MENTORS: How to Use Positive Psychology to Help Your Mentee to Thrive
Over the last two decades a new branch of psychological study has taken academia, education and workplaces by storm. Known as “positive psychology”, it is basically the study of what makes life worth living. Rather than focusing on helping the sick to “get well”, this area of science is concerned with ensuring that life is fulfilling.
Positive psychology should not be confused with positive thinking. Unsurprisingly, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that if you think positive thoughts, good things will happen to you. However, there is a growing body of evidence that there are small, practical actions you can take to improve your chances of flourishing.
As a mentor, some of the tools and ideas coming out of positive psychology can help you to ensure that your mentee is not simply surviving in his or her job, but thriving. This has obvious benefits not only for the mentee, but also for the entire organisation.
In his book, Flourish, Professor Martin Seligman, a leading positive psychology researcher, identifies five pillars of wellbeing: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, now referred to as PERMA.
If you feel your mentee is not flourishing, one place to start is the PERMAH Workplace Survey. Developed by Dr. Peggy Kern, from the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, this survey measures the wellbeing factors identified by Seligman, and adds health to the mix. The survey results will help you and your mentee to identify what needs to be addressed, to enable your mentee to consistently thrive.
Depending on the outcomes of this survey, here are some ideas and tools that can help you work with your mentee.
No one can be happy all of the time, but if your mentee is not regularly experiencing positive emotions at work then something has to change.
Explore with your mentee whether she is actively using her strengths and talents in her current role. Consider asking her to prepare a personal SWOT analysis and then use your session together to brainstorm ways that she can better employ her strengths in her current role, or possibly explore a new career trajectory.
It’s not always necessary to think in terms of major career decisions. Focus on the small stuff as well. Take time to identify what brings joy to your mentee and explore ways that she can tap into that in the workplace. For example, if she loves being surrounded by nature, consider bringing plants into the workspace.
If your mentee is a glass half-empty sort of person, help her to find ways to shift her perspective. For example, get her to make a habit of finishing each day by noting down a few things she has done well. Regularly practising this sort of thinking will counteract her natural bias to ruminate about what went wrong.
In order to truly thrive, it’s important that your mentee feels engaged in his career.
Quite often disengagement is less about big picture career goals and more about an inability to focus. So if your mentee is struggling to engage you might start by helping him to minimise distractions. In today’s world this usually involves setting guidelines around personal technology. This short video offers some simple, but effective ideas on improving concentration.
We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important that we build a strong network of good work relationships. Sometimes that can feel difficult in a fast-paced competitive workplace.
It may seem obvious, but simple acts of kindness and showing genuine appreciation are very effective ways to start building relationships. Not only do they make people feel better about you, they tend to also make you feel better about yourself. If your mentee is feeling isolated at work, explore the small steps he can take to start establishing rapport with others in the workplace.
You don’t have to be curing cancer or stopping global warming to find purpose in your work. Almost any job can be meaningful.
Your mentee may feel unclear about what gives him meaning. A great question to ask in this case is, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid.” The answer will often provide strong indicators of what your mentee really wants to do and it will help you to provide guidance.
You can also help your mentee to find the meaning in her job. Ask why she does what she does, and who benefits from her work. Everyone has difficult or mundane aspects to their job. But when viewed as an act of service, even the most routine task can feel meaningful.
In the PERMA model, achievement is less about actual success and more about internal recognition and appreciation of success. There are a number of ways that you may be able to help your mentee improve his sense of achievement.
Help him to celebrate his successes, however small. Perhaps insist that he email you a list of three wins each week, and then drink a toast to the biggest wins at each meeting.
Explore whether your mentee makes a habit of comparing himself to others. It’s easy for one’s own accomplishments to feel diminished in the shadow of grander successes. Help your mentee to recognise the significance of his own achievements by exploring the fears he may have to overcome, or the new lessons he has had to learn.
While you are working with your mentee, keep in mind that mentoring itself is a form of positive psychology. As a mentor, you symbolise the degree to which the organisation cares about your mentee’s development. You provide a place where your mentee can let his or her guard down and be honest. You offer support and guidance when your mentee is faced with stressful situations.
Simply by being there you are helping to promote positive psychology. Give yourself a pat on the back!
© Melissa Richardson 2018