Blog Archives

Positive Psychology

This is the fourth newsletter/blog detailing the major transformational courses that I’ve been on.

One of the best was the Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology run by Ilona Boniwell at the University of East London.  I was lucky to be one of the first group of twenty students to be accepted onto this course and was amongst the first group to receive a masters degree in Positive Psychology in Europe.

The overall message of Positive Psychology is quite simple. As a race we are predisposed to be future minded.  This is a blessing and a curse.  We tend to be optimistic about the future and yet dissatisfied and restless.  We forget to cherish and nurture what we have and spend our time comparing ourselves to the tiny percentage of the planet who are materially better off than ourselves.

The coaching interventions in Positive Psychology encourage people to focus their attention on what works well in their lives in order to provide them with the energy and confidence to overcome their challenges.

Over the course of two years we studied many areas of wellbeing research including:

–          Can you measure wellbeing?  For example is it the absence of pain and maximisation of pleasure OR finding meaning in life OR being engaged with life OR some other personal definition of thriving and flourishing

–          Is there a value to measuring such things?  For example if you can find a valid measure of wellbeing then you can seek to ascertain what the building blocks of happiness are and perhaps align government policy, education and employment practices with interventions that boost wellbeing

–          What are the barriers to wellbeing and happiness and what practices help overcome them

–          What is the relationship between money, economic growth and happiness

–          Exploring the role of emotions on physiology, decision making and business performance. We also looked at how emotions flow between us at work and home and influence our ability to make rational decisions

–          Research around what constitutes positive aging (the secrets of successful aging)

–          Exploring the complex relationship between the promotion of wellbeing at the personal, group, national and global level.  Here we considered wisdom and how as we become more aware of the consequences of our actions we attempt to balance the optimisation of our own wellbeing with those of others.  This is a really important area.  Its about deciding who is in our tribe and who or what do we care about

–          We explored the theories about time – how our perception of time and tendency to spend our energy thinking about the past, planning for the  future or living in the present influences our wellbeing levels

–          We looked at the various ideas behind Flow theory.  This is the basic idea that attention to detail and engagement with the task in hand optimises wellbeing levels.  The practical impact on coaching strategies is that it teaches us to set goals which make us feel stretched but not stressed

–          One major area of research in Positive Psychology was around strengths – How to recognise our own inner strengths and those of our friends and colleagues and how to celebrate and use those strengths effectively.  This area covers how we find those activities in life that seem to fit, the things that we feel authentic doing and make us feel fully alive.

There are many other areas of Positive Psychology but for the next few weeks I’ll focus on each one of the above and how it helped me in my life




My friends Bridget Grenville Cleave and Charlotte Style have written some great introductory books for Positive Psychology





Curiosity – a key ingredient to wellbeing

Are you open and curious or do you hold on to rigid expectations.?

Being open to new (and old) experiences and open to continuous learning, having a growth as opposed to a fixed mind-set, has a great effect on every aspect of your happiness and well-being.

Research is showing that having a growth mind-set rather than being fixed in how we see the world is an important distinction between people who thrive and those who don’t.

People with a growth mind-set never stop learning.  Your ability to adapt and learn is a key component of your happiness and well-being.

We all face challenges and change, and having an attitude that embraces personal growth happens when we are willing to learn. Setbacks and failure are opportunities to improve and grow. People with a growth mind-set love challenges and new experiences.

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

Albert Einstein,1879–1955

According to the psychologist Carol Dweck someone with a growth mind-set:

·         Is open to new ideas.

·         Enjoys challenges.

·         Believes that abilities develop.

·         Believes that lives and relationships and other people develop.

·         Work at relationships.

·         Is always learning (especially from setbacks)

Whereas people with a fixed mind-set:

·         Believe that ability and intelligence are innate.

·         Are Judgemental.

·         Limit their achievement (crumbles in the face of challenge and adversity).

·         Believe that that if they have to work at things they must be stupid – it should come naturally.

·         Believe that if relationships need work they must be wrong

How can you become more curious? Curiosity does more than broaden your mind; curiosity is a significant factor in well-being. Research has proved that the more curious we are the happier we are, both in our pleasure and joy in the moment and in our general well-being. The psychologist Todd Kashdan calls curiosity the ‘engine of wellbeing’. Knowing who you are, what you enjoy, how your life can be better, safer, happier or easier is the beginning of making it so. The more curious you are the bigger your world gets, and your knowledge of yourself, others and the world deepens.

Anxiety can be cured with curiosity. Next time you feel anxious you may notice that it is because there is something you don’t know, so why not:

·         Get curious about why you are anxious.

·         Find out what you need to do.

·         Say you don’t understand.

The more open you are to new ideas and perspectives the more you will be able to affect your happiness and well-being.

Why no decide today be open and curious to any and all possibilities and to let go of any attachment to specific outcomes.

How do we choose what we choose?

Today’s Breathe London blog is contributed by Charlotte Style, author of “Brilliant Positive Psychology” and member of the Breathe London wellbeing team

 “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Kevyn Aucoin

What are you choosing? More importantly how and why are choosing how you choose to think and act?
This sounds either mindless or confusing but whenever I get my clients to start to think about the reasons and motivation behind their actions it is always challenging.

We choose differently in different areas of our lives and as we go through life the choices that suited us in our youth are different to those as we get older and at every life change.

In my last blog I touched on the accumulated affect of all the little things. We change and our circumstances change in some ways so gradually and surreptitiously that perhaps we don’t notice and if we don’t notice we can get ‘out of date’ with our own life. Sometimes we can even forget to choose fun!

One of the ways we choose is our time perspective.

The psychologist Philip Zimbardo writes and talks about the importance of choosing our time perspective and how our happiness and well being is affected by how much (and in what way) we choose to focus on the past, present and future. You can see him talking about this at

Zimbardo’s conclusion is that he used to be too future orientated (choosing how he lived only in respect to future outcomes) and that he is now much more present focused and consequently much happier. He is making an important point that to betoo future orientated is not good for your health and wellbeing. His professional achievements, that he now enjoys, came directly as a result of his choice to be single mindedly future focused but he woke up to the cost of his choice (which I believe has much more to do with his age than his research) and wishes he had done so sooner now he has discovered the joy of choosing to live in the present. -Zimbardo’s message is that just choosing one focus and perspective, however successful, can come at a price.

Our choices are often in competition and can be affected by hidden – or at least unacknowledged, motivations. When this happens we can feel out of control.

In my book Brilliant Positive Psychology I have started with the power of choice because we are actually choosing everything- not just our time perspective. We are making many many choices -much more that we realise- in fact happiness itself is a choice. By taking a moment to examine what we are choosing (and why) we can begin to evaluate and change our perspective in all areas of life. How we choose to see other people and events, how we choose to see ourselves, and how and what we choose to do what we do. Choosing to choose can be very empowering.

The choices I am talking about are not what to buy, eat or get, but how we choose to think and what we choose to value. In fact one of the best choices you can make for your happiness and wellbeing is to do and have less! Research has told us that having too much choice and always trying to get the most from everything doesn’t make us feel good.

In order to change how you think you first have to choose to think!

This is an extract from Brilliant Positive Psychology p.11

Below are some of the ways you are choosing your experience
and well-being; these are some of the factors that govern how
and why you make choices, and, in effect, how you choose to
think and feel. All these influences are part of your complexity
and only you can change or increase what influences your

1 What you need and value. You choose what you need.
Your basic needs are as individual as you are and what
you need are the things that matter most to you, what you

2 As a response. You choose your response to how others
behave and act, and to outside circumstances. Someone
else’s actions affect your choices. This is often an emotional response

3 To conform as part of a group. You choose because it
is socially appropriate. You choose to do things you feel
you should do because it is considered by others to be the
choice you should make. You choose cultural and social

4 With autonomy. You choose completely freely and
unrestrained. You choose novelty, excitement and
uncertainty, for your immediate pleasure.

5 With your mind. You choose to do something logically
because it makes sense to you.

6 As a habit. You choose out of habit. You choose
mindlessly, doing what you have always done without
thinking about it.

7 With understanding. You choose what you understand
and is meaningful to you. When you understand why you
want to do something, you have a reason to choose it.

What are you choosing right now?
Are you awake and open to change?
Are you content and grateful for how much you have or do you
want more?
Are you living ‘your’ life or for someone else and have you chosen this?
Are you choosing to see problems or solutions?
Are you learning from your mistakes or do you feel a failure?
Are you looking forward to the future or does the past hold you in
its grip?
Are you choosing safety or adventure?
Are you choosing to be generous with your gifts or do you hold the
best of you only for those who deserve it?
Are you choosing to judge yourself and others or are you choosing
to see the best in yourself and others?

Why not choose to become more aware of the choices you are making today, especially in respect to time.
Look at different areas of your life in the list below and put each area in the middle of the mind map and play with some of the perspectives. Note down which perspective you are choosing and then note down what you might choose from a different perspective.

  1. How or what are you choosing in your career, at work, professionally.
  1. How or what are you choosing to spend your time recreationally, for fun, in your social life.
  1. How or what are you choosing in respect to your romantic life, significant other.
  1. What are you choosing in respect to where you live, your environment.
  1. What or how are you choosing financially, to keep yourself and others.
  1. How or what are you choosing for yourself, your soul.
  1. How or what are you choosing for others, the wider world.

What does a thriving life mean?

The wellbeing community speak of a flourishing life.
Flourishing implies more than being happy it includes the idea of living in a way that involves healthy thought and action, in mind, body and spirit.  The rewards of a full and flourishing life are happiness and wellbeing.

The most interesting and relevant research findings into what contributes to a flourishing life tell us the importance of:
Feeling good, being grateful, being curious and open minded, acting generously, choosing wisely, living meaningfully, having self-acceptance and being sociable.
Research into this subject appears to be confirming old ideas about character and living a ‘good’ life. All traditional stories that teach us about this subject however, are clothed in metaphor or tale, being a ‘good’ person gets rewarded and attending to character traits that endear you to others is the key to a ‘good’ life and reward. Positive psychology has collided with moral philosophy and spiritual practices and the reward is wellbeing and happiness.
All stories are really about good character and the courage to learn and face challenges. This is in essence at the core of every Hollywood story and the ‘reward’ is as likely to be happiness through personal fulfilment and self-discovery as material gain. The guy gets the girl because he wins himself first (or vice versa).
The stuff of tales – courage, generosity, wisdom, and honour depends on self-knowledge and belief combined with the ability to look beyond the self, to the needs of others. Stop for a moment and think about what in your life has given you the most lasting sense of well-being – when you felt truly yourself, a moment or event that caused you to feel great long afterwards. I bet it either affected other people or was something that involved a challenge.
Altruism is not self-denial it is the employment of empathy and imagination. When combined with that horrible word responsibility, we own up to the fact that our lives are not separate but intricately interdependent and our actions matter.
A flourishing live is an integrated life, living a life that is both fulfilling to yourself as well as those around you and beyond. A flourishing life can begin with a smile and always has a story to tell.
Chatlotte is a member of the Breathe London wellbeing team.  To order our 30 day wellbeing program go to

The power of your thoughts

This week we continue our posts contributed by guest editors who are also wellbeing professionals.  Charlotte Style, author of “Brilliant Positive Psychology” reminds us of the common-sense fact that kindness and happiness go hand-in-hand and suggests ways to become both kinder, and happier! 

Gravity is so virtual we can only measure its effects.  Your thoughts are as powerful as gravity. What you think effects not only your experience of the world but effects and creates the world.

We cannot measure the power of human thought but we live with its effects.

What you think about other people has effect.

In a very powerful study, one teacher was given a class and told how lucky she was as she had all the bright children, and another teacher was told the opposite – bad luck, you have all the difficult stupid kids. Actually all the children had been randomly assigned to each class but the effect on the achievements of both classes was significantly different.


 Think the best of the next person you talk to.


Victor Frankl uses the analogy of flying against a strong cross-wind; you have to aim ahead of where you are going to get there because the wind is blowing you off course. Seeing other people this way has the same effect; seeing and believing in the full potential someone holds will support them becoming who they are, rather than seeing them ‘as they are’ and letting the head wind blow them back.

 K.J. Klob and L. Jussim (1994). Teacher expectations and underachieving gifted children. Roeper Review, 17(1), 26–30.

Chatlotte is a member of the Breathe London wellbeing team.  To book a coaching session with Charlotte go to

How to be happy and have a growth mindset

This week we continue our posts contributed by guest editors who are also wellbeing professionals.  Charlotte Style, author of “Brilliant Positive Psychology” reminds us of the common-sense fact that kindness and happiness go hand-in-hand and suggests ways to become both kinder, and happier! 

Research is showing that having a growth mindset rather than being fixed in how we see the world is an important distinction between people who thrive and those who don’t.

People with a growth mindset never stop learning. Your ability to adapt and learn is a key component of your happiness and well-being. We all face challenges and change, and having an attitude that embraces personal growth happens when we are willing to learn. Setbacks and failure are opportunities to improve and grow.
People with a growth mindset love challenges and new experiences.

In her book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck explains how having an open mind to both our abilities and the world we live in allows us to grow and develop, and that holding fixed ideas reduces and limits not only our potential, but our potential for happiness. She also says that as a culture we don’t praise enough the effort and struggle people make, especially the young, when facing and overcoming setbacks.

‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’ Albert Einstein,1879–1955
According to Carol Dweck
People with a Growth Mindset:
  • Are open to new ideas.
  • Are always learning (especially from setbacks).
  • Enjoy challenges.
  • Believe that abilities develop.
  • Believe that lives and relationships and other people develop.
  • Work at relationships

People with a Fixed Mindset

  • Believe that ability and intelligence are innate.
  • Are Judgemental.
  • Limit achievement (crumbles in the face of challenge and adversity).
  • Believe that if relationships need work they must be wrong.
  • Believe that that if they have to work at things they must be stupid – it should come naturally
Research has shown that people with a growth mindset are more likely to be realistic about themselves and their abilities than those with a fixed mindset. Being open to growth, learning and  development does not mean an over-inflated idea of one’s abilities, but openness to possibilities and potential.
How open to change and development are you?
Think of a time or incident that was hard for you.
What did you learn?
How did you change?
What in your life has changed for the better because of this?
What, about the experience, are you grateful for?
With a growth mindset we grow intellectually (growing in our knowledge of the world and developing our reasoning powers) and emotionally (growing more emotional intelligence). All experience becomes good as it builds resources and self knowledge for positive growth and change.  The more we know about ourselves the greater are our chances of realising our potential
Find your mindset
Read the statements below and mark whether you agree or disagree with them:
1. You are the person you are and you can’t really change that, or
2. I believe that everybody can change, every kind of person is able to change.
3. The main part of who you are can’t change but you can do things differently, or
4 .You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
*[Questions 1 and 3 are the fixed mindset questions and 2 and 4 are the growth mindset.]

If you are most comfortable with statements 1 and 3, try thinking about what it means to you to believe that people cannot change, and, more importantly, what would change in your life if you chose statements 2 and 4. Then: Make a quick list of where you have opportunities to learn more.

 Carol Dweck (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books

Chatlotte is a member of the Breathe London wellbeing team.  To book a coaching session with Charlotte go to