The PERMA Model & How to Use it
Insights with Dr Suzy Green (Psychologist)
Wouldn't it be nice to focus on using the incredible power of our minds, and more specifically how we think about things, as a positive force for our health and wellbeing? Wouldn't it be great if we had some real strategies for how to approach it?
We are very familiar with exercising for strength and endurance. But how about some exercises or strategies for building mental and emotional strength and resilience? Which, in turn, can have very positive effects on our health and wellbeing.
Dr Suzy Green shares her insights below...
What is Positive Psychology?
When we think of psychology we think of looking back into the past to deal with trauma or depression or anxiety. This goes back to World War 2 when a lot of funding was allocated to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
Around the late '90s, the field of positive psychology was formally launched by Professor Martin Seligman. He became the president of the American Psychological Association.
Prof. Seligman argued that the time had come to start focusing on what's right with people, rather than what's wrong with them. Time to start looking at what's good in the world, rather than what's bad.
The goal was not to replace traditional psychology. There is still a great need for it. Positive psychology is a proactive approach to wellbeing. It is a complementary approach to traditional psychology.
PERMA - Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning & Accomplishment
Prof. Seligman created a psychology model called PERMA which stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. He identified that someone who is flourishing has a higher ratio of positive emotions. They are engaged and therefore in a flow state.
Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research has been focused on the study of flow. Athletes refer to it as "being in the zone". It is the optimal human experience of being totally absorbed in an activity. People report elevated levels of wellbeing when they come out of this state.
Looking at the "R" in PERMA - Relationships. A flourishing individual has quality, positive relationships. They have a sense of meaning and purpose in their life. They know what is important to them. They know what their values are. They create a life that is congruent with their values. They have a sense of purpose or a mission.
Moving on to achievement. Suzy said: "We know that we need achievement to support well-being, rather than undermine it." But all too often, achievement can also actively work against well-being. Striving for high levels of achievement can be detrimental to our well-being.
The missing element in the traditional PERMA model from Prof Seligman was health. Geelong Grammar has been adding an H to PERMA in order to acknowledge the importance of physical health.
How to Use the PERMA Model to Create Positivity in Your Life
The first step is to do an audit. Reflect on how you would rate yourself along the six dimensions of PERMA-H. From here there are specific strategies you can use to boost positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment and health.
Are you struggling with some of the more unhelpful or so-called negative emotions? Suzy encourages you to seek help if you are battling with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
Suzy had a wonderful to describe the difference between positive and negative emotions:
 Positive emotions are like a little butterfly that sits on your shoulder. They sit there, and then they fly away very fleetingly. Negative emotions, like particularly strong emotions around anger or fear or resentment, are like Velcro. They take longer to process, and they sort of stick with us.
We do seem to be drawn to negative emotions. Suzy says that there is an evolutionary reason for that called the negativity bias. In the time of the caveman, people would have to fight off predators. The fight or flight response was a matter of life and death.
It is meant to be idling - ready to react when faced with a threat. In the modern world with all of the stressors we face on a daily basis, the fight or flight response is constantly revving. So any little thing can make us fly off the handle.
What We Can do to Boost Positive Moods 
Elevation - "Elevation is a positive moral emotion that we experience when we observe others doing good deeds." It prompts us to act in a similar way.
Mindfulness Meditation - comes in many forms. Practising mindfulness meditation regularly over the period of just one month, can improve your mood and reduce stress.
Gratitude - By focusing your attention on the things that are good in your life rather than the things that are not going so well can significantly boost your well-being.
Acts of Kindness - A simple act of kindness such as holding the door open for someone or making them a cup of tea if they are having a bad day. It doesn't have to be something big and altruistic.
Flow doesn't only happen when you are "in the zone". It also occurs in art, dancing and writing. It can even happen at work. To experience high levels of flow at work, your skill level needs to meet the challenge.
Suzy explained:
 So, if you've got a low skill level, and your boss gives you a real stretch, you often go into overwhelm or anxiety. Although, if you've got a high skill level, and your boss just asks you to do some repetitive, boring task that you've mastered years ago, you're going to be bored.
The other way to really get engaged is through knowing and using your strengths.
Positive Relationships
Gratitude is a useful tool in cultivating positive relationships. Reflect on the people you appreciate in your life and tell them what they mean to you.
Another way to build positive relationships is called active constructive responding (ACR). People respond to being told good news in one of four ways:
  • They barely acknowledge the good news and quickly change the subject.
  • They acknowledge it and then immediately carry on with what they were doing.
  • They point out the negative in your positive news.
  • The person who savours your good news and wants to celebrate with you.
The first three responses are extremely negative. They tend to make the person sharing the news feel unseen. They have a negative impact on the relationship. The last kind of response is positive.
Suzy said:
 We really need to grab them, and we need to savour and get as much joy out of them as possible because they're quite fleeting.
Finding a Sense of Meaning
A sense of meaning can come from many aspects of your life, including your relationships and living in alignment with your values. Suzy recommends that you take stock and really give it a lot of thought. Are you engaged in activities that are aligned to your values?
It may take you a while to figure out what your values are and if your actions are in line with them. You might already know what your values are but you just haven't made them clear.
It is important to be explicit about your values. Make a list of your top 5 values and then rate them on a scale of one to ten. A score of ten means that you are completely living that value. A score of one means that your actions are not aligned with your value.
Goals & Accomplishment
Suzy said:
 There are about 40 years of research in psychology on the impact of goals, particularly personal goals, on well-being.
Setting goals can be a bit of a tricky subject. Some people love to set goals for themselves in all spheres of their lives. But others shy away from setting any kind of goal. It may stem from the fact that they have tried before and failed and they don't want to be disappointed.
Research suggests that by setting goals aligned to your values you are more likely to achieve them. It is also a good idea to break down the long term goal into a series of short term goals. You get to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment one step at a time.
 Goals are defined in science as internal representations of desired end states.
Generally, everyone has goals. As humans, in our minds we have desires. We don't always talk about them, but they are goals that we wish to achieve.
Sharing a goal with someone takes it up a level. But be mindful of who you share your goal with. Make sure that the person you trust with your goal is going to be supportive and a cheerleader, rather than someone that's going to undermine you.
Making a Huge Differene, with Simple Changes
This is insightful and practical advice which can be implemented straight away. It's simple, achievable and sustainable - something that Unstress Health is passionate about.
They're things that can make a huge difference to you, living a life less stressed.
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Dr Ross Walker – Author, cardiologist and host of national radio program Healthy Living.
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