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Thursday, 27 June 2013 15:30

Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line, Part V: The ABCs of Positive Psychology - Behavior

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In our previous posts on Positive Psychology, we've talked about what positive psychology really is, about how neuroplasticity affects the way we learn, about the essential factors in creating the motivation to change, and about the implications of all this for organizations.

Now we're going to look at the ABCs of positive psychology:  Affect, Behavior and Cognition.

All 3 of these - affect, behavior, cognition - are necessary for change to occur.  They are important individually, but their real power is in the way they intersect and align.

Today, we're going to talk about Behavior.


Sometimes, we go to a class or a workshop and we leave all fired up:  We've learned a new way to approach problem solving, or gained a new skill in handling conflict, or we've just been inspired by someone who is doing great things in their field.

We go back to work, full of ideas about how we're going to Change the World or even just our own corner of it...and then, after a few days or weeks, the changes we had resolved to make either fail to launch or fall by the wayside.

Why?  Because any real, lasting change requires real, consistent behavior change.  

Whenever I work with a group, the last thing I ask at the end of the day is "What will you do differently tomorrow (or on Monday morning)?"  It's a critical question, because in order for our situation to become different, we have to behave differently.

Work smart - and then smarter

In 1993, Anders Ericsson studied elite musicians.  He found that they work hard, but more importantly, they work smart - and then challenge themselves to work even smarter.  Elite musicians practiced:  they worked at their craft consistently, day in and day out.  They worked smart:  they had teachers to coach them and provide feedback all along the way.  And they worked smarter:  they didn't practice too much - 4-6 hours a day, no more.

Edward Taub, a leading neuroplasticity researcher who works with stroke victims, found a similar trend with his clients.  After 4 hours of therapy a day, stroke victims made no more positive gains when they spent additional hours on speech or mobility therapy.  At that point, they simply reached a point of diminishing returns.

Ericsson found that elite performers needed to avoid exhaustion to maximize gains from long-term practice - the same could probably be said of Taub's stroke victims.  This flies in the face of what we learn in the business world:  We're told and taught - and most of us think - that the more hours we work, the better we'll be.  We don't take vacations, or even a day off without our iPhone or Blackberry.

However, most of us would find that we'd think better and be more productive if we actually took more time off.  Disconnecting for 48 straight hours on a weekend doesn't mean you're not committed to your career - it means you return to the fray rested, recharged and able to tackle challenges more effectively than you do when you're chronically exhausted and drained.

Behavior, action and lasting change

In positive psychology, 'coping' is a term used in relation to self-esteem.  The idea is that we learn when we take action - when we put ourselves at risk in some way and then cope with the consequences.  It's acting outside of our comfort zone which builds our self-esteem.  It doesn't matter if you succeed or fail - simply taking action drives the new neural pathways which lead to greater positivity and success.

People who enjoy lasting change have a bias for action - and for working smarter.  The same can be said for organizations.  When organizations try to change but then fail to implement behavioral changes which will reinforce the change, the change won't stick.  Similarly, if change isn't accompanied by sufficient downtime for individuals to process, adapt and build positive new neural pathways, the change won't deliver the desired results.


Next time we'll talk about the C in the ABCs of change:  Cognition.

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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