Last weekend I finished my 11-month Certificate in Positive Psychology course. I realized as I was writing about Pi Day 2013 that I never shared how it came to be that I signed up for that course.
I have been interested in Positive Psychology for a very long time. I remember reading about early studies that came out, for example the ones saying that exercise increased positive feelings. My thought was, “Duh. I’ve known that from first-hand experience for years.” And yet, looking back, I’m really glad that the research has been done to back up what we’ve known intuitively for a long time. Brené Brown says that her advisor told her that “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist.” Without the research to back it up, it’s only anecdotal.
I read an article in Good Housekeeping back in the early 2000’s about perfectionism that really resonated with me. In the article, they talked about a group of potters in a ceramics class, learning how to “throw” pots. The teacher divided them into two groups. The first group could only hand in one pot at the end of the semester: to get an A, that pot had to be perfect because they only had that one shot. The second group was told the only way they could get an A was to hand in as many pots as they possibly could; the more pots they threw, the higher their grade. So which group threw the better pots? The second group, because they allowed themselves to fail, learned from their mistakes, applied what they had learned, and improved with each pot they threw. In a little side box in that same GH article, the author shared that her daughter was taking a gymnastics class. One day, the teacher told the kids they were going learn how to walk on the balance beam, but before they started to walk on it, they were going to spend one entire class time learning how to… fall off. So the kids got up on the balance beam and intentionally fell. Why did they do this? It was specifically so the kids wouldn’t be afraid to fall. So often, when we’ve never done something (like walk on a balance beam), we’re afraid to fall because we’re afraid to get hurt. But when we realize that falling is just part of learning, all of a sudden it’s not so scary any more.
My teacher, Tal Ben-Shahar, likes to say, “Learn to fail or fail to learn.” The throwing pots article is an example of that. It’s the natural way that babies learn to walk, isn’t it? When they fall, they don’t beat themselves up and say, “Stupid! Stupid! I’m so stupid!” do they? No, they just get up and try again.
So often in our education we’re only graded on the final product of something. Kids are afraid to not hand in the perfect thing, because if it’s not perfect, they won’t get a good grade. Where is the learning in this?
I remember reading a Boston Globe article in about 2006 that talked about a course in Positive Psychology Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar was teaching at Harvard University about being happy. I was working full-time by then and not very happy in my job, and for a small moment I considered driving to Cambridge to take this course! Tal shares that the first semester he taught the course, eight people enrolled; two dropped out. The second semester he taught it 300 people enrolled; the third semester, 900 people enrolled. People were thirsting for information on how to make their lives happier. It was the largest course taught at Harvard, larger even than Intro to Economics.
I started to look at Master’s programs in Positive Psychology, the most famous of them being the Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at UPenn. UMass didn’t offer anything in Positive Psychology, so that wasn’t an option. I started to fantasize about making the trip to Philly monthly so I could do MAPP, but I wondered if that was what I really wanted. Plus it was a lot of money if it wasn’t really what I wanted.
So while we were in France I saw that Kripalu was offering a Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP) course, and that Tal Ben-Shahar was teaching it. This is the guy who taught the Harvard course I read about and was interested in taking! So I tried to figure out how I could make CiPP happen. The class was set up to be mostly online, with two one-week immersions at Kripalu Center for Yoga in Lenox, Massachusetts. You needed to be able to make it to both immersions to enroll in the course. The first week ended up being in August when we were going to be in Minnesota. I really needed to be with family in Minnesota. My mom had just died while we were living abroad and I wasn’t able to be with my support system in the months following her death; Mark and I were just coming home from 6 months away; and in September I would be returning to my job after an 8-month leave of absence… so the timing just wasn’t good for me. I decided that if they offered it again I would consider taking it then.
And then they offered it again, CiPP2. By then I was back to work, our youngest daughter was in college, I had just completed my coach training and was planning to ramp up building my coaching practice while I was still working full-time… and I nearly talked myself out of taking CiPP2. I wondered if I really needed to take the course in something that I felt I was mostly already living. But mostly I wondered if I could afford it. The cheap bastard in me came out full-force! Now, I was not raised during the Depression but my tendency to let money be the deciding factor makes it seem like I was! So I started to explore this a little deeper. What I finally realized was this: I had no problem using some of the money my siblings and I inherited after our mom died to pay for our youngest daughter’s college tuition… but I was having difficulty justifying using a fraction of that to pay for a course for something that I was interested in learning. What’s with that? So I thought about it some more and thought this would be a nice complement to my coach training. And then I reframed it to this: Taking this course is a gift from my mom. That’s all I needed to do. Suddenly, I couldn’t sign up fast enough! I decided I would start with CiPP2 and see if it would be enough to complement my coaching. If I thought I needed more, I could look into graduate programs afterward.
CiPP2 was more than enough. And rather than complement my coaching, it’s become the basis for my coaching practice. I am a Certified Professional Coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and Associate Certified Coach (ACC) through the International Coach Federation. And I have a Certificate in Positive Psychology. And with that unique combination, I love helping people find more fun, meaning, and purpose in their lives.
And I am fortunate enough to be one of the TAs for the incoming class of CiPP3. In this year going forward in this role, I would like to share more of what I learned in CiPP2. It would make me very happy to share it with all of you!
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Photo taken by Rouben Madikians