Positive Psychology Coaching Interventions

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Positive Psychology Coaching Interventions

This article is an introduction to Positive Psychology Coaching Interventions.

Positive Psychology Coaching Interventions

There are numerous activities you can engage in that have been scientifically proven to increase your happiness and overall wellbeing. In this ‘Top Picks’ section we have gathered several powerpoints and videos describing these positive psychology interventions which you can adopt in your coaching sessions as well as in your everyday life.

Are there any proofs that these interventions DO work?

Positive psychology interventions were developed as exercises by clinical psychologists and researchers. To see if these positive psychology based interventions work they typically employ the following procedures: They take 2 (sometimes 3) groups of people made sure they were all similar-enough to one another to allow comparisons. One group of people would be given the Positive psychology intervention while the remaining groups would receive something else (or even nothing). Both groups receive other tests to measure their wellbeing depression and anxiety etc. Over time the researchers then compare if difference exists between two groups. The “research supported” positive psychology interventions are those which the people who engaged in the exercise are significantly happier and less depressed than the people who received the alternate exercise.

How can YOU use these?

When you familiarize yourself with the interventions you can use them in a number of ways. They could be used just as the way they are described but they also can be incorporated into the way YOU practice coaching. For example you could use the “3 good things” exercise as it is shown below OR you could use this exercise to inform your own questions. As illustration is that when a client describes a tough experience they had you can explore what was tough but also ask what they did right or as coaches often do ask them to share “wins” from the previous week. You may already be doing this as a coach but do you know that there are scientific evidences from randomly assigned placebo-controlled studies that allow you to understand that this perspective is effective? While this may or may not have key relevance to you chances are that if you are working with a corporation they would want to know your techniques have roots in good science.

A. Positive Introduction

Most people tend to dwell on negative events or emotions and ignore the positive ones — and therapy can encourage this in which therapists and patients often talk about pain conflict and anger. Although these are all aspects of life it may be harder for people to talk about or even identify more positive qualities and personal strengths. One way to reverse the focus is to use techniques aimed at shifting attention to more positive aspects of life - Positive Introduction can serve this purpose. Clients write about a time when they were at their best and reflect on the personal strengths displayed in the story. They might be also told to review their story once every day for a week and to reflect on the strengths they have identified. Positive Introduction helps people reflect recall and express their best moments in which their strengths are utilized. Here is how it works:

  1. Write a 300 word Positive Introduction of yourself at Your Very Best.

  2. It should have a beginning middle and an end and be about one concrete moment in time.

  3. It should end with a bang not a whimper

  4. In the Pod ask questions of the storyteller that elicit the strength deep inside

a. What strength does this illustrate?

b. Is it signature strength?

c. Do you use it often? Where else?

d. What is the effect on you?

e. What is the effect on others?

f. Does it get you into trouble? If so why do you still use it?

B. 3 Good Things Exercise

The “3 Good Things” exercise also known as the “3 Blessings” exercise is a great Positive Psychology technique that has been well-tested. It has been shown to increase well-being and decrease depression and anxiety. Martin Seligman Ph.D. conducted a study with 411 people and found that with this exercise 94% of very depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier in 15 days. Furthermore the positive effects of the exercise lasted for at least 6 months.

What is the “3 Good Things” exercise about? Each night before going to bed clients write down (or at least think about) three good things that happened that day. The crucial part lies in reflection on what they did to make each good thing happen. People are often unaware of their own role in good things happened. For example someone cannot make a beautiful sunset but they can choose to take it in (or not).

This exercise may seem unsophisticated to some people given its straightforwardness yet it receives strong empirical support. Subjects participating in the three blessings were happier and less depressed six months after one week of three blessings homework compared to subjects that carry out the placebo exercise of writing about childhood The “3 Good Things” exercise can be applied in coaching in different variations:

Variation 1: In a work setting the coach can switch the question: What three things went right with the project today? What did the client do to make those good things happen?

Variation 2: When lying in bed at night and unfinished business pulls at the clients’ thoughts suggest they mull over: “When was I at my best today?” Often clients remember events that otherwise would have been overlooked.

C. 5 Ways in Wellbeing

Many of us realize the importance of a healthy diet and have started having 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and that there is profound evidence about its benefits to our physical health. A big question in mental well-being research is what individuals can do. With the commission of UK Government’s Foresight Project nef (New Economics Foundation) reviewed the inter-disciplinary work of over 400 scientists across the world in order to identify five categories of evidence-based actions that can make a profound difference to people’s well-being:


Connect with the people around you – family friends colleagues and neighbors. Regard these people as the foundation of your life and spend time in developing these relationships. These connections will support and enrich you in your daily life.

Be active:

Get your body moving in any way – go for a walk or run go cycle dance play a game etc. Exercise makes one feel good and grants you vitality. Which exercise? It is important to find a physical activity that suits your level of mobility and fitness and that it’s one you really enjoy.

Take notice:

Be curious and aware of the world around you and of what you are feeling. Keep an eye out for the beautiful observe the unusual and catch sight of the surprising. Notice the changing seasons. Relish every moment no matter whether you are walking to work eating or talking to friends. Reflecting on your own experiences will help you realize what matters to you.

Keep learning:

Try something new or come back to an old interest and challenge yourself with an aspiration that you will enjoy achieving – learn to play an instrument or to cook your favorite dishes. Sign up for a course that you are interested in or take on a different responsibility at work. Learning new things is fun while boosting confidence.


Do something nice for a friend or even a stranger. Thank someone who has done you a favor. Smile at others. Devote your time to community and voluntary work. Look out as well as in. See yourself and your happiness. Linking to the wider community could be extremely rewarding and could help form bonding with the people around you.

There are two significant findings in this report. First each of the categories has strong scientific evidence behind it. Second each action is so simple that everyone should aim to do them daily.

D. Identifying and Applying Your Strengths in a New Way

As introduced in the previous tours strength is pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving thinking or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user and enables optimal functioning development and performance. You can identify your own strengths through the inventory of character strengths online at www.authentichappiness.org which provides individualized feedback about your top five (“signature”) strengths. It is however not enough unless you also apply and use your strengths in different aspects of your live. Just as an athlete exercises their muscles to become stronger the theory is that people who use their strengths regularly will function better in life. To use one’s strength one needs to choose one of his/her top strengths and find a designated time to exercise the strength in a new way at work home or leisure. The exercise is to first go through a day (in real time or through recall) to identify situations where one’s signature strengths are already in action. When a situation is challenging coach and client brainstorm and practice how the client’s signature strength can be applied to improve or make the most of the situation.

How Can You Use Your Strengths At Work?

Todd Kashdan author of Curious talks about the importance of knowing what your strengths are. Yet he states that it is even more significant to be flexible and open to your situations and to know when to draw upon the ‘right’ ones in various circumstances such as the workplace.

More Information

E. Expressing Gratitude

GRATITUDE VISIT is an exercise for people to express their gratitude. The client writes a letter to someone in his or her life who has been especially kind but whom the client has never properly thanked. In the letter the client indicates specifically the reasons for his or her gratitude specifically what that person had done and what results this has had in the client’s life. The client then meet with the person without indicating the reason and reads the letter aloud.

People find this to be an enormously powerful experience. Early data suggests it has strong short-term impact within one month). In a research paper by Martin Seligman and his colleagues examining more than 6 interventions Gratitude Visiting brings about the greatest positive changes among all.

 Dr. Dan McKinnon a practicing positive psychologist gives two specific ‘gratitude expressing’ activities that can increase your overall happiness.

F. Letting Go of Grudges

Forgiveness is regarded as the “queen of the virtues” that “frees us from the troubled past”. It is about “finding a way to free oneself from the claws of obsession about the hurt” (Christopher Peterson 2006). Forgiveness is not condoning nor pretending that a wrong is right and the process of forgiveness benefits us more than the person who has wronged or hurt us. It allows us to see the big picture and releases us to move into the present moment. Forgiveness is not easy nor quick; it happens in small stages. It is a process that transcends the rational mind and calls on our wisdom. It’s not just another way of thinking it requires a transformed mindset and new patterns of behavior.

The issue of forgiveness is intricate and controversial and may need to be balanced with issues of accountability and justice. However this exercise may help put things in a different perspective when bitterness interferes with one’s capacity to have more joy about his/her life and the past.

The exercise involves client writing down someone who has done something hurtful and in a few words what he did (the grudge) and circles. The client then make 15 circles on the page and fill each one with a phrase describing what that same person did that was helpful and generous and for which the client is grateful. The client then holds the page at arm’s length and tries to find the balance between how the person helped and hurt. Does the hurt get lost in what else this person did? Encourage the client to allow the situation to be complex and not black/white.

Variation for a work setting: If an executive is having a challenge with a boss/subordinate ask him to write about the problematic behavior/situation and then balance it with 15 other things. This exercise can be used with both individuals as a precursor to conflict management sessions.

G. Active Constructive Responding

Shelly Gable assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California examined different types of responses we give to other people's good news. Her research suggests that supporting partners in the face of good things is as important in building relationships as supporting them in the face of bad things. She noticed that couples with strong relationships had a particular way of responding to each other when good things happen. She called this productive and positive response an “Active Constructive Responding ACR” response.

Active Constructive Responding is one of 4 the ways that people respond to each other when good things happen as shown in the figure below which is an example of responses to the good news of a promotion. Active Constructive Responding involves partnering with the other person to help them capitalize – by asking questions that make them think of more to say about the positive event. All other ways of responding tend to have negative impacts even passive constructive responding as it takes the wind out of the person’s sails. Gable’s research held that responding in an active and constructive way is a great way to build and strengthen a relationship.


With active constructive responding it is helpful to consider the different impacts of person praise based on a fixed mindset (”You are so smart.”) and process praise based on a growth mindset (”You figured out a great strategy for solving that problem”). Person praise tends to lead to risk aversion whereas process praise tends to lead to openness to new challenges (Dweck 2006).

 H. Best Possible Future Self Intervention

Professor Lyubomirsky developed “The Best Possible Future Self” intervention which requires that people envision and write about their “possible ideal selves” in the future. Possible selves refers to individualized representations of goals (Markus & Nurius 1986) or “most cherished self-wishes” (Allport 1961) as well as projections of the futures that a person can envisage for him/herself. In addition to increasing positive affect this intervention may help to cultivate positive cognitions and optimism.

Building on previous research findings of the impact on expressive writing on health emotional adjustment and well-being (see Smyth 1998 for a review) The Best Possible Future Self intervention engages clients in visualizing and writing about their “best possible future selves.” Writing about one’s possible selves can enhance self-regulation because it provides an opportunity to learn about oneself to understand one’s drives and emotional reactions as well as to gain insight into and restructure one’s priorities (Emmons 1986 Little 1989; Omodei & Wearing 1990). Writing about one’s life goals may reduce goal conflict and thus is beneficial (Pennebaker 1998).

The Best Possible Future Self exercise serves to increase and sustain one’s happiness as through which the client tries to integrate his/her life experiences into a meaningful framework and gains sense of control. Imagining success at one’s life goals is also found to boost psychological well-being and adjustment improve performance and bring about a wide array of benefits associated with positive thinking.

Adapting the writing procedure developed by King (2001) participants of the Best Possible Future Self exercise will write for 20 minutes per day for three days in a row about different experiences and topics with specific instructions below:

“Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now write about what you imagined.”

I. Making Hope Happen Program

McDermott and Snyder’s Making hope happen program is an intervention that helps people increase their hope regarding future events. They present a step-by-step program to help clients become more hopeful take on new challenges and attain their goals. Hope is more than just a symptom for optimism or looking on the bright side. Hope is about having goals and knowing how to attain them. Hopeful people see goals as challenges while others view them as threats. Hopeful people choose higher and more difficult goals and generate alternative solutions to problems. As described in previous tours hope can be learned. The "Making Hope Happen" program helps clients break old negative self-defeating habits and learn new ways of thinking about themselves.

More information

The Future of Positive Psychology and Coaching

While positive psychology has elucidated many ways that coaches can work more effectively with clients fundamental questions remain unaddressed. How can clients be best matched with coaches? How can PP interventions be matched with unique clients under unique circumstances? When should clients seek psychotherapy rather than coaching and when should psychotherapists refer their clients to a coach? How can coaches be trained to apply the science of PP? Continued PP research will probably reveal some answers to these questions and provide more assessments theories and interventions to apply within the context of coaching. As positive psychologists continue to broaden and improve the repertoire of tools that can be applied by coaches the collaboration between PP and coaching will develop into a more mutually-bene

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