Tag Archives: positive psychology

The Positivity Trap

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http:/hyperactive.to)

Positivity (pioneered by researcher Barbara Fredrickson) can help you become more productive, more fulfilled, and more creative and innovative — by expanding your ability to see and perceive opportunities. So of course, as a quality professional, I want to get it, and be it.

A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends in the world. We were talking about continuous improvement and self-improvement when he suggested that I take Fredrickson’s little quiz to see where my positivity ratio was. According to her research, a ratio greater than 3:1 indicates that your psyche is in a regime to flourish.

I have always been an optimistic and highly positive person, but I’ve also been plagued by depression, limiting thoughts, and self-defeating behavior. But! I’d also just had one of the most wonderful days of my life (ever EVER in the history of history) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how HIGH my positivity ratio could be. Woohoo! Slam dunk!

I took the positivity test by answering the following 20 questions. It only takes a couple minutes. It’s at:


Imagine my shock when, after one of the most positive and fulfilling days of my life – one imbued with joy, hope, potential, and the wild excitement of being totally aligned with who I am and connected to what I am becoming — that my positivity ratio was a miserable 1.67!!

How could this be?? I looked more at the 20 questions, and realized that I had some pretty mean negative emotions getting in my way. Contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful? Check. Disgust, distaste, revulsion? Check… jealousy will do that, and I have issues with jealousy. Hate, distrust, or suspicion? Yeah, unfortunately. Scared, fearful, and afraid? Yep… any time you have a situation in life that you’re not quite totally accepting, it can lead to anxiety.

My positivity test was really depressing. But, as a belligerent optimist by nature, I asked myself what useful opportunity for improvement might this provide? The answer: don’t worry about getting more positive… see what you can do to manage — and eliminate — some of those negative, yucky feelings. Apparently they are more poisonous than I’d been aware of.

Fast forward to a month or so later, and I decided to take the positivity test again. I’ve been consciously managing my jealousy issues (haven’t succeeded yet, but I’m making the effort) — so the negative emotions associated with jealousy are saturating my life a little less. However, I am definitely nowhere near as fun-loving, amazed, hopeful, optimistic, inspired, serene, content, or in the zone of complete awesomeness and loving life as I was last time I took the test. I would suspect that my positivity ratio would be around the same as it was last time. But not so!!

The result? 2.67. Still not in the zone of flourishing, but enough point evidence for me that my strategy of managing negative emotions (and not working so much on trying to be fluffy and fun-loving) is paying off.

I had thought that positivity was all about being more positive. Now I realize the trap: it’s just as much about not being as negative, and not letting the negatives burn their cancer as deeply into your body.

Can Quality Professionals Help Others Get Happier?

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In his April post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “Are Quality Professionals Happy on the Job?” His question was motivated by a recent Forbes article that rated software quality professionals among the ten happiest in their careers.

However, I’d like to make his question a call to action for the quality community!

As improvement specialists, I suggest that as quality professionals, we are perfectly situated to use our skills to help everyone in an organization become happier… and thus more productive! Anecdotally, I’m sure few will argue that on the days you feel secure, balanced, and on top of the world – it’s easy to fly through tasks, collaborate effectively, and make amazing progress on pretty much anything.

The notion has already entered the quality community – and my position is that this topic needs more exploration, both in research and in practice. For example, in the February 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Johnston & Beck’s article on “The Power of Positive” takes a first step towards proposing how the relatively new discipline of positive psychology can be leveraged by the quality profession to catalyze breakthrough improvement.

I strongly support this new direction in thinking, and here’s why. ISO 9000 p. 3.1.5 (formerly ISO 8402:1994) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” In industry, we usually think of a product or a process as the entity, and then we work on improving the product’s quality or improving the effectiveness or efficiency of the process. So why don’t we turn it inside out and think of our SELVES as the entities?

The question I’ve posed is… what if that ENTITY is YOU? That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish by proposing the notion of quality consciousness, which asks the question: “What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon your ability to satisfy the stated and implied needs of yourself, your communities, and the organizations where you contribute your talent?”

The three aspects of quality consciousness are AWARENESS of what quality means in a particular context, ALIGNMENT of you and your talents with the problem to be solved and the environment in which the problem and its solution are embedded, and the ability to focus your ATTENTION on the problem or situation that needs to be improved.

In Garvin’s 1988 book Managing Quality, he characterizes five dimensions of quality: 1) quality as defined by the customer, 2) as conformance to manufacturing requirements, 3) as the presence or absence of product characteristics, 4) as the degree of excellence delivered compared to the cost (value-based), and 5) the transcendent dimension which says you “know quality when you see it.”

I also believe that you know quality when you can FEEL it – within yourself, and within your teams and organizations.

Inspiration is the Fuel, Mindfulness is the Tool

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

I always thought mindfulness was some sort of Zen-like state of nirvana and bliss. (Great for improving the quality of my life in general, but maybe a little too fluffy and spiritual to have any practical value at work.) But, like a lot of others, I tried really hard to develop mindfulness and become more mindful. Even if it wouldn’t help me get more done at work, I was still on board to get that blissful feeling. So I read lots of books! I tried to meditate. I found out I am really, really bad at meditating because I get distracted far too easily. But then I kind of found a way to back-in to a mindful state by just getting happy about stuff. But still, no real useful value for work. Until yesterday, when I realized what mindfulness really is! And this revealed to me just how useful mindfulness can be at the office.

Mindfulness is being able to focus on whatever you want to, or need to, at your command. 

(For example… having problems getting that report done for your boss? If you had trained yourself – practiced your mindfulness – you might not be procrastinating so much. You’d just be able to hop into your mindful state at will, and start being productive without a struggle, or a wandering mind.)

Mindfulness also means being able to shut out any distractions that keep you from your focus – eliminate them from your reality, so that they are just not there. Mindfulness means that you’ve developed the ability to propel yourself into flow, which is your groove of optimal productivity.

If inspiration is the fuel that catalyzes productivity, mindfulness is the tool that will help you pick up those items on your to-do list and start making progress on them without resistance.

So practicing mindfulness… you know, all that breathing and paying attention to the flow of your thoughts… they are just exercises to help you develop your “focus easily and on command” muscles. 

Why Positive Psychology is Essential for Quality

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

This semester, I’m sitting in on a Positive Psychology course offered by the JMU Department of Psychology. A lot of friends and colleagues have asked me why I’m taking a class in psychology when my research and teaching interests are, in contrast, related to quality and process improvement. But in my opinion, there’s no way you can be ultimately quality-minded, optimally productive, or blissfully innovative unless your psyche is relaxed, engaged, stimulated, and happy – and that’s what positive psychology is all about.

My favorite definition of quality originally comes from ISO 8402:1994 – “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” As quality professionals, we tend to focus on four types of entities: products, processes, organizations and teams. Although there have been some efforts to focus on the individual as an entity, in particular through the efforts of ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership (HDL) division, it hasn’t really caught on that the totality of characteristics of YOU will bear upon your ability to help create other entities that satisfy the stated and implied needs of a variety of stakeholders!

Your health and well being is a critical component of the chain, if not THE most important part! Think about you at your professional and emotional best, and imagine yourself on a team with other people who are working at the same level. Then, envision creating organizations where a spirit of quality will flourish. It’s a pretty powerful, innovative, inspired picture!

But then — think about how drastically the picture changes when you come to work distracted, emotionally drained, or unmotivated – in addition to just feeling down, you’ll drain the members of your workgroup or anyone else you interact with because of your own struggle to get through the day.

All of the following passages come from “Positive Psychology: An Introduction,” by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the January 2000 issue of American Psychologist. When I read these passages, it is clear to me that the science of POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY can provide QUALITY PROFESSIONALS with great insights about how to self-manage, how to cultivate high performance teams, and how to create high impact, innovative organizations and institutions. I’ll comment on all of these in later posts, but for now, I’m interested to hear what sorts of things the little voice in your head says as it thinks about these statements from positive psychology:

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless.

… the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role… they can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people’s lives can be most worth living.

The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).

At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions – making normal people stronger and more productive, and making high human potential actual.

At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.

People and experiences are embedded in a social context. Thus, a positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into effect.