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The end of the year is fast approaching and with that, there comes the inevitable reflection on how 2018 has treated us individually as well as how we have fared in our work. It is easy at this time to look at what has not gone well or how we didn’t achieve everything we set out to accomplish. Negativity bias is a part of our survival instinct – we tend to focus on threats to our well-being rather than see the bigger picture of all that we have done. Negativity bias, while helping to protect us from harm, also limits our ability to feel satisfied and grateful for what is positive in our lives.

As social beings, another feature of our human programming is that we compare ourselves to others, using what they have achieved as a benchmark for our own accomplishments. While this social comparison serves to keep us in line and on par with others, it can also leave us feeling self-critical and even depressed.

It is at this crucial time of year, where employee morale can drop, exhaustion is setting in and people are naturally reflecting on their year, that we employ helpful and positive strategies to assist our organisations to find satisfaction and validation.

Positive Psychology aims to provide practical and effective strategies to manage our emotions and leverage our thoughts towards a sense of well-being and happiness. In this article, we will share a few key strategies that you can use in your organisation.

Three ways to end the year off in the positive

1) Three good things

As mentioned above, negativity bias is our brain’s way of identifying threats to our well-being. However, in this day and age, not all negatives are harmful to our survival, so we need to learn ways of countering this natural tendency to home in on what has gone wrong. A simple but highly effective strategy to help balance out our negativity bias is the exercise of three good things.

Take your team through a reflective exercise where they list all their failures or setbacks for the year. This will leave them feeling drained and often depressed – have them reflect on this feeling. The second part of the exercise is to couple every one of these negatives with three positive experiences they have had in the year and why they happened. These can be simple or grand macro level achievements they have had.

It has been shown that for every one negative we need three positives to balance our emotional experience; this is called the positivity ratio (Fredrickson, 2013). Once these have been listed, the team can share and reflect together. This exercise can be done collectively or individually and has many proven benefits for your team, including increased positive emotions, reduced depression and an increase in their sense of gratitude and appreciation.

2) A growth mindset

A growth mindset is one of your organisation’s biggest assets. To be able to review our challenges by the lessons we have learnt and how they contribute to our progress, rather than viewing them as an indicator of who we are and how we are limited. A growth mindset allows us to be more resilient and breeds optimism and hope for the future. If 2018 has been a challenging year for you, which is true for most organisations, this shift in thinking can provide a much-needed breath of fresh air.

The best way to practice learning goal orientation is to review the goals set as an organisation as well as by each individual at the start of the year. While reflecting on each goal, answer the following questions:

1) How did you achieve this goal?
2) What were the obstacles you experienced in reaching this goal?
3) What lessons have you learnt in the process?
4) How does this change the way you will approach goals in the future?
5) What steps could you take to ensure you have better success?

This exercise is a valuable way for your team to reflect in a constructive way. Inevitably there will have been setbacks or obstacles to achieving your collective and individual goals. However, learning to view them as lessons towards personal and professional growth will assist your team to feel a greater sense of accomplishment and optimism as well as help them set constructive learning goals for 2019.

A growth mindset is also an effective strategy to empower your team to overcome their social comparisons, as reviewing their lessons on an individual level they are being validated for their personal growth and development. This provides a buffer to the effects of comparing oneself to others.

3) Gratitude

Gratitude is a concept which has received a lot of attention in recent years. This is because of its simple and yet profound effects on our sense of overall well-being, life satisfaction and for its ability to boost positive relationship building. Finding ways to be grateful in the workplace can have many effects on employee morale and help build healthier and happier teams.

Perhaps one of the simplest gratitude exercises you can practice at the end of the year is a written Naikan Reflection (developed by Yoshimito Ishin a businessman and devout Jodo Shinshu Buddhist). Ask your team to reflect on the following questions:

1) What have I received from (person x)?
2) What have I given to (person x)?                                                                   
3) What troubles and difficulties have I caused to (person x)?

Have the team reflected on these questions, write their responses and then share with the group. This exercise, while challenging, helps people to become aware of the resources and opportunities they have been afforded as well as to help them reflect on whether their actions have contributed positively or negatively to the organisation. You can tailor the questions to be more specific if necessary.

“The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”
– Dr. Robert Holden (“Britain’s foremost expert on happiness”)

In conclusion:

At the end of the year we automatically go through a reflective process, however, the way in which we reflect on what has happened in the year can affect our well-being and satisfaction. Positive Psychology has developed some simple and powerful tools to help overcome our negativity bias, social comparisons and negative emotions.

By reflecting with a positivity ratio, developing a growth mindset and cultivating gratitude, we can not only counter the end of year exhaustion but promote team morale, satisfaction and optimism. Whether you practice these at your next few meetings, or at your end of year function, all three of these strategies can help give your team the boost they need to end 2018 in the positive and start 2019 off with a bang. We wish you a healthy and reflective period ahead.