Updated: Jun 16
The point here is not that you should always forgo this kind of weakness fixing. The point is that you should see it for what it is: damage control, not development. And as we mentioned earlier, damage control can prevent failure, but it will never elevate you to excellence." (Donald O. Clifton)
Positive Psychology is relatively new and mostly unknown as a field. It refers to the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life. Or, in laymen’s terms, Positive Psychology asks the opposite question as a point of departure than traditional clinical psychology does.
Clinical psychology has as a point of departure the question: “What is wrong with you, so that we can fix it?”
Positive Psychology, to the contrary, asks “What is right with you, so we can strengthen it?”
A brief history of Positive Psychology
In the early 1960s, Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books, was working on Byron Campbell’s lab at Princeton University. At that time, the prevailing theory of motivation was the drive reduction theory: all animals act out of the need to satisfy their own biological needs.
However, in 1959, Robert White published a work that went against the drive reduction theory called “Motivation reconsidered: the concept of competence”. In it, he argued that people and animals often acted simply for the sake of mastery over the environment.
Seligman found this to be true. Accomplishment is often pursued for its own sake, even if it doesn’t translate into increases in positive emotions, meaning or the quality of relationships. Some endeavours are worthwhile and contribute to well-being.
Many of the early psychological theories (Adler, Jung, Ellis) and current theories from Positive Psychology and the "solution-focused" therapies are antecedents to modern-day personal development. Instead of pathology (“What is wrong with you?”) as the main focus, these theories focus on behavioural change through increased awareness and choices for desired future results and solutions to current problems in living, with the individual as the creator and artist of his or her life. (“What is right with you?”)
When educational psychologist Donald O. Clifton first designed the interviews that subsequently became the basis for his approach towards the Strengths-movement, he began by building on the base of Positive Psychology by asking, “What would happen if we focused on what is right with people, instead of trying to fix what is wrong with them?” This is the classic mindset of Positive Psychology.
Thus, emerged a philosophy of using talents as the basis for the consistent achievement of excellence (strength). Specifically, the strengths philosophy is the assertion that individuals can gain far more when they expend effort to build on their greatest talents than when they spend a comparable amount of effort to remediate their weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003).
Positive Psychology began as a new area of psychology as recent as 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, though the term originates with Maslow, in his 1954 book ”Motivation and Personality”, and there have been indications that psychologists since the 1950s have been increasingly focused on the promotion of mental health rather than merely treating illness.
In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed: "for the last half-century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only – mental illness", expanding on Maslow’s comments. He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of the psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.
One thing nobody can take away from you is your natural sustainable fuel and drive that energises your patterns of thought, emotions and behaviour.
In our COVID-19 challenged world, we are either confronted daily with doom-and-gloom statistics and projections, or, even more sobering, we are directly impacted by the physical, emotional or economic realities that re-shapes our everyday lives. Most of us are forced into a “fixing-mode” without any choice. There is nothing wrong with this focus, and if we neglect to re-think our strategies and interactions in our private and professional realities, we will be left behind.
It is not “fixing” that is problematic. It is if the “fixing mindset” becomes the major perspective in everything we think, feel and do. A positive mindset will not come our way from the media or from most influencers around us. A positive mindset should be a deliberative choice we make, that leads us to the re-evaluation of what we have going for us, even when it seems that we are being robbed from all our securities or strategies. And this starts with you.
How do we thrive in a "weakness-fixing" world?
You won’t need to grasp for positive thoughts or feelings if your source is the natural fountain of your talents, already new necessity you may face obtaining new skills, knowledge and experience. those talents are already refined into strengths.
If you are certain of where your strengths lie, you can lean into it with full confidence within times like these. Your strengths will never let you down. It is the best sustainable investment you can make within an existing or new reality you face.
Start with your talents – discover them, describe them, and aim them daily. Then, the reality of Positive Psychology will cease to be an academic concept, and will become a source of sustainable fuel to take you further than mere survival – you will thrive!