19 September 2011

The ingredients of well-being: PERMA 2051

I have followed the work of Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, for about 36 years! I first became aware of his work when I was getting my master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Seligman is often referred to as the father of positive psychology. Early in my career, I was interested in his theory of “learned helplessness” as a model for explaining depression. Over time, Seligman shifted his focus and began to study and create theories of optimism and authentic happiness.

Recently, he has refined and amalgamated his thinking and created a theory of well-being, which he explains in a new book titled Flourish. In this work, he proposes that well-being involves five measurable elements: Positive Emotions (P), Engagement (E), Relationships (R), Meaning (M) and Achievement (A), or PERMA.

Working with colleagues and students at the University of Pennsylvania, Seligman has developed a number of measures and interventions to support positive accomplishment, resilience and well-being. Listen to his remarks as he shares how he is using knowledge created to influence and stimulate change in education and therapy, including military settings. I particularly like his notion of the complementary pair of post-traumatic stress ~ post-traumatic growth syndrome. I also admire and appreciate his visionary goal that, by the year 2051, 51 percent of the people of the world will be flourishing.

Personally, after reading the book, I have decided to take up the practice of two evidence-based exercises that seem to influence and support one’s well-being: the Gratitude Visit and the Three Blessings Exercise.

The Gratitude Visit involves conjuring up an image of someone still alive who did or said something that changed your life for the better, and you never properly thanked him or her. The task is to write a 300-word letter of gratitude to that person with specific details about what they did and how it affected your life. Once you have written the letter, surprise him or her with a visit and personally deliver the letter. Read it out loud to and then discuss the content and your feelings for each other.

The Three Blessings Exercise is also a useful practice to develop. This involves reflection and appreciation. Every night, set aside 10 minutes before you go to sleep to write down three things that went well today and why they went well. Writing about what went right rather than what went wrong is likely to support your PERMA and increase your feelings of well-being.

I believe nurses around the world already understand the importance of PERMA for health and well-being. Seligman has provided specific measurements, tools and resources that may help and support the work nurses do to develop resilience and promote well-being in themselves and for those for whom they care. With the support of nurses who flourish, I believe his 2051 PERMA Vision will be realized.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. (New York: Free Press).

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. 

01 August 2011

Self as coach: Professional renewal through strength and character

One of the most significant challenges leaders face is how best to maintain optimism, hope and a sense of renewal when confronted with competing commitments, conflicts and struggles that are a part of leadership responsibilities. Nurse leaders need to engage inner work in order to more effectively provide outer service (Pesut, 2001). Renewal is accomplished by clarifying one’s strengths, values, gifts and talents—and using them with intention. A strengths and character-based approach to personal and professional renewal helps people appreciate and value their signature themes and natural talents. Knowing what one’s signature strengths and values are promotes personal mastery and self-management in the creation of a purpose-driven life.

Some leaders choose to work with professional coaches to discern their strengths and learning edges. Others believe there is value in developing self as coach, through deliberate inquiry and practices connected to personal and professional renewal efforts. I encourage leaders I know to use two assessments to obtain information about signature and character strengths. The first is the VIA Survey from the VIA Institute on Character. This instrument assesses strength in character. Based on responses to a series of questions, the instrument rank orders 24 character strengths and then groups them by the virtue categories of wisdom, courage, humility, justice, temperance or transcendence. Knowledge of character strengths and learning edges promotes insight, action and development.

Another resource I think is most valuable for nursing leaders is the book, Strengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barrie Conchie (Rath & Conchie, 2009). This book provides access to the Gallup Corporation StrengthsFinder assessment tool. Knowing what your top five signature strengths are gives voice to your talents and skill mix. Even more valuable, this reference and resource provides specific strength by strength-based strategies to help a leader master most of the characteristics that followers want in leaders: trust, compassion, stability and hope. The best thing nursing leaders can do to strengthen the profession is to know what values support and sustain individual character and how to support followers through intentional activation of personal strengths and virtues.

References and Resources:
Pesut, D.J. (2001). Healing into the future: Recreating the profession of nursing through inner work. In N. Chaska (Ed.), The nursing profession: Tomorrow and beyond (pp. 853-867). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2009). Strengths based leadership. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

10 March 2011

Join the 100 Top Squiggles of Nursing project

In my July 12, 2010 Meta-Reflections post, I commented on the squiggle sense and the complementary nature of nursing phenomena. I was delighted and surprised when David A. Engstrom, PhD, creator~designer of The Squiggle Sense blog and co-author, along with J.A. Scott Kelso, PhD, of The Complementary Nature, contacted me and invited me to be interviewed! We exchanged many an e-mail and now that interview is posted on the Squiggle Sense blog!

Dr. Engstrom also posted a comment to my July blog post, in which he extended an invitation to the nursing community to participate in the 100 Top Squiggles of Nursing project, part of his effort to gather the 100 top squiggles in a variety of disciplines. I think this would be a very interesting exercise that would add to our understanding and appreciation of the complementary nature and dynamics nurses negotiate on a daily basis.

So, here is the plan. I invite all my nursing colleagues to use the comment feature provided at the bottom of this blog post (click on the word “comment”) or send directly to me (dpesut@iupui.edu ) a list of squiggles you notice in your practice, education or research contexts. I, in turn, will pass them along to Dr. Engstrom, and we will slowly but surely build a list of the top 100 squiggles in nursing! For example, a few of my candidate squiggles of nursing are: nursing~negligence; suffering~succorance; health~illness; mindfulness~mindlessness.

What complementary pairs or “squiggles” has your squiggle sense perceived and acted upon? Participating in this project is easy. All I need are your squiggles, but if you care to spend a few minutes to let us know why you chose your particular candidate(s), please do so.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

10 February 2011

Becoming wholehearted

Recently, I became aware of the work of BrenĂ© Brown, PhD, LMSW, who studies wholeheartedness. The evolution and development of her interests and research career is enlightening and inspiring. For a quick introduction to her work, check out this TED video, where she talks about the power of vulnerability and the importance of human connection. What is most fascinating to me is that she began studying wholeheartedness as a result of her research interest in the concept of shame. I struggle with issues of shame. Everyone does. Brown’s definition? Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of love and belonging.

Brown makes the following points about shame. We all have shame, and it is one of the most primitive human emotions we experience. The only people who do not have shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. We are all afraid to talk about shame. The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. Shame is the opposite of owning our story and feeling worthy. Shame is different than guilt, which is about doing something bad. Shame is a belief that I am bad and not enough.

It was through her study of shame that Brown discovered wholehearted people, individuals who had developed shame resilience. Men and women with high shame resilience have four things in common. They understand shame and recognize what messages and expectations trigger shame for them. They practice critical awareness by reality-checking the messages and expectations that tell us being imperfect means being inadequate. They reach out and share their stories with people they trust. They speak shame. They use the word “shame.” They talk about what they are feeling and ask for what they need.

As I reflect on my nursing career, I realize that many of the dysfunctional dynamics I have observed in individuals, groups and organizations oftentimes involve issues of and responses to shame. I wonder what would happen if we started talking about shame and the effects of shame in our personal and professional lives?

Antidotes to shame involve the following: cultivation of authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude and joy, intuition and trusting faith, and creativity. Developing shame resilience also includes letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It involves cultivating calm and stillness, and letting go of self-doubt and “supposed-to.” It involves cultivating laughter, song and dance, and letting go of being cool and “always in control.”

If you want to learn more about wholeheartedness and developing shame resilience, check out Brown’s work. She is delivering important messages to the world about the power and value of vulnerability, compassion, courage and connection. Nurses everywhere will benefit personally and professionally from her wisdom, advice and careful attention to the research available on the subject of wholeheartedness and authenticity. Developing shame resilience is a practice worth pursuing.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

03 January 2011

Gremlins and grace: Challenges for a new year

As the holiday season and another year came to a close, I reflected how, in the recent past, my gremlin kept surfacing to influence, hamper and interfere with my thinking, doing and relating. One of my colleagues suggested I read Rick Carson’s book,
Taming Your Gremlin. I did, and it has given me new ways to monitor, notice and respond to my personal gremlins.

As we begin a new year, I think it is a good time to take stock, reflect and consider how best to tame one’s gremlins. According to Carson, taming one’s gremlin involves the process of noticing and choosing—
moment-to-moment—light over darkness, good over evil and the love that sustains over the fear likely to destroy. If you have one or more gremlins that need taming, explore Rick Carson’s website and learn more about gremlin taming.

Of special note are his tips for taming gremlins. Pictures people have created that visually represent personal gremlins of many types and varieties is available in his Gallery of Gremlins. Feeling creative about describing your personal gremlin? Perhaps you will want to respond to Carson’s invitation to draw and submit a picture of your own gremlin to his Gremlin gallery?

Gremlins often take charge of the chatterbox inside our heads. Gremlin taming is one way to manage the chatterbox. Another way is to create a state-of-grace document for yourself and with others.

The five components of a state-of-grace document are: 1) the story of me/us, 2) interaction styles and warning signs, 3) expectations and core values, 4) questions to return to peace, and 5) short- and long-term agreements. A state-of-grace document can become a blueprint for positive healthy relating. Creating a state-of-grace document for yourself and with those you care about provides a stimulus for conversation, dialogue and understanding.

Learn more about these documents and consider how gremlin taming and grace can be incorporated into your personal and professional development plans for the new year, 2011.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.