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The Positive Approach

By Peter Shepherd

My recent article The Wheel of Life discussed the "high end" of personal growth - the transpersonal realm where a developed personality merges into the "higher self" of unbounded consciousness. This is a world of integration.

I also emphasized in that article that although we have this spiritual dimension, that we may be aware of to a greater or lesser extent, nevertheless the foundation of our lives is the body-mind experience... we feel and express ourselves in the very solid, physical dimension of our life on Earth. This is a world of separation. Each of us is a unique player in the game of life and as a result of our experience, we learn: both positive learning (helpful skills, insightful knowledge) and negative learning (developing fears and limiting beliefs, for example). A few years on this planet and we can get into a right stew! I know I did. My attempt to sort out my personal life involved psychotherapy and I naturally wanted to pay back the help I received by helping others similarly: I became a psychotherapist.

It became apparent to me, however, that psychotherapy was focused too much on undoing the negative learning; there was an imbalance. We also need to make headway with our positive learning or we remain dependent on further therapy to continually dig us out of the next hole. We need tools for positive learning - indeed, simply having and using such tools makes the psychotherapy work largely unnecessary, except as a rescue stage for those new to personal growth.

It was this realization that first interested me in the personal development field. Following some years of experimentation and discovery, I became well grounded in "positive psychology" and had great results, both for myself and others I coached. This included Mind Development courses, taught by my mentor at that time, Gregory Mitchell. I developed further tools to fill gaps I perceived in the brilliant heritage that positive psychologists such as Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Eric Fromm and many others have left us. And I decided to devote my career to this direction - the Trans4mind website was born at this juncture, to share what I had learned... again, my "payback."

The Character Strengths and Virtues handbook by the Values in Action Institute, represents an attempt on the part of the research community to identify and classify the positive psychological traits of human beings. This manual identifies six universal values that lead to increased happiness when practiced...

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
These qualities are innate potentials in each of us and are developed naturally as the result of positive learning. Practical applications of positive psychology therefore help individuals to identify their strengths and further develop these virtues, to build and broaden their lives.

The way out is the way through - it's not by denial or avoidance, it's by acceptance and responsibility. The power of love, in other words, replacing fear. This is the way forward. But for most of us, we can use some support and guidance, to get our head above water and start to swim ahead - then we can approach dry land, walk, run and eventually learn to fly. The latter - ascending in the spiritual dimension - seems the trickiest bit, but actually it's a continuation of the same path: that of ever-increasing mindfulness and integrative love.

Go further in the free online course, The Positive Approach.

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website. A transformational psychologist by background, Peter is author of 'Transforming the Mind' and 'Daring to be Yourself.' He edits and publishes the Inspiring Quotes of the Week. Get in touch with Peter Shepherd here.

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