For nearly a decade, I’ve been working as a social entrepreneur in bringing positive psychology to the world – a practitioner in different iterations from an individual coach and organizational/leadership consultant, to working in a boutique firm with other coaches and consultants, as a systems interventionist working on community-wide initiatives leveraging other change-agents and now as a trainer-of-trainers offering certifications in the field.
During all of this time I have realised that one of my favorite functions in the world is caring for the caretakers. This is why I’d love to share with you what I am learning about being a practitioner and caretaker.
Super organisms, are made up of many smaller organisms which work together as a eusocial whole where roles and labour is evenly distributed. Each organism would fade out quickly outside of the integrated, self organising whole. Super organisms that occur in nature, such as ant colonies, offer us many valuable lessons about how to manage ourselves and our roles within the greater social context so keep this metaphor in mind as we go though this article.
Tips to help the helper (YOU!)
Focus on your purpose
Super organisms share a transcendental reason for their behavior- we should do this as well. It’s wise to stay mindful of why we do what we do, reframing our problems as opportunities. What are we moving towards? And how can we get there with our minds and our hearts fully intact?
Seize the moment
Our models for education, social work, healthcare, and business are screaming for reinvention. Governments suffer from corruption and inertia and business-as-usual policies are in need of serious overhaul. Here positive psychology proponents can offer effective, sustainable and abundant solutions. It’s time for you as a positive psychology practitioner to shine.
Pursue new knowledge. No one is exempt from keeping up with the ever-changing discoveries about the human condition. We must remember, as teachers and practitioners, to continue learning. We are all unfinished experiments in the world where the science around human nature and human behavior is constantly evolving. Go with the flow and keep building your psycho-social muscles.
Welcome diverse ideas and tools
Positive psychology is growing and is nowhere near saturation. There’s no one field, one way, one methodology, one framework or tool. If you are walking with a hammer, as the old saying goes, recognize that not everything is a nail. Be open to interrelated concepts and hold an open mind when it comes to new ideas that can catapult you beyond your self-imposed glass ceiling. Listen to different music and mix it up.
Design your own interventions
When I started in this field, my colleagues and I thought that by now we would have a slew of double-blind studies designed with solid methodologies paving the way for successful positive interventions. We don’t. As an interventionist, you will do yourself and your clients a huge favor by being creative with your strategies and tactics. Dance to your own unique beat.
Serve with humility
No one likes self righteous assholes. As advocates of positive psychology, we must steadfastly walk our talk. Remember Gandhi’s quotation about being the change you want to see in the world? Well, follow that advice. Yes, professional acclaim feels fabulous but temper your desire for validation by choosing love and always acting from the heart.
Coordinating is my leadership strategy these days—promoting connection and integration. There’s so much good work out there and at times it can be overwhelming. The super organism metaphor can help us here where designing a structure with individual pieces forms a coherent, self organising whole- just like the cells in your body.
Super organisms in nature are distinct in their capability for complex communication, altruistic cooperation, and division of labor. Positive psychology practitioners can form fantastic super organisms based on this premise. Share and be receptive.
Lose the scarcity mindset
There’s enough work for all of us to do and people are hungry for your expertise! For limitless success, carve out your own specific niche and dig deeply. Then contribute your individual knowledge to advance the collective interests.
One of the greatest learning experiences I’ve had was to help MAPPsters learn polarity thinking, a framework that enables us to see how seemingly conflicting values are really interdependent (me AND you).
Seek to be known not validated
I think that’s Tal Ben Shahar’s line, but personally I believe no one owns an idea. The sooner we let go of the need to be first or fastest, trade-marked, or idolized, we can become mindful–which is much most important. Everything is co-created.
Take care of yourself
Burnout abounds in this field. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Prioritise your positivity and practice self care. The efficacy of your intervention is dependent on the internal condition of you as the interventionist. Get enough food, exercise, sleep, and affection. Nourish your body and your mind. If we disintegrate emotionally and physically, we will be ineffective at helping others. Master the fine art of drinking as you pour.
Respect relational boundaries
This is complicated. In our field, students are teachers, and teachers are students. To further complicate matters, people sometimes fall in love with the messenger of the timely and attractive message of positive psychology. As a result, we must figure out and set healthy boundaries, a particularly difficult task when your work is your life’s calling and purpose.
Dialogue is the answer here. We need to formulate shared agreements when, as is often the case, we work together in shared space with shared leadership. A valuable goal would be to operate with utmost integrity.
Fear-based emotions are real. Last year at IPPA, I presented data showing that many change agents struggle with internal pressures to “keep up with the Jones’ “. Research into social comparison also indicates that many of us exhibit symptoms of imposter syndrome- we doubt our own magnificence. You can reduce the power of these foibles by sharing them with trustworthy individuals. Self revelation heals.
It’s okay to stumble and fall. We all do it at times. Remember that social media, which now permeates communication and perception, usually portrays only successes, the high times and life is a full range of very human experiences. We must slog through some lows to appreciate the highs – yet another polarity paradox. Let reality supersede Facebook.
Contribute to a common language
As an emerging industry, positive psychology has attracted innumerable enthusiasts wishing to make the world a better place. They legitimately market themselves with titles such as organizational development specialist and mind-body practitioner. At this point, they operate with their own models and terminology. I recommend that we work toward building a common vocabulary while celebrating the different strengths of our collective. In that way, we can accelerate and sustain all of our missions. Words can create worlds.
And last but not least; Believe
Believe in yourself, believe in each other, and believe in your work. Be supportive, appreciative, and learn to forgive. Return continually to the transcendent purpose of our super organism- to join together for the flourishing benefit of us all – the self, each other, and the planet. There is enough. We are enough. You are enough.
Would you like to join the conversation about caring for the caretaker? Share your insights so we can co-create a healthy and productive environment for all. Leave your comments below.
About the Author
Louis Alloro is an expert in the field. Acting as a change-agent, he works at the interface between education and positive psychology. He was one of the first 100 people to get his MAPP and has worked in a number of fields. He has also made noteworthy research contributions in the areas of learned helplessness and learned optimism. Learn more about him, and his expertise by visiting his website.