Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
How do we select an effective response to negative aspects of work — and life in general? Reframing — finding opportunity and benefit in apparently negative situations — is an important skill, but it’s not always the right skill. There are other options, such as leaving the situation or readjusting personal priorities that might work better. This is the third in a series about turning work into a source of great satisfaction, meaning, and engagement.
In Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching, Mike Frisch suggests an organized way to sort through different possible responses to dissatisfactions. He uses the acronym – CASIO – to remember the five different pathways to becoming happier in a given situation: Circumstances, Attitudes, Standards and Goals, Importance, and Other Areas of Life. This is a very useful approach for evaluating a range of alternatives and finding effective solutions that weren’t immediately obvious.
Circumstance: Sometimes the right answer is to change the circumstances — leave an abusive marriage, find a job that has more opportunities to use one’s strengths, or work for a different supervisor. There are some circumstances that need not be endured. Here’s an example in my life. I worked under a software architect who had an almost military view that ideas flow down the hierarchy, never up, and I often didn’t agree with his ideas. After about a year of trying to be heard and becoming more and more frustrated, I left the project when I finally figured out he was not going to change and I was never going to be productive or happy in that relationship. I left with regret — it was a fascinating project with some great people. But I also felt a weight off my mind almost immediately.
Attitude: This is classic reframing. Are there other ways to look at the situation that leave us with a greater sense of personal control and opportunity? In last month’s article, I included some examples of reframing that came out of my work experiences, and we’ve being doing some live reframing on this site. Schneider uses the term fuzzy meaning to represent uncertainty in interpretation in contrast to fuzzy knowledge which is uncertainty in fact. I think of the attitude pathway as dealing effectively with fuzzy meaning . We have interpretative latitude, so we can choose interpretations that put us in the best positions to move forward.
Standards and Goals: A lot of unhappiness comes from comparing our actual situation to some internal standard and falling short. Other unhappiness comes from not having any goals to give shape to life. So another form of reframing is reconsidering our standards and goals. How well do they serve us? A parent is upset because a child withdraws from college temporarily, not having found any real interests. How important is the standard that a person go through college in 4 years and then be launched in adult life?Perfectionists tend to miss their standards routinely. I‘ve done a lot of mentoring around the topic “good enough.” In a work situation, I‘ve found that people do best thinking in terms of a tradeoff between quality and investment. How much is it worth investing in further improvements in quality? Maybe we need to be thinking about the point of diminishing returns in our private lives as well. In terms of goals, I remember a teacher who used to ask us, “What gets you up on your chosen horse each morning?“ Realistic goals give balance and shape to life.
Importance: How important is the aspect of life that is making you unhappy? Can you boost your overall happiness by rearranging your priorities, for example, giving more weight to areas where you are satisfied and engaged and less to areas that make you miserable? It can be very helpful to emphasize areas of your life that you can control and that you find rewarding. For example, given a choice between an unpleasant job that has the potential for fast advancement and another less visible but more intrinsically enjoyable job, which lines up with your personal priorities? For some, advancement is important enough to make the temporary unpleasantness worthwhile. For others, advancement is less important than the day-to-day experience of work.
Other: Sometimes the most effective way to increase satisfaction is to turn focus away from an area that is making you unhappy and toward areas where satisfaction seems within reach. Rather than address a stressful or upsetting situation directly, you could invest energy in other areas of your life – family life or work life or community life or helping people or building competence in hobbies or … Experiencing greater satisfaction in another area of life can help one be resilient in an area of unhappiness.
For better overall quality of life, try using the CASIO mnemonic to consider a source of dissatisfaction from multiple viewpoints and pick the pathway — or pathways — that best fit you in the context of this situation.
Frisch, M. B. (2006) Quality of Life Therapy: Applying a Life Satisfaction Approach to Positive Psychology and Cognitive Therapy. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.
Mounting a horse courtesy of jessicafm