By Keith Edwards, Macalester College, Heather Shea Gasser, Michigan State University, and Grant Anderson, University of Minnesota

Last year at the 2013 ACPA Convention in Las Vegas, the three of us debuted a well-received presentation called “Positive Psychology and Student Affairs Leadership” and wrote this post about our session on Keith’s blog. Since then, the themes from the presentation remain present and relevant in each our three lives, so we reprised the session for a second year and delved deeper into seven specific themes. We’ve been talking a lot about how our reading on positive psychology has transformed our student affairs leadership and how we live our lives. Our presentation at ACPA 2014 in Indianapolis allowed us to further develop and fine-tune this presentation.

Positive psychology focuses on studying what does work rather than just on fixing what doesn’t work. Shawn Achor describes this as a shift from a sickness approach to a wellness approach. Last year, we shared a litany of positive psychology lessons grounded in research from nearly 20 books. The topics included brain science, change management, motivation, mindset, positive emotions, vulnerability, hope, strengths, and flow. This year, focused on:

  • Celebrations – We should all celebrate more. You might celebrate when a project goes well or you might celebrate when you start and new initiative. Only pessimists wait until the end to celebrate.

  • Positivity – Positivity increases the depth and breadth of our thinking and broaden and builds our capacity.

  • Shifting Perspective – How do we intentionally choose the most positive and accurate perspective and build from there.

  • Sphere of Control – Knowing what is truly within your realm of control is critical to maintaining a positive approach. How can you simultaneously let go of as much control as possible and seek as much agency as possible?

  • Balance Stress and Recovery – We always want less stress, but some stress is inevitable. What if instead of trying to reduce stress, we sought to increase our recovery?

  • Vulnerability – Seen in others is perceived to be a strength, yet we see vulnerability in ourselves as weakness. Vulnerability without boundaries is loneliness and desperation. We can’t numb the stress and negativity without numbing the joys and happiness.

  • Paradigm Shift – How small changes may be harder than making a single and profound paradigm shift.

As we talked, we integrated personal stories of how these concepts have transformed our leadership and our lives. We’ve each shared many of these stories and lessons via our blogs (which you can find at the bottom of this post). Storytelling, indeed, is an important and useful way to process and integrate reading into action.

If you are interested in learning more about the books that provided the foundational principles of the session, the full list of references can be downloaded here. Based on the response we got from this session, how much fun we had working together, and our continued learning, we plan to develop this further for longer formats and campus professional development sessions.

We’d love to hear if any of you have recommendations of articles, blogs, books, or videos to continue our learning. We’d also love to hear how any of you have applied this to your leadership or your life.

Leave comments on any of our blogs or contact us via social media. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Keith is @edwardsk14 and his blog is:
Heather is @heathergasser and her blog is:
Grant is @GrantThink and his blog is: