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Is Positive Psychology Burning You Out?

If you’re someone who practices positive psychology and wellbeing and shares these approaches with others, it seems reasonable to hope that one of the perks of your work would be to more consistently flourish. After all you’re immersed in the research, you’re more likely to know what works and chances are you’re making a positive difference as you share these ideas with others.

So why might positive psychology practitioners be burning out?

“My data suggests about a third of wellbeing practitioners have higher levels of stress and depression than you’d hope given our field studies the practices of human flourishing,” explained Louis Alloro change-agent, culture-strategist and senior fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing, when I interviewed him recently. “In our hunger to make a difference it seems many of us are forgetting that we’re human beings, not human doings.”

Louis suggests there may be a number of factors putting positive psychology practitioners at risk:

  • Too much meaningProfessor Robert Vallerand’s research has found that when your passion lights up your life, there is a real risk that it starts to take control of you and become obsessive. When your self-esteem and sense of self-worth start to become contingent upon engaging and doing well in an activity then disengaging gets harder and harder and your passion can start damaging your relationships, undermine your wellbeing and eventually lead to burn out.
  • Being driven by fear of missing out – As the field of positive psychology continues to grow it’s easy to become overwhelmed by a fear of missing out as we watch our peers getting published, presenting at conferences, building incredible networks and landing new opportunities to make a difference in the world. Studies have found that these kind of social comparisons have a profound effect on our mood and emotional wellbeing as we strive and drive to keep up with our colleagues and yet are often left feeling inadequate and discontent.
  • Failing to slow down – Whilst feeling fully engaged in our work and life brings many benefits, we also need time to slow down, rest, rejuvenate and recover. For example, whilst boredom was once considered bad for us new research is finding that boredom can give us time to reflect, tune into the world around us and even make us happier. It breaks our need for the next dopamine high and can give us space to enjoy the simple things in life.

So how can you avoid the risk of burn out as you share what you’re learning about positive psychology and wellbeing?

As part of the Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Louis runs around the world in addition to teaching people about the science of wellbeing, Louis also recommends practitioners take these three important steps:

  • Be Self-Aware – In order to consistently flourish you need to become increasingly aware of your own beliefs, hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses and everything else that make you tick and colors the way you experience the world. The more you know about yourself, the better you are at adapting as life changes. This is why mindfulness practices – where you pay attention to your experiences in a non-judgmental way – have been found to be so important when it comes to maintaining wellbeing.
  • Practice Self-Compassion – Flourishing isn’t a guarantee for a perfect life where you seamlessly navigate the highs and lows we all experience. You’ll still encounter real challenges, have moments of absolute failure and feel overwhelmed with fear at times. After all you’re wired to learn and to keep evolving.

The practice of self-compassion allows you to move through these moments by showing yourself the same kindness and understanding you would offer a good friend. Instead of letting your inner-critic loose when things go wrong, self-compassion has been found to activate your brain’s self-awareness and self-care systems making it easier to believe you are capable and worthy and enhancing your motivation, your performance and your resilience.

  • Invest in Self-Care – Just as you would do on a plane, you need to fit your own oxygen mask first before you can help others. Your ability to help others flourish will diminish over time if you’re not using the evidence-based wellbeing tools and practices you’re sharing to look after yourself.

Flourishing is not a destination, it’s an ongoing journey to wellbeing that needs your continued attention and effort. Playing with wellbeing practices in your own life gives you the credibility, insight and an authentic ability to consistently flourish that makes it possible for you to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Try the free PERMAH Workplace Survey to see how you’re wellbeing is faring.

How are you looking after your wellbeing?

If you’d like more help on caring for yourself and learning how you can use positive psychology to help others as well, be sure to check out Louis’ Applied Certificate in Positive Psychology with classes about to kick off around the globe.

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