Jun 10

What do Google, The US Army, and CALPERS have in common?

What if your management, supervisors, and staff were suddenly to become more resilient, develop an increased capacity to manage stress, be more attentive, have more productive interchanges with their colleagues, and were generally happier people?

Organizations around the nation are already adopting programs aimed at accomplishing this amazing transformation.

Who are some of these organizations?

They range from large to small and progressive to conservative, but they have one thing in common. These organizations recognize they can play a role in creating more resilient, successful, and even happier employees! Current research confirms that these factors all contribute to increased productivity, reduced turnover, and boosts in employee satisfaction.

  • Google – On Google’s Silicon Valley campus, the most popular course for the past three years has been a course called “Search Inside Yourself” or SIY.
    • SIY combines elements of mindfulness and emotional intelligence to help Google employees manage their work-life balance, control their reactions, and increase their self-awareness.
    • A book and course, of the same name, has been launched to promote the concept that this science-based approach can be used by other organizations to achieve the same results.
  • The United States Army – The US Army has worked with Martin Seligman, often called the father of positive psychology, to create a training program to improve the resilience and psychological health of soldiers.
    • The training was instituted to help soldiers deal with the stress of deployments, improve their family relationships pre- and post-deployment, and avoid a host of negative outcomes associated with the stressors of combat and the return to civilian life.
    • The program has been rigorously analyzed and proven in its effectiveness in helping soldiers “bounce-back from stressful events or circumstances, while maintaining a stable level of well-being.”
  • The California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) is working with Dr. Dianna Wright on a program based on her book “The C.O.R.E. Journey: Unleash Your Power to Thrive”. Dr. Wright pulls from Harvard’s John Kotter’s classic book, “Leading Change”, an action plan for successful organizational change, and translates it to a process for effective individual change. The C.O.R.E. Journey is a step-by-step guide for sustainable self-direction, personal and professional growth and development, and engaging purpose.
    • The program is built on a foundation of mindfulness-based emotional intelligence and energy management.
    • Some of the goals of the process include elevating employee engagement, increasing resilience, enhancing mental focus, and strengthening trust through self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy.

These programs have all adopted elements from the positive psychology movement, founded by Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, in the early 1990s. Seligman ceased to focus on the negative aspects of psychology (disorders) and began a scientific quest to explore what could be proven and employed to improve people’s well-being.

This short blog doesn’t allow the space for a full examination of positive psychology, but the basics of positive psychology are summarized in an acronym coined by Seligman. Seligman uses the acronym, P.E.R.M.A. to describe the five items he believes are the key elements for achieving well-being. More importantly, he recognizes there are means (including training programs) that can be employed to improve one’s well-being, success, and happiness. I’ve outlined the elements of PERMA below and how training is being used to build well-being in organizations.

P – Positive Emotion
The PERMA model says that although we all have a set-point or natural level of well-being, one’s level of well-being can be increased by a number of exercises and behaviors within an individual’s direct control.

Training – Training can provide the means to move this well-being set-point. Methods include physical exercise, learning new ways of responding to adversity, focusing on other people, and even structured periods of capturing and recording one’s gratitude.E – EngagementEngagement is being completely absorbed in a task. Engagement, sometimes referred to as “flow”, is incredibly pleasurable for individuals and can be described as “the experience of working at full capacity”.

Training – Flow has been intensely studied and it is known to “occur when there is an optimal balance between skill and challenge”. There are tested models for encouraging and ensuring flow for employees and enabling flow can have a tremendous impact on productivity and enjoyment, because it is tied directly to an individual’s intrinsic motivation.R – RelationshipsAnother founder of positive psychology, Christopher Peterson, when asked what, in two words or less, positive psychology is all about, replied, “Other people.”

Training – In recognizing that our personal and professional relationships have such a powerful role in our well-being, positive psychology provides many methods and models to understand and improve relationships. One of the most powerful is the Emotional Intelligence model.M – MeaningSeligman defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” For some this is religion, for others it could be an overriding passion for animals, and for others it might be protecting those without rights.

Training – Meaning is a powerful contributor to well-being and can be influenced by encouraging introspection and examination of what is valuable and worthwhile in one’s life.A – AccomplishmentAccomplishment in the model recognizes that some people pursue success, winning, achievement, or mastery for their own sakes. This is a recognition that an individual should and can, free of coercion, choose what they wish to do.

Training – Training can help individuals identify what they wish to accomplish in life and work. In addition, training can build skills in self-control, delayed gratification, and determination, a trait often referred to as “grittiness” in the language of positive psychology. This training can influence one’s success by building a capacity for resilience in work and life.

If you are interested in a few more resources on positive psychology and related topics, I have included some after my sign-off (below).


“The C.O.R.E Journey: Unleash Your Power to Thrive,” Dianna Wright, PhD, 2013.

“Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being,” Martin E.P. Seligman, 2011.

See also Seligman’s website, The Positive Psychology Center, The University of Pennsylvania – The site has links to additional readings, videos, questionnaires to gauge one’s levels of well-being, etc. If you want to build your knowledge in the arena of positive psychology, this is a great place to start.

“Master Resilience Training in the U.S. Army,” Reivich and Seligman, American Psychologist, January 2011.

“Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness, (and World Peace),” 2012.

“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 2008.

“Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness,” Susan L. Smalley PhD and Diana Winston, 2010 (both authors are from MARC, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center).

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