The Positive Is Real and Worth Growing!

This was one of the most significant discoveries of my career. 

Fifteen years ago, I decided to embark on a rigorous evaluation of and reflection on the previous two decades of my work as a research scientist and practitioner of community health education. 

I was actually expanding upon an assignment I’d had back in graduate school. That project had been to develop a 10-page paper on my philosophy as a therapist. Ten pages sounded like ample space, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t nearly enough. It was the most challenging writing project of my life – so why on Earth did I want to recreate it? 

The answer is simple. By engaging in a disciplined process of structured reflection, evaluation, and research I was hoping to emerge with a crystalline vision of who I was in the world, and how I could best answer my calling to make the world a more positive place for all of us. It was an agonizing, years-long process until – slowly, and then all at once – it happened.

I had spent years developing my own framework and theory about human behavior. After reviewing countless manuscripts, lecture notes, and presentation slides, I distilled everything down to a single nagging question – one that, if answered, could be the tipping point in my life and work. I asked myself, “What is the CORE ASSUMPTION the Science of The Positive?” 

“The Positive is real.” That’s was it! So simple, yet so profound. A core value emerged with this idea: If, indeed, The Positive is real, then there is value in growing it.  THE POSITIVE IS REAL, AND WORTH GROWING.

This statement became the “Core Assumption” of the Science of The Positive, and the basis of all its other assumptions, research, and practices. My understanding that THE POSITIVE IS REAL AND WORTH GROWING sparked the development of the Seven Core Principles, clarified the Montana Model for Positive Community Norms Communications, and provided the foundation for all other elements of my work. Once this core assumption was established, everything else clicked into place.

Today, after training and teaching thousands of people, this core assumption is so clear to me that I wonder at the time it took for me to come to it. But I am grateful for the hard work in the dark hours of the morning that allowed me to bring this work out into the light where it can have a positive impact on the world. 

 

The Seven Core Principles in Action

The Seven Core Principles of the Science of the Positive provide a concrete process that helps us frame, execute, and evaluate our work in a way that increases our effectiveness in our organizations and our communities.

Through a series of structured activities, I engage community leaders in their own personal reflections and support them in developing shared principles for their leadership teams and coalitions. By engaging with their personalized core principles, organizations and coalitions can create a positive, strength-based frame for their work; identify and connect with the true spirit and purpose of what they do; build greater leadership capacity; ask the right questions and collect the most salient data; find effective, authentic ways to engage with their communities; and create the conditions most favorable to lasting cultural transformation. These principles become an invaluable tool to help them navigate times of complexity and ambiguity.

Steph Johnson, Coordinator of the Fairmont Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition in Fairmont, Minnesota, incorporates the Seven Core Principles into every coalition meeting. Before each meeting begins, the coalition members review their principles to, as Steph puts it, “get everyone into the spirit of our work. This way we start things off on the right note and set the tone for a purposeful meeting.” 

Before getting pulled into the mire of busy –- of deadlines, to-dos, and deliverables -- effective leaders start with spirit first, and make sure their efforts are aligned with their guiding goals and principles. Keep up the great work in Fairmont, Steph! 

Strategies for Moving From Busy to Effective

Creative Commons: " Too Busy to Improve " by Alan O'Rourke

Creative Commons: "Too Busy to Improve" by Alan O'Rourke

I've talked about the importance of moving from Busy to Effective, but how can you get there? Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  1. Take time to examine your typical workday. Don’t do anything except observe and notice differences between being busy versus being effective.
  2. Ask yourself: How do you define busy?  How do you define effective?
  3. In a typical week, are you busy more than you are effective?  
  4. Disrupt your “normal” conversational response pattern with this experiment. Instead of greeting someone with your old patter of busyness, experiment with a new pattern.
  5. The next time someone asks, “How are you doing?” think about how you want to reply.  Tell yourself, “I choose to perceive effectiveness rather than busyness," and answer, "Great, I’m being really effective.” Observe their reaction, and yours. 
  6. For today: List how you can be more effective today without doing more. Instead of listing external tasks that need to be accomplished, list internal states of being, like feeling calm amidst hurried people, feeling satisfied at the end of the day, or enjoying the ordinary moments like driving to work or taking kids to school. 
  7. A word of caution: If you perceive effectiveness as being busy, you will believe that being effective means merely accomplishing external tasks. This is the very misperception that you must correct in order to experience more joy and meaning in your life.  It is the difference between obsessing over quantity—which is about doing more (and is the focus of most time management seminars)—and a focus on the quality of being

I'd love to hear the results of your experiments in the comments. 

Stop Being Busy. Start Being Effective.

A homemade reminder hangs on the wall in the office of one of my clients. 

A homemade reminder hangs on the wall in the office of one of my clients. 

Are you too busy? If you are like most people, your answer to this question is a resounding “yes!”  Of course your life is busy—your challenge is shift your perspective from being BUSY to being EFFECTIVE.

We are surrounded by cultural influences that reward us more as human doings than as human beings. Many of us even wear our busyness like badges of honor. Without thinking about it, we are telling ourselves that the busier we are, the better we are doing in life.

I believe that the tyranny of busyness is one of the most common dysfunctions in our culture. By staying busy, your mind is constantly focused on the future, racing ahead to what you need to accomplish next.  But busyness is only effective at one thing: killing “The Now.”  When you focus on your busyness you are shutting out the only moment you actually have—the present—and the only place that that your spirit resides—in the NOW. 

Our busyness is often rewarded by others through social exchange. It has become a form of social capital—we exchange “busy” greetings as a form of belonging and acceptance. Conversations typically go something like this:

“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Great, but crazy busy. You?”
 “Me too, with (fill in blank here: work, school, kids’ activities…)”
“I can relate!”

The good news is that you do not have to engage these transactions. Every time you do, you are passively withdrawing power from your life. Decide to detach from this kind of public conversation, and you will find new room to notice spirit working in your life.

Today, your challenge is to try and shift your focus from what keeps you busy to what makes you effective and creates meaning in your life. Remember that every meeting, e-mail, and phone call, every casual catch-up with a friend, is an opportunity for you to move away from the busyness trap and focus on creating more meaning and effectiveness in your life.

All of us are busy—get over it. Start being...effective!

You Are a Piece of a Larger Puzzle

The Science of the Positive is the study of the ways in which positive factors impact culture and experience. It is based on the core assumption that the positive is real and is worth growing, and its aim is to systematize the identification, measurement and growth of the positive—in ourselves, our families, our workplaces, and our communities.

But looking for the positive does not mean to see the world through rose-colored glasses. The Science of the Positive is about accurately perceiving the world around us, and that includes understanding that the the things that make our lives good and difficult, joyful and full of struggle, also characterize the lives of others. Research continues to demonstrate the importance of feeling this kind of connectedness. It is critical for healthy child development, marriages, partnerships, suicide prevention, and basic civility. It is part of what a new study calls “common humanity,” which is the perception that your feelings and experiences are part of the larger human experience, rather than something unique only to you. Seeing ourselves as a part of a larger whole helps us to treat ourselves with more compassion, since we know that difficulties, insecurities, and setbacks we experience are also experienced by those around us – no matter how great their lives may look on Facebook.

This understanding of our common humanity doesn’t just make us kinder to ourselves; it is also correlated with happiness. So work to BE PERCEPTIVE of all the ways you are connected to others, good and bad, and know that you are an important piece of a larger puzzle.

 Read more about this new research here.

Go Slow, BE PRESENT, and Eat Huckleberries

Core Principle #2 of The Science of the Positive is to BE PRESENT. The benefits of being present are many. One of those is to remind you of what really matters in life.  Another is that you find more huckleberries.

I was away for work for most of June and the beginning of July, and my schedule showed no signs of slowing down. But I was determined to get out for a backpack with my teenage son, a tradition we've had since he was just six. So I blocked off two days I couldn’t really spare, and Christopher and I headed out for a trail not too far from home. 

The next day, as we bushwhacked a short route back to the trailhead, my mind was already on the projects and clients waiting for my attention. Until Christopher brought me back to the moment with one word: “Huckleberries!”

Suddenly everything I was hurrying back for felt like it could wait. We dropped our packs, sat down in the shade, and talked quietly as we picked and ate. My leadership lesson? That sometimes there is nothing more important in the world for me to do than to sit in the woods with my teenage son, being totally present. 

Spill Some Milk

Photo   by M Yashna /   CC BY

Photo by M Yashna / CC BY

Back when I was a ski instructor in Colorado, I learned an amazing technique for helping me to perceive things differently. I call it Spilling Milk, and I still use it in many areas of my life.

About ten of us instructors were taking a clinic to improve our own skiing and teaching from a master instructor named Milt. We were all expert skiers, but Milt took us away from our favorite double black diamonds and brought us to a long, flat beginners run. “Pretend that you are holding a pail filled with milk,” he directed. “Visualize swinging this pail of milk over your head so that you don’t spill a drop. This is what you all do when you ski fast.”

“Now slow down your swinging motion until the milk starts to fall out of the pail at the top of your swing,” he instructed. “You'll see that the forces you generate with speed can no longer cover up errors. This is what I want you to do with your skiing—go slow and discover what happens.”

We all began to ski in slow motion. What happened next was truly amazing: some of us lost our balance and fell over, others overcorrected trying catch themselves. If you’d been watching us from the chairlift that day—ten skiers in red and blue instructors’ uniforms, flailing like beginners down a very easy slope—you would have probably thought, “I think I’ll take lessons somewhere else.”

Just as the centrifugal forces generated by swinging a pail of milk can mask the natural law of gravity, skiing fast generates forces that easily masked errors in our stance, foundation, and turns. When we slowed down, subtle errors became glaringly obvious. We discovered that when our feet were too close together we would lose balance and tip over at certain points in the turn. When our shoulders initiated a movement instead of our feet we would compensate with another error. We learned that we had to ski slow in order to get better at skiing fast.

Intentionally slowing down in the areas of your life where you are typically proficient can help you to find the weak spots that you usually cover up with speed. Slowing down creates the humble condition in which you see the world through the eyes of a beginner, or a child. This is the prerequisite for growth. It is how we begin to see things as they really are.

Slow way down today and see what happens. Spill some milk.

When Youth See Themselves for Who They Are, Magic Happens

Change people's perceptions and you will change their behaviors: that is the magic of Positive Community Norms. We've tried to capture some of that magic in this short video about the community of Deer River, Minnesota. It had its world premiere last week at our annual Summer Institute, and I'm proud to be able to share it with you all now. 

I've written before about the incredible norms change work being done across Minnesota around the issue of youth alcohol consumption. Deer River was selected for the project because of its higher-than-average rates of youth drinking; the changes they achieved in just five short years are nothing short of astounding.

Led by a tireless and passionate community coalition, they changed the way parents, teachers and other adults perceived local youth. More importantly, they transformed the way that Deer River youth perceived themselves. The project allowed middle and high school students to reveal themselves for who they really are: young people who care about their school and their families. Kids who have multiple interests and goals that have nothing to do with drinking.

At the start of the project, most students thought their peers drank far more than they actually did. As the Deer River team closed this misperception gap, rates of youth drinking dropped. By the end of the five year project, they measured a 50% reduction in monthly youth alcohol consumption. 

In this video, you get a chance to hear from the local changemakers who helped their youth see themselves -- and each other -- with clearer eyes. I hope you'll watch and share your comments below. 

This project -- and this video -- was funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. Their vision and leadership has been crucial to the success of PCN in Deer River and beyond. 

Culture is Key to Ending Campus Sexual Assault and Dating Violence

Image (c) The Montana Institute

How can the Science of the Positive process help to end sexual assault and dating violence  at colleges and universities? By using the Positive Community Norms framework to change campus cultures. Together, the Science of the Positive and PCN can: 

1) Ignite transformational leadership
2) Establish clear communications based upon protective norms
3) Integrate science-based strategies and policies across the campus/community ecology
4) Reflect upon returns and evaluate effectiveness

During this week's Enhancing the Campus Response to Dating and Sexual Violence workshop -- sponsored by the DC Coalition Against Domestic Abuse and the Department of Justice -- forward-thinking leaders from eight DC colleges and universities laid the groundwork for a Strategic Communication Frame for talking about and responding to campus sexual assault and dating violence, one that aligns the communications of each of their institutions around a common set of positive values, priorities, and prevention perspectives. This is just the beginning of our work together cultivating healthier cultures by building on strengths and protective factors that already exist in their campus communities. There is much work ahead, but I am eager to get started. 

New PCN Project: Campus Sexual Assault and Dating Violence

I've spent the day prepping for a very important trip next week. The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCCADV) has invited me to lead a two-day workshop on how the Science of the Positive Process and Positive Community Norms can change how we talk about, respond to, and prevent campus sexual assault and dating violence. The group will include representatives from eight DC-area colleges and universities; our goal is to connect leaders from these different institutions around a common prevention framework, one that balances hope with concern and builds on the strengths that already exist in their campus communities.

Positive Community Norms is poised to make measurable change around this critical issue – one that, with my son heading off to college in the fall and my daughter not far behind, feels more personally urgent than ever. My wife and I recently sat down with both kids to watch “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. It was difficult to watch, but it opened up some conversations that were important for us to have as a family. More to come on this issue when I’m in DC next week.  

From Practitioner to Expert: Sara Thompson Joins the MSI 2016 Faculty

I am honored to announce that Sara Thompson will join me as a faculty member at the 2016 Montana Summer Institute. In addition to nearly a decade of hands-on experience with Positive Community Norms, Sara brings her intelligence, wit, and a passion for applying marketing to correct misperceptions of norms to make a measurable difference in the lives of the people in her community.

I first met Sara nine years ago at a training I was conducting as part of my 10-site Positive Community Norms project in Minnesota. Sara was there as the media consultant for one of the participating community coalitions, using her background in radio and marketing to help them build powerful community-wide media and messages. I remember seeing Sara sitting at her table with a thoughtful scowl, as she carefully considered -- and often challenged -- the norms change theory and process that I was presenting.

Today, Sara is a skilled PCN practitioner with a deep understanding of the Science of the Positive. She has become a vital member of the TMI team, one who continues to challenge my work in the very best of ways. It is not too late to join me, Sara, and the rest of the team next month in Big Sky. I hope to see you there!

The Science of the Positive and Essentials for Children

Happy to be back in Boston to deliver the keynote speech and run an all-day Science of the Positive institute for the CDC-funded Massachusetts Essentials for Childhood Inaugural Summit: "The Next Revolution for Our Common Wealth." Excited to apply the Science of the Positive to the job of keeping children healthy and safe, and to know that this state so rich in history is working hard to create a bright future for its youngest citizens.

A Conference with a View

Image Courtesty Big Sky Resort

Image Courtesty Big Sky Resort

The problem with holding the Summer Institute in a place as scenic as Big Sky is that I have to find speakers who are as compelling as the view. Which is why I'm so pleased to welcome Dr. Darren Lubbers to the faculty of the 2016 Montana Summer Institute. Darren and I first worked together 10 years ago, and I am lucky to be partnering with him again. We have been working together on two fascinating projects: a 10-community PCN campaign in Minnesota that has shown astounding results in reducing youth drinking, and a nationwide survey for Prevent Child Abuse America on protective norms related to protecting children from abuse and neglect.

Darren is the ultimate scientist-practitioner. He and his team are outstanding at developing research methodologies and constructing surveys and are impeccable with their analytics. On top of these talents, Darren has over 20 years of experience working on substance abuse prevention projects. What makes all of his expertise even more valuable are Darren’s gifts as a teacher. He can take even the most difficult concepts and put them into language that everyone in the room can understand.

His passion for sharing his life’s work is palpable, as all of you who join us in Big Sky will soon learn. I look forward to presenting with him next month!

THIS JUST IN: BIGFOOT TO PRESENT AT MSI!

I'm thrilled that my colleague and friend Dr. Jason Kilmer will join me as a faculty member at the 2016 Montana Summer Institute. Jason's expertise as a prevention professional is matched by his famously engaging presentation style. He is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, and serves as an investigator on several studies evaluating prevention and intervention efforts for alcohol and other drug use by college students. And that is only part of what he does

Jason is hoping that Sasquatch will pay us a visit at Big Sky. Last winter a family claimed they saw him in Yellowstone taking in the sights, so maybe he'll swing by and join us at the resort! I'd love to get Squatch's take on awareness and misperceptions -- but if his presentation follows Jason's, he'll have big shoes to fill. 

PCN and the Heart of Ojibwe: A Red Lake Story

Yesterday I had the honor of presenting on Positive Community Norms with some extraordinary Native leaders. Jo Lightfeather is the Director of the Learning Center at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis. She and I met seven years ago at one of my trainings on the Science of the Positive and norms-based prevention strategies. Since then, she has been instrumental in developing Native projects based upon the Science of the Positive, and has initiated trainings for tribes across Minnesota. We were joined by Tom and Karen Barrett from the Red Lake Nation, who shared how Positive Community Norms has become a powerful framework for honoring tribal cultures and organizing events that build on the tremendous strengths that already exist in people, land, and drum.

Me and Jo Lightfeather of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center

Me and Jo Lightfeather of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center

with tom and karen barrett of the red lake nation

with tom and karen barrett of the red lake nation

We organized our workshop around the Science of the Positive Cycle of Spirit, Science, Action and Return:

1.  SPIRIT: Explore of the science-of-the-positive process, and the positive community norms (PCN) framework as hope-based ways to increase resilience by honoring Native cultures;

2. SCIENCE: Understand science-based elements involved with planning successful normative interventions that align with Native values;

3. ACTION: Identify practical ways that PCN strategies have been used on the Red Lake Nation to grow culturally- based protective factors;

4. RETURN: Reflect upon ideas regarding the data, people and resources that are needed to implement positive community norms strategies in diverse programs and environments.

It was a terrific event, but we are still just scratching the surface of how the Science of the Positive can be used to honor and grow tribal strengths. Jo and I are currently designing a resilience-building Digital Storytelling Curriculum for Native Youth based on the Science of the Positive that we will pilot-test this June. And I look forward to working with Tom and Karen again soon.

Safety Culture: Two Words That Launched a Field

Diana Markosian  :   One Day in the Life of Chernobyl  , VOA News, photo gallery. Image via Wikimedia Commons .

Diana MarkosianOne Day in the Life of Chernobyl, VOA News, photo gallery. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you remember where you were on April 26, 1986? I do. I had just finished my Master’s Degree in Counseling and was taking a few months to travel across Europe. I woke up that morning in Venice, Italy to the news of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. For the rest of my trip I read the paper every day to see which way the wind was blowing – and decide which areas to avoid.   

As I continued my travels, the International Nuclear Safety Group began meeting to determine the underlying causes of this tragic event. Unbeknownst to me and the rest of the world, they were studying more than the meltdown of a nuclear reactor. They were examining another hidden risk factor: the norms, attitudes, and behaviors that created disastrously dangerous human safety conditions. The INSG coined the term “Safety Culture,” and with those two words began a new era of health and safety research.  

Over the next three decades, my early interest in treating people on an individual level expanded into a focus on larger communities, and eventually encompassed the role of norms, perceptions, and misperceptions in creating Safety Cultures. I went from working with single clients, to working with university undergraduates, to creating community and statewide campaigns that worked across an entire social ecology. After founding a university center on health and safety culture, I now work full time with The Montana Institute, innovating ways to build strong cultures of health, safety, and caring using Positive Community Norms and the Science of the Positive.

Recently my work has expanded into new fields, including sexual violence prevention and child maltreatment prevention, and I am energized to find more ways that culture itself can act as a protective factor that reduces dangerous behaviors and increases positive ones. A key theme is that the positive exists in every culture, organization, tribe, community, and school. The Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms can be used to cultivate the conditions for this positive to emerge, expand, and create healthy safety cultures.

Traffic Safety: A PCN Classic

I hear North Dakota is the least-visited state in the union, but I'm doing my best to buck that trend. I'm spending two days in Bismarck with folks from the Department of Transportation, exploring ways to use Positive Community Norms to make their roads safer. PCN can be used to reduce driving after drinking (as I did in a statewide campaign in Montana), increase seatbelt use, and combat texting and driving. Unfortunately, nothing has yet been invented that can keep me from singing along with classic rock radio in my rental car. 

When Positive Community Norms Just Clicks

Clickers allow for instant, anonymous voting. 

Clickers allow for instant, anonymous voting. 

I have been working with key prevention leaders in the Boston area for over ten years on issues including youth alcohol and substance abuse, and, most recently, child maltreatment prevention. My friend and colleague Stephanie Patton just reached out to me with an interesting update. She and the team at OASIS (Organizing Against Substances in Stoughton) have been turning up the volume of their work, expanding from a limited social norms campaign focused on teens in schools to a true Positive Community Norms intervention that engages groups across the social ecology, including teachers, parents, business leaders, law enforcement, and government officials. In the process of building their PCN efforts, OASIS’ coalition leaders have developed into true civic leaders, who now help build support for healthy community initiatives and steer difficult public conversations using the Science of the Positive.

Stephanie writes, “I wanted to drop you a note to let you know about an unanticipated outcome of our work together. Stoughton's local government has decided to use clickers for electronic voting due to our collaborative work.” For those of you who don’t know, clickers are great tool for exposing misperceptions and learning how they work – I use them often in my trainings. But back to Stephanie: “Because we have become the local clicker "experts" we are building some important new relationships in town hall and with town meeting reps. What is really cool is that in some of the planning meetings people are talking about peer influence on voting and how misperceptions can arise from standing or hand-raising votes. This is an exciting example of how Positive Community Norms is really having an impact on how our community thinks.”

Bravo, OASIS! I’m looking forward to hearing more about their success when I see Stephanie and her team in July for the Montana Summer Institute.

The Seven Core Principles in Practice

This is Tanis Henderson, the school counselor at the high school in Deer River, Minnesota. She infuses the Seven Core Principles into the school culture one conversation at a time, helping her students learn to be positive, present, perceptive, purposeful, perfected, proactive, and passionate as they evaluate the world around them and make their own choices in it. She is applying the Science of the Positive at its deepest level, transforming perceptions -- and lives -- in the process. 

Montana Summer Institute 2016: Extended Early Registration Deadline!

I have extended the early registration deadline for the Montana Summer Institute to May 16th! There is no more beautiful setting for digging deep into norms science, learning the ins and outs of Positive Community Norms, and getting inspired to transform attitudes and behaviors across a virtually limitless array of issues. I hope that all of you who are working to change culture and improve positive norms in your communities, schools, and workplaces will join me July 6th-9th in Big Sky. Read more about it or register online