As I sat in the front row of my very first psychology lecture I was super excited to find out how we can help people flourish and be at their best. To say I walked out disappointed was an understatement – I was psychologically scarred.
I learned that we are all ‘repressed’ and ‘screwed up’ and that apparently I had an Oedipus complex thanks to my new friend Sigmund Freud. I became more aware of the fact that we are all nuts and that my dad should hide the kitchen knives.
I asked my lecturer, “We seem to be only focusing on what is wrong with people, what happens if someone comes to see you and they seem pretty happy?” He responded, “At that stage, you ask a series of probing questions to uncover the real misery that underlines that happy façade”.
Luckily psychology has advanced past “let’s talk about what’s wrong with you”, to positive psychology which has a focus on “what is going well, let’s understand why and build on that”. The new research tells us that we need to spend more time focusing on what we are achieving and less on what we’re getting wrong.
How elite athletes manage stress
A psychologist called Jim Loeher showed there is little difference between the top 100 male tennis players in terms of speed, accuracy and power. Where the players differed was what they did in between points. They relaxed deeply to calm their mind and conserve energy. Finally, they focused their mind and emotions for the next point. It was what they did in between the points that made them the best.
I realised that we’re like the tennis players. The first space is the role/environment/task we are in now; the second is the role/environment/task we are about to transition into.
Studying the Third Space
I asked: could certain behaviours in this space improve happiness and reduce anxiety? I chose to look at the ‘Third Space’ between work and home, as studies tell us that taking the stress of the day home with us can lead to poor mental health.
I partnered with Deakin University and a group of small business owners and corporate employees, measuring their mood and behaviour. The survey did not paint a pretty picture. Only 29 per cent said they came home with a positive mindset and exhibited constructive behaviour. We asked them to perform, between work and home, three simple behaviours:
- Reflect: They reflected on and analysed the day. They were encouraged to only focus on what they had achieved and how they had improved.
- Rest: They took time to unwind, being calm, focusing their mind on one thing and slowing down their breathing.
- Reset: They articulated the specific behaviours they wanted to exhibit, how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door.
After a month, we saw a whopping 41 per cent improvement. When interviewed, they conveyed that improved interactions they had with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance and happiness.
We are finding that these three steps result in reduced anxiety, greater happiness and a sense of control. The opportunity to reflect specifically increases the self-worth and optimism of people; rest reduces anxiety and irrational thought; resetting offers the chance to develop clear intentions and behaviours give a greater sense of control.
To improve your mental health, be careful how you transition.