Applying research-based lessons to one’s own life

Rebecca Smith reports from an anniversary event from the British Psychological Society's London and Home Counties Branch.

Being a bit of a ‘wannabe’ academic, I like attend anything and everything going on in London which may further my understanding of psychology. On Wednesday 7 September I went along to the 10th Anniversary celebrations for the British Psychological Society’s London & Home Counties Branch. LHC formed in 2006 and currently has 15,972 members, making it the largest of the Society’s Branches. The theme of the event was applying psychology research to one’s own life: the ‘applied’ aspect of the MSc I am studying is my favourite feature of the course, so I was eager to find new interventions to add to my growing list of ‘How to be Happy’.

The speakers were introduced by the Chair of the LHC Branch, Chartered Psychologist and AFBPsS, Dr Carolyn Mair. The first speaker was Dr Christian Jarrett, editor of the BPS’s Research Digest blog and freelance author of several columns and books. Christian discussed how to use psychology to influence people. Drawing on studies which he has covered on the Research Digest, he showed that if you make a superfluous apology, such as apologising for the rain on a rainy day, people are more likely to comply with your requests, such as lending you their phone. People are also more compliant when in a state of relief – for example in that moment after mistakenly thinking that they've been giving a parking ticket (it's thought that 'relief' has this effect because it's a cognitively demanding state which leaves us more open to suggestion). Playing happy background music that is familiar to the listener produces a favourable outcome to a request, and you can ward off possible muggers by utilising the theory of interpersonal complementarity. Christian concluded with evidence that people are more generally obedient than you think, and you are more persuasive than you realise.

The second speaker of the evening was Chartered Psychologist Dr Aneta Tunami. She is a principal lecturer in psychology and the Head of Psychological Interventions Subject Area in the School of Psychology at the University of East London. Aneta specialises in integrating Psychological Intervention by merging research within applied fields of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Positive Psychology, Occupational Psychology, Coaching Psychology and Humanitarian Psychosocial Consultation.  Aneta, who had stepped in at the last minute  to replace her colleague Ilona Bonniwell,  generously shared  her own experiences of learning to become a psychologist and how she applied each aspect of her training to her own life. The phrase that really resonated with me was ‘to develop professionally is to develop personally’. I feel that the process of being in positive psychology education has made me a better person; I am more intellectually aware, my emotional intelligence is greater, applying  positive psychology  interventions to my own life has enabled me to become the version of myself I had hoped was there all along. In overcoming my academic limitations I have “strengthened and expanded my resilience as an adaptation to the environment”, which Aneta explains as happening when we are mindful of ‘What I am’, ‘What I can’, ‘What I have’, and ‘responsibility to choose’.

Aneta discussed Barbara Fredrickson’s research on positive emotions and how they can be applied in the real world to create greater wellbeing and personal growth. We need three positive pieces of feedback to counterbalance every negative in order to maintain a healthy balance. I intend to work on getting my positivity ratio up to the magic 3:1. In personal relationships that ratio jumps up to 5:1 (note-to-self: remember to nag my partner once a day for every five nice aspects I notice about him).

iNEAR is Aneta's recently designed psychological intervention informed by existential philosophy, positive psychology, developmental coaching, social psychology and psychotherapy. It has been successfully piloted at a large school in South East England and is also being tested as a framework for positive psychology coaching. Results so far show that combining approaches in this way produce positive change in the young people involved.

Aneta’s experimental approach of combining interventions inspires me to investigate new recipes for wellbeing. This way of blending psychological applications can be individually tailored so that the pressure on any one aspect to produce results is mediated. We are encouraged to play and be creative whilst maintaining a loose attachment to a specific outcome.

My favourite takeaway from the presentation was Aneta’s parting slide: ‘We first develop habits then habits develop us’. I have applied research-based lessons to my own personal growth by acquiring the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness in turn has encouraged me to be kinder, more compassionate, more understanding and I have gained greater clarity. Good habits make us happy. If research can inform us how to cultivate habits that make us, and the world around us, better, then I will happily try them out and may even try to come up with some new studies to provide supporting evidence.

The evening was a true celebration of making psychology research tangible. I experienced more than my necessary 3:1 ratio of positive emotions and left mindful of taking responsibility of my choices. I made my way to the tube wondering how to incorporate the evening’s advice into getting my own way more often. I playfully imagined bumping into a stranger in the street, feigning previous friendship, touching them on the arm and apologising for the awful weather whilst humming ‘singing in the rain’, then asking to borrow a fiver, please! Possibly not what the LHC Branch had in mind for the evening’s outcome, but fun nonetheless and certainly good for my wellbeing.

-       Report by Rebecca Smith


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