and help others model what they do. I’ve used this approach to help businesses identify a unique “engagement signature” suited to their culture and context.

Encourage grassroots engagement

Engagement cannot be mandated, but it can be ignited. Once you understand what matters to your employees, you can support its expression and replication far and wide. Empower your people, particularly the most engaged employees, to share stories, exchange ideas and disseminate best practices across the business. A well-designed piece of media, such as a video “starring” members of a thriving business unit, can gain traction and become a source of encouragement for others. With the rise of social media and digital workplace technologies, it’s easier than ever to connect employees and make engagement contagious.

Recognize engagement as a moving target, and check back often

While certain elements of employee engagement will surely hold over time, it’s not something that can be assessed and addressed just once. Research shows that engagement fluctuates daily, and with changing circumstances. What engages people during a surge in business may be very different from what helps them bring their best selves to work in a recession. To keep your organization engaged, you must remain engaged, curious, and connected yourself.

The next time Gallup or McKinsey do their polls, I’d like to see those engagement scores rise. What would it take to engage half, three quarters or 100% of the workforce? Imagine what it would mean to business success, employee happiness and productivity.

What are you doing about employee engagement, and what can you share with others? Let’s begin the conversation today.



By James Brook

You can found this article at: Strengths Partnership

The UK has a poor record of engaging employees at work. Numerous surveys from different organisations show that only around one third of UK workers report being engaged or highly engaged, which puts it in ninth place for engagement levels amongst the world’s 12 largest economies as ranked by GDP (Kenexa 2009).

There are numerous theories and models of employee engagement, many of which are overcomplicated, inaccessible and highly academic in nature.

Through our research and practical experience, we have identified 5 major factors contributing to high levels of engagement and positive workplace energy, which are outlined in brief below. We have also identified steps employers can take to boost engagement in each of these areas, together with the impact of the absence of each factor on the way employees feel about their work.

1. Opportunity to Express Oneself Fully

Employees whose values, personal strengths, opinions and ideas can be fully expressed whilst they are carrying out their job are more likely to exert extra effort, achieve in the upper range of their potential and remain with the organisation.

Actions employers can take:

  • Increasing self awareness and helping employees identify and optimise their natural strengths and talents

  • Developing skills, experience and knowledge in areas of natural strength

  • Providing people with challenging ‘stretch assignments’ to optimise their strengths and full potential

  • Accepting and celebrating diversity and uniqueness; encouraging different ways of thinking and conducting work (within appropriate boundaries)

  • Encouraging flexible work practices (including flexible work patterns) that take account of individual differences

How people feel when it’s not there: Faceless

2. Appreciation

Employees who are known and appreciated by their manager, co-workers and key stakeholders are more likely to feel engaged in their jobs and positive about the organisation. Research suggests that the ratio of positive to negative/critical statements over time is around 3-1 for any relationship to flourish and for people to be at their best.

Actions employers can take:

  • Ensuring an appreciative, positive work environment where people feel their contribution is valued and contributes to the bigger picture

  • Ensuring fair and transparent performance-related financial rewards

  • Putting in place simple recognition schemes that are low or no cost to the organisation

  • Tolerating reasonable mistakes, ensuring they don’t get blown out of proportion and are used as valuable learning experiences

How people feel when it’s not there: Worthless

3. Meaningful Contribution

Employees who can see that their work is making a meaningful contribution to the vision and goals of the organisation are more likely to be committed and engaged.

Actions employers can take:

  • Ensuring a clear cascade of vision and goals to ensure clarity and understanding…communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Aligning individual and team goals with broader organisational goals so employees have a clear line of sight between their contribution and the company’s goals

  • Improving the broader society in which the organisation operates through corporate social responsibility and community-based initiatives

  • Helping employees remove unnecessary rules and ‘red tape’ and streamline processes to free them up to do their best work

How people feel when it’s not there: Pointless

4. Performance Feedback

Employees who get constructive and regular feedback from valued co-workers and other stakeholders are more likely to feel engaged and committed to the organisation.

Actions employers can take:

  • Providing regular, transparent and fair performance feedback through an engaging performance dialogue process

  • Introducing a 360/multi-rater feedback process (questionnaire or interview-based) to provide employees with feedback from co-workers

  • Upskilling managers to ensure they provide high quality performance coaching

  • Implementing peer coaching circles where peers can openly share learning and provide each other with feedback

  • Ensuring open and honest performance feedback in areas of shortfall to enable the person to improve or move on to a role more suited to their strengths and skills

How people feel when it’s not there: Clueless

5. Sense of Connection and Social Support

Having a strong social support system at work is of vital importance, even to those who have a high level of independence and are more introverted. By nature, people are social and rely on strong workplace social support systems for psychological and practical support, growth and friendship.

Actions employers can take:

  • Ensuring dedicated spaces at work for informal meetups, gatherings, relaxation activities and other social activity

  • Encouraging social networks and clubs to provide employees with opportunities to network and socialise outside working hours

  • Promoting peer coaching, networking and mentoring programmes, both formal and informal

  • Using the latest collaboration and social network technologies like Yammer to promote online interaction

  • Building time for fun, relaxation and relationship-building into the normal working day; ensuring it’s not all about hard work with no fun and chill out time

How people feel when it’s not there: Companionless

Research over the past two decades into what we call the Strengths-Service-Profit Chain™ shows a direct and powerful link between focusing on building a highly engaged, strengths-based work culture and critical business drivers and results, including improved customer experience and loyalty and increased financial performance and longer-term shareholder return. In fact, improvements in profitability resulting from higher levels of engagement have been found to be as high as 30% (Corporate Leadership Council, 2003). Can any HR or top management team afford to overlook such compelling value drivers in today’s hyper-competitive and high-velocity markets?


By Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.

You can found this article at: HELPGUIDE.ORG  – A trusted nonprofit resource

People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort to build or maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.

What is mental health or emotional health?

Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.

Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.

People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have:

  • A sense of contentment.
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
  • The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
  • The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change.
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem.

These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life’s challenges and stresses.

The role of resilience in mental and emotional health

Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress.
The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good.

One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions. The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times.

Physical health is connected to mental and emotional health

Taking care of your body is a powerful first step towards mental and emotional health. The mind and the body are linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. For example, exercise not only strengthens our heart and lungs, but also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize us and lift our mood.

The activities you engage in and the daily choices you make affect the way you feel physically and emotionally.

Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. That includes getting enough sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.

Learn about good nutrition and practice it. The subject of nutrition is complicated and not always easy to put into practice. But the more you learn about what you eat and how it affects your energy and mood, the better you can feel.

Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.

Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day. This can be done while exercising, gardening, or socializing.
Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are stimulants that may unnaturally make you feel good in the short term, but have long-term negative consequences for mood and emotional health.

Improve mental and emotional health by taking care of yourself

In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to deal with challenges if and when they arise.

Taking care of yourself includes pursuing activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. In addition to physical exercise, endorphins are also naturally released when we:

  • Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
  • Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Learn or discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a beach.
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
  • Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits—negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.

More tips and strategies for taking care of yourself:

  • Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.
  • Engage in meaningful, creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for it—things like gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
  • Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
  • Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
  • Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for.Meditate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.
  • Everyone is different; not all things will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and more excitement or stimulation to feel better. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.

Supportive relationships: The foundation of emotional health

No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and be your best. Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.

Social interaction—specifically talking to someone else about your problems—can also help to reduce stress. The key is to find a supportive relationship with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can talk to regularly, preferably face-to-face, who will listen to you without a pre-existing agenda for how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt or judge or criticize you. The best way to find a good listener? Be a good listener yourself. Develop a friendship with someone you can talk to regularly, and then listen and support each other.

Tips and strategies for connecting to others:

  • Get out from behind your TV or computer screen. Screens have their place but they will never have the same effect as an expression of interest or a reassuring touch. Communication is a largely nonverbal experience that requires you to be in direct contact with other people, so don’t neglect your real-world relationships in favor of virtual interaction.
  • Spend time daily, face-to-face, with people you like. Make spending time with people you enjoy a priority. Choose friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who are upbeat, positive, and interested in you. Take time to inquire about people you meet during the day that you like.
  • Volunteer. Doing something that helps others has a beneficial effect on how you feel about yourself. The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich and expand your life. There is no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organization of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
  • Be a joiner. Join networking, social action, conservation, and special interest groups that meet on a regular basis. These groups offer wonderful opportunities for finding people with common interests—people you like being with who are potential friends.

Risk factors for mental and emotional problems

Your mental and emotional health has been and will continue to be shaped by your experiences. Early childhood experiences are especially significant. Genetic and biological factors can also play a role, but these too can be changed by experience.

Risk factors that can compromise mental and emotional health:

  • Poor connection or attachment to your primary caretaker early in life. Feeling lonely, isolated, unsafe, confused, or abused as an infant or young child.
  • Traumas or serious losses, especially early in life. Death of a parent or other traumatic experiences such as war or hospitalization.
  • Learned helplessness. Negative experiences that lead to a belief that you’re helpless and that you have little control over the situations in your life.
  • Illness, especially when it’s chronic, disabling, or isolates you from others.
  • Side effects of medications, especially in older people who may be taking a variety of medications.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse can both cause mental health problems and make preexisting mental or emotional problems worse.

Whatever internal or external factors have shaped your mental and emotional health, it’s never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological well-being. Risk factors can be counteracted with protective factors, like strong relationships, a healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies for managing stress and negative emotions.
When to seek professional help for emotional problems.

If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and you still don’t feel good—then it’s time to seek professional help. Because we are so socially attuned, input from a knowledgeable, caring professional can motivate us to do things for ourselves that we were not able to do on our own.




By Robert Biswas-Diener y Jessica Austin

You can found this article at: Positive Acorn

Over the past several weeks we have received a lot of interest at Positive Acorn in positive psychology and parenting. People want to know how to be the best parent that they can be. Together Robert and I (Jessica) have had the opportunity to share with others our favorite positive psychology and parenting interventions. Below you will see my top 5 interventions.

1. Test and Learn vs. Plan and Implement

How we learn is a topic that many researchers have studied. Many people think that we should first plan something, and then implement it, but the fact is, when it comes to transformational learning, you want to do the exact opposite. Parents should encourage their children to explore possibilities, and then reflect on what went well and opportunities to make changes. By taking a test and learn approach with your children, they will learn better and be able to make better decisions in the future because they will have learned from experience.

2. Create a 5-to-1 Positivity Ratio

If negative interactions and positive interactions were superheroes, negative interactions would win in a battle. This is because negative interactions are simply stronger than positive interactions. Research shows that we need to experience 5 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction at home, in order to be able to overcome our adversities, bounce back from negative events, and begin to flourish. Positive interactions don’t need to take up a huge amount of time, instead it can be as short as 3 seconds to create a positive interaction. According to Daniel Kahneman of the Gallup Organization, we have about twenty thousand opportunities each day for positive interactions. Smiling and giving your child a warm pat on the back takes mere seconds, but it goes a long way when it comes to their well-being.

3. Cultivate Curiosity

Curiosity doesn’t kill, it cures! Curiosity is a positive emotion that recognizes in importance of facing the unknown. Researcher and curiosity expert Todd Kashdan says it beautifully in his book Curiosity; “By being curious we explore. By exploring we discover.” When we encourage curiosity in our children, what we are really doing is giving them new opportunities to explore and take on new challenges. There are many ways to increase curiosity in children, one of which is to simply encourage them to seek their own answers to their questions. Having resources like encyclopedias and scientific magazines around, and a willingness to try experiments is a great way to help children explore.

4. Don’t Just Label Strengths, Talk About Them!

Strengths are inherent attributes we all have that bring meaning and quality to our lives. When we use our strengths we become more animated, our energy rises, and we become more engaged and enthusiastic. Strengths are what help us accomplish our goals and live rich, meaningful lives. Expressing your recognition of a child’s strength is a great way to boost their confidence and empower them to make decisions and take action. Applied positive psychology expert and researcher Robert Biswas-Diener says “spotting strengths isn’t just telling your child that they are good at something, it goes beyond that. It is creating a shared language for that strength, helping the child take ownership of it, and discussing ways to developing it.”

5. Remember, Behavior is Contagious!

The people around us have significant influence on our behavior. We know through research that group behavior contagion happens in all sorts of relationships and in all sorts of ways. Those who have friends that drink a lot, tend to drink a lot. It happens with fashion and even with obesity! Research out of Harvard followed 12,067 people over the course of thirty-two years. In the event that someone became obese, their friends were three times more likely to become obese than the average person. Luckily there is a plus side to behavior contagion. Research also shows that people who are friends with happy people are more likely to be happy themselves. So be sure to encourage positive and healthy relationships with your children with other children who are doing well. Also, be positive and your children are bound to be positive too!


By Walter Chen

You can read this Article in:

The following post is a guest post by Walter Chen, founder of a unique new project management tool IDoneThis. More about Walter at the bottom of the post.

Ever go through a phase where you feel like every day is a Monday? You wake up, you hit snooze. Then you hit snooze again and you just don’t feel it?

Yes, I know that negative emotions can eat away at my productivity, creativity,decision-making skills. And yet, I have to admit that sometimes it’s really difficult to reverse the course of a slump.

The unfortunate superpower of the negative is that it has a stronger impact than the positive.

In fact negative impact of setbacks in your work is three times as powerful in affecting motivation than positive progress. It’s just easier to remember the bad stuff that has happened to you during the day than the good.

So why is it, that our brains have a such a negativity bias? The reason is quite simple: They’re actually wired to pay more attention to negative experiences. It’s a self-protective characteristic. We are scanning for threats from when we used to be hunter and gatherers. But such vigilance for negative information can cause a narrowing, downward spiral and a negative feedback loop that doesn’t reflect reality.

Fortunately, we aren’t doomed by our natural disposition towards negativity. What’s amazing is that we have the ability to break out of that negative feedback loop and we can actually rewire our brains to think positively. Understanding how the brain can refashion its own connections is the key to unlocking the durable power of positive thinking.

And that’s exactly what this post is all about. Let’s dive in:

The Tetris Effect: What it tells us about how our brains learn new things.

Anyone who’s ever played the classic, old-school game of Tetris will know this. Whether on a clunky computer or gameboy or the latest mobile device we all know the game’s surreal ability to spill into real life. After you shut off the game, you still see those Tetris blocks falling in your mind’s eye.

You’re grocery shopping, and you find yourself thinking about rearranging items on grocery shelves and carts in the parking lot. Somehow your mind continues to play the game, even when you’re physically not.

Robert Stickgold, Harvard professor of psychiatry, noticed something similar after a day’s hiking a mountain in Vermont. That night, he dreamt that he was still going through the motions of mountain hiking, clinging to rocks. Curious about this dream replay he tried something: Stickgold got a group of college students of varying skill levels to play Tetris and sleep in the Harvard sleep lab.

Over 60% of the study participants (including, surprisingly, those who suffered from amnesia) reported dreams of images of Tetris pieces falling, rotating, and fitting together. Interestingly, half the Tetris expert participants reported such Tetris dreams while 75% of the novices did. The mind was continuing to work on making sense of the game during sleep.

A more recent study from 2009 it was found that playing Tetris can grow your brain and make it more efficient. Adolescent girls played the game for an average of 1.5 hours a week over three months. The cerebral cortex, or the gray matter, of the girls grew thicker while brain activity in other areas decreased compared to when they’d started. Richard Haier, who had previously found in a 1992 study that there was a “Tetris learning effect” in which the brain consumed less energy as mastery of the game rose, concluded,

“[W]e think the brain is learning which areas not to use. . . .As you learn the game, it becomes more automatic.”

Haier’s 2009 study demonstrated how Tetris affected the brain’s plasticity, or the brain’s ability to change structurally, as the girls practiced and learned how to play the game.
Neurons, or nerve cells, in your brain make connections, communicating through synapses. When you learn something, you change those neural connections. Every time you reactivate a circuit, synaptic efficiency increases, and connections become more durable and easier to reactivate. Stickgold’s study and subsequent research that sleep plays a role in this memory process.

So to sum up, whenever you do specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of your brain power over time. And that’s pretty amazing, as this will be the basis for a huge opportunity to change our behavior for the better:

So how can we combat our negativity bias? The Positive Tetris Effect.
Indeed, it’s quite simple: We can harness the brain’s plasticity by training our brain to make positive patterns more automatic. When we practice looking for and being more aware of positive aspects of life, we fight off the brain’s natural tendency to scan for and spot the negatives. Naturally we bring ourselves into better balance.

Shawn Achor frames this rewiring as “The Positive Tetris Effect” in The Happiness Advantage, drawing from the way Tetris impresses our brain so that we end up parsing the world in terms of the game. According to Achor, with the positive Tetris Effect,

“we can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in l
ife—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.”

Yes, so something as trivial as the game of Tetris can have a scientifically measurable effect on people’s brains and invade their dreams. If that’s the case, the impact of practicing and retaining a more positive thinking pattern, especially on our wellbeing and happiness, can be even more powerful.

We are basically trying to find an undiscovered path that if walked once, makes us happy. The path being the synaptic connections in our brain. And then, because we enjoy it, we go along that path, hundreds and hundreds of times. Slowly a track forms and becomes very clear and easier to walk every time.

Here is an example of a synapse, which represents the path we want to go over and over again, to make it a strong, easy to recognize pattern for our brains:

The best thing about such a practice is its long-term effects. In one study, people who did a “three good things” exercise for a week felt happier and less depressed after one month. The study then did the three-month and six-month follow-ups. Not surprisingly, the happiest participants were the ones who had continued the practice throughout.

What this tells me right of the bat is this: There’s hope for us all! (Even for a curmudgeon like me who reacts to the idea of spending time trying to accentuate the positive with a growl.)
So I think a good way to see the positive Tetris Effect like learning a foreign language. It will be the most difficult and unnatural-feeling at the beginning. And yet, the rewards will make you feel unbelievably happier if you stick with it.

4 Awesome Ways to Change Your Life to Be More Lastingly Positive

Ok, now that we’ve been through the background it’s time to get our hands dirty.

How can we put all of this into practice?

At the core, the Tetris Effect is about building a habit that becomes more automatic and therefore longer lasting. In turn, this will sustainably boost your productivity and creativity. As Achor notes,

“Happiness is a work ethic . . . . It’s something that requires our brains to train just like an
athlete has to train.”

So with that in mind here are some of the top ways that Achor and others identified to rewire your brain for positivity:

– Scan for the 3 daily positives. At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. The good things could be anything — bumping into an old friend, a positive remark from someone at work, a pretty s
unset. Celebrating small wins also has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you record your good things daily, the better you will get and feel.

– Give one shout-out to someone (daily). I love this technique and it is also something the Buffer team is using internally. Take the positive things you’re getting better at recognizing and let people know you’ve noticed! Take a minute to say thanks or recognize someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work. A great way to go about this is by sending 1 daily email to someone. It can be your old school teacher, who’s advice you are now appreciating every day. A co-worker or someone you’ve only met. Show courage and say thanks, I love doing this and just checking in with a nice note.

– Do something nice. Acts of kindness boost happiness levels. Something as small and simple as making someone smile works. Pausing to do something thoughtful has the power to get you out of that negativity loop. Do something nice that is small and concrete like buying someone a coffee. You can try and have that even on your to do list – have you done anything nice for someone today? I love this technique and it’s one of the most amazing ways to feel happier.

– Mind your mind. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Opening our awareness beyond the narrowness of negativity can help bring back more balance and positivity into the picture.

The regular practice of mindfulness meditation has also been shown to affect the brain’s plasticity, increasing gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for learning, memory, and emotion, and reducing gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety. Take a look at these tips on mindfulness and meditation to get started.

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