Mads Bab, MAPP UEL is an experienced facilitator of group processes and author of books on flourishing at work. Mads is also part time associate professor on the Danish Master of Postive Psychology program. From his Danish based consultancy Gnist (Danish word for Spark), Mads has worked with LEGO® Serious Play® for positive psychology around the world. Bio. Mads' articles are here.
In my recent post, I wrote about the importance of learning not just through words but also through visual input and physical manipulation. Let me illustrate with three ways to explore positive psychology with LEGO®.
Learning from the Past
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a strong tool to do a range of different retrospective explorations. It can be used to share and align lessons learned by having the group reflect on how things went well and what influenced a certain outcome. From here the group can make a more informed decision on what changes they want to make in the next iteration.
LSP can be used to explore challenges from our past but also the nature of our success and progress.
The negativity bias described by Rozin and Royzman refers to the observed tendency for things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) to have a greater effect on psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s or group’s behavior and cognition than something negative.LSP is a neutral tool not seeking a negative or positive analysis. It can however help balance out the negative side effects of our negativity bias by making the positive explorations more visual, tangible, and deeper in terms of meaning.
The building of models and creation of narratives and metaphors helps participants separate their problems and negative experiences from themselves. This process of externalization allows individuals and groups to explore their relationships with problems, thus embodying the narrative motto: “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” The same goes with strengths or positive attributes which are also externalized, allowing people to engage in the construction and performance of preferred identities.
We could tell the same story from several different perspectives, resulting in changes in attitude and feelings which could have an enormous impact in our life. Freedman and Combs tell us that the different ways of telling a story influence how life is experienced.
The richness of the dialogue created with the LEGO® models also help the group move away from just using the exploration of positive experiences to induce good feelings. Instead the exploration of narratives, metaphors, connections and patterns helps the group learn from positive experience, thus building an individual and collective efficacy.
Examples of possible usage:
- Identifying and learning from best (and worst) practices
- Understanding adaptive and maladaptive behavior and positive emotional patterns
- Creating timeline overviews and the helpful interaction of different instances
Learning from the Present
Life and learning unfold in the present, but we live in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, and reduced coherence. In many cases the effects of these mental challenges makes it difficult to align ourselves or the group in the present.
LSP helps cultivate a non-judgmental awareness of the present that bestows a host of benefits to the individual and group. This can result in an increased awareness of behavior that hinders or helps the group learn collaboratively. In other words it induces a sense of collective mindfulness.The science of mindfulness implies that it is important to live in the moment, but the problem is how, says Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard and creator of the psychology of possibility. “When people are not in the moment, they’re not there to know that they’re not there.” She explains that overriding the distraction reflex and awakening to the present takes intentionality and practice.
LSP gives the facilitator tools to help a team or a group, in a fun way, to construct and imagine their realities. They can access and voice subconscious knowledge and insight that might otherwise be harder to bring forth.
An awareness of the present with a glimpse into the future is fundamental to prototyping and experimentation. Prototyping and experimentation is about moving an idea or possibility into a concrete next step and creating an early draft of what the final result might look like. LSP helps the process of prototyping and experimentation because you can visualize and create the abstract idea you want to express. It helps because what you cannot build you can tell, and what you cannot tell, can often be told by the model and its complex set of metaphors.
Examples of possible usage:
- Prototyping and experimenting with positive possibilities
- Understanding and defining values, principles, character strengths, and opinions
- Increasing awareness of other team members and exploring helpful mindsets
- Defining core concepts to align idea generation and brainstorming
Moving towards the Future
Imagining a desired future and building the determination to move towards it comprise a core application area of LSP. The abstract nature of the future, of goals, dreams, visions, and possible scenarios makes LSP a strong tool to help make the future more comprehensible and manageable.This future navigation is called prospection. Positive psychology pioneer Martin E. P. Seligman and colleagues tell us that prospection refers broadly to the mental representation and evaluation of possible futures. Prospection may include planning, prediction, hypothetical scenarios, teleological patterns, daydreaming, and evaluative assessment of possible future events.
This ability to represent possible futures fundamentally shapes human cognitive, affective, and motivational systems. Prospection is a ubiquitous feature of the human mind. What you intend to do is based on what happened in the past; what you actually do is not. Becoming aware of these mental challenges when moving toward the future is a key.
LSP serves as a catalyst of the prospection process allowing a multi-dimensional exploration of the future. The use of LSP helps free the group from constricting mindsets that limit their thinking.
Examples of possible usage include:
- Self-determined goal setting
- Exploring narratives and metaphors underlying best possible selves (individual and group-based)
- Exploring visions, missions, and dreams
- Creating and analyzing scenarios
Interested? Find more in our eBook on LSP. Our next Certified Facilitator Training in the use of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for Positive Psychology will take place in Copenhagen from August 14-17, 2017. From the event page:
“If you, like us, think that four days of play, learning and positive psychology in Copenhagen sounds pretty nice, then join us for four days of certification in using LEGO® Serious Play® for Positive Psychology.”
Bab, M. & Boniwell, I. (2017). LEGO® Serious Play® for Positive Psychology.
Freedman, J. & Combs, G. (2009) Narrative Ideas for Consulting with Communities and Organizations: Ripples from the Gatherings. Family Process 48(3), 347-362. Abstract.
Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Cambridge: A Merloyd Lawrence Book.
Rozin, Paul; Royzman, Edward B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 5,(4) 296-320.
Seligman, Martin E. P.; Railton, Peter; Baumeister, Roy F.; Sripada, Chandra (March 2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 8(2): 119-141. DOI: 10.1177/1745691612474317. Abstract.
Seligman, M. E. P.; Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2016). Homo Prospectus. Oxford University.
Images provided by the author and used with permission.