What you'll learn in this podcast:
- Science Says—Learn about the relationship between genes and depression.
- Life Hack—Learn how to ruminate less and reappraise more.
- Practitioner’s Corner—Learn how one company uses positive psychology to take care of their employees' wellbeing.
Read the interview from the Practitioner's Corner:
Emiliya: Hello and welcome to the practitioner's corner. Today with us we have Jeff Thomson from Northbrook, Illinois. He is the lead performance coach for Energy for Life at Allstate Insurance Company. Fun little factoids about Jeff, he is one of 10 kids in his family. And, he has been to 69 Dave Matthews Band concerts. But who's counting, right Jeff?
We're so happy to have you here with us. In our 5i Change Agent Model, you're an implementer. You're utilizing positive psychology within an organization, and we're so excited to learn more about what brought you to this work and how you are helping people bring positive psychology into their day-to-day life.
Jeff: Thank, Emiliya. I'm so happy to be with you today.
Emiliya: Jeff, tell us. What brought you to this work?
Jeff: I think, first off, probably a lot of self-work and just life experiences that had me on a search for more happiness and fulfillment in my own life due to just life circumstances that had me in the dumps at different times. That pursuit I think, ultimately, just led me forward and learning more about the science of happiness.
Emiliya: Tell us more about how you work at Allstate right now.
Jeff: My job for the last six plus years at Allstate has been implementing Energy for Life. It actually comes from an organization called the Human Performance Institute, based in Orlando, Florida. That's part of Johnson and Johnson. They developed a program, a two and a half day workshop called The Corporate Athlete, that uses a four dimensional view of energy management. Looks at spiritual energy, emotional, mental, and physical energy. Allstate has been one of their chief champions of the work and has been licensing their content under the name of Energy for Life at Allstate now, in different variations for probably upwards of 10 plus years.
Emiliya: It is so neat to see organizations be bringing these types of programs in for their employees and to be investing in human potential and human capital. What are some of the impacts that you've seen these programs make on the people that you work with?
Jeff: There's so many amazing success stories or testimonials that we get from over the years of training, or delivering the content to our employees. We've now had … Today over 22,000 employees have gone through the program. One of the things I always like to say about it first and foremost is it's a free opportunity. It's not a requirement for employees to go through, it's just a free gift that Allstate offers to its employees to really make an investment in them and their lives in a multidimensional kind of way.
What I love is that the stories that come back are very multidimensional in in of themselves. You'll hear all sorts of success stories of people that have made some tangible changes around the physical dimension. They have started a new exercise regimen, or they've shifted their eating habits. The stories that always impact me the most, though, are the ones that are more relational in nature where, you just hear stories of a mother, a father, who reengages with their kids differently because they learned about the value and importance of full engagement, and bringing your fully energy to a singular task or person.
Just a lot of success stories in that regard. People have shifted careers because they just really realized that their spiritual energy was out of alignment with something they valued and really wanted in their lives, so they make a career change. Yeah, the stories really are endless. Oftentimes, it's life transformational, what we hear from people.
Emiliya: That is incredible. Even so cool to hear the word spiritual be referenced within an organizational setting.
Jeff: Yeah. When we deliver the program, we even go the extra mile of really helping people because we know that that probably, for some people, could create discomfort, to your point that it's not something that would commonly be used.
If it makes people feel more comfortable, we'll offer synonyms for it. This is what the … What matters less is the word we use, and more is what's a part of this dimension of energy, which is really around your purpose and having a sense of purpose and clarity of what matters most to you in your life so that as you have that, working to align elements of your life with those things that matter most to you. What we commonly find is for many people, those things have just gotten out of order either accidentally or they haven't paused really in life to try and understand their north star, or taking participants through a series of reflective exercises to develop that.
It's usually an intimidating exercise for someone to write that mission statement, but even the process of getting them to think about what do they want their legacy to be? Who are the people and what are the things that matter most to them in their lives? Are not common questions that people reflect on, particularly at work. Giving them that space to make that investment in themselves and make some deep connections in that regard and walk out of there with either a much clearer sense or a slightly clearer sense really helps people make some of the behavior changes that they made be looking to make in a more tactical, tangible level.
Emiliya: So cool, Jeff. Thank. What are some of the ways that recently you've been integrating positive psychology?
Jeff: I think what was really neat for me is that my story really was so much self-discovery and self-taught. I went out and I probably purchased over 100 books on happiness just because I really started it as a selfish mission for myself, of having been depression at different points in my life because of a difficult relationship breakup or something. I just was really in hot pursuit of how I could feel better.
Then, from that, as I just saw my own application of that build my own muscles of resilience and how to live a happier life, it became more altruistic from there and just, "Okay. If these are skills that one can learn, how do we make that more known to others?"
I became very purposeful from a career perspective to find work that would allow me to bring this to the world so I could serve as a catalyst to others, and saw a great opportunity at Allstate that was already investing in this program that seemed so deeply aligned with where I thought I could bring value. It was really from that that in my discontinued evolution of trying expand my thinking in the space and thought leadership that led me to so much of the science seems to point back to this field. At the time I knew very little about it, positive psychology, but now I feel much more connected to, largely through my experience being in the CAPP program.
Emiliya: Thank you, Jeff. I'm curious, what stands out for you as some of the more poignant positive psychology concepts that you've learned?
Jeff: A big one for me was around meaning. I joke, when I deliver the Energy for Life workshop, that I created a mission statement of my life probably 15 years ago that was two pages long, about eight paragraphs in length, and I was so proud of it after I had developed it. It was this mini manifesto for myself.
What I came to realize in the years that followed was that I still made a lot of poor life choices or ones that didn't align fully with that, and I think it was because I wasn't so clear on it. I eventually whittled it down to a one word ultimate mission, which is happiness for me. But I think now, looking back to when I started in CAPP, my mission statement was short-sighted because I think I was really missing out on the meaning element of happiness.
That's really one of the big concepts that really helped shift things for me, was learning more about meaning and meaning's role in creating a life. A flourishing life. How there's meaning available in every moment, should we choose to see it in so many small ways. I think … I almost walked away from CAPP with that as a challenge to myself. Like, how can I seek more meaning in just day-to-day moments?
A big part of that being … Also connected to that was the storytelling component. I like to use the term storytelling because so much of our experiences based on the stories we create for ourselves about our life experiences. I try to be very intentional about both creating a story that can explain what's happened to me in a way that really serves my growth moving forward.
Emiliya: Thank you, Jeff. Jeff, I'm curious, what are some of the obstacles you see for bring positive psychology into the workplace?
Jeff: I think it's probably, on some level … I think language is really important. Just how you had a reaction to the term spiritual, and you know that that's not such a commonly used word in corporate America, or corporations. I think that same could be true of using terms like positive psychology. People have a reaction to that. That's interesting now that I'm so deeply into it, like, I don't even think about it anymore, but I occasionally get that reaction where someone chuckles in response to me using those words.
I think being really deliberate about the language we use to describe what it is in a way that's more accessible to people. In a way that sounds more naturally desiring and minimally causes curiosity versus judgment, hopefully. From that, I think, big thing that I try to focus on is how to hook into and talk about it in a way that will get a positive reaction from most. Talking about the demands that people face in their lives, that demands are increasing. People can relate to that. They just feel more naturally under pressure or stressed, or just needing some kind of lifeline to help make their days a little bit better.
By connecting first to what the pain points are for someone, I think, is really useful to them saying, "Oh, you mean there's a toolkit? There's a toolbox of things that I could do and practice and be deliberate about? Really build some muscle around that helps make elements of my life even just a little bit easier or better than that? More fulfilling and meaningful?" I think that's a hook that's pretty attractive to many people. But if you can't first connect with them around where they're pain or disturbance is in their life, I think you could end up just missing each other.
Emiliya: Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing that perspective. I'm curious, what are some of the self-care practices that you personally utilize that sustain your wellbeing?
Jeff: For me, there's so many and I feel like that's part of what's valuable, is I try to always remind myself and then also the team that I work with. We have to start with self. If we have to apply the very things we're teaching others, we have to be in active work doing the self-work. That's hard, right? But that's also where I think we show up as way more real to the people that we bring this to.
I feel like I benefit from so many different strategies. An example of one that I've experimented with based on the referral from someone else in the CAPP program is I started 2017 by downloading this five minute journal app, which allowed me to take my gratitude practice really to a whole other level, by starting my day and being deliberate about three things I'm grateful for. Three things I want to achieve or how I want to operate in the day, work that around my intentions, and then doing that same practice for a couple minutes at the end of the day to think about what were the best parts of my day, and then what would I have done different.
Just those triggers to really cause me to pause and reflect and appreciate. Gratitude is a significant one for me. The physical dimension that came more naturally to me from being involved in athletics. I oftentimes underestimate it, but if I pull myself away, I realize that it's really at the core of what helps me to have physical energy throughout my days. Getting my exercise in, being conscious of what foods I eat and what I'm putting in my body and knowing that that has so many effects, positively or negatively, how I show up over the course of the day.
Just, again, the practice of full engagement. That is daily work. I've got two young daughters at home, and it's easy for me to come home at the end of a difficult day, same with my wife, and just not be fully attentive to a conversation that's unfolding in front of me and end up showing up as half that husband or half the dad that I want to be in those moments. Really being deliberate, like, if I'm cooking dinner, try to stop cooking dinner. Turn the burners off if I need to, to just really engage in the conversation and be fully present.
Anytime I can just practice full presence in a moment, that is one of the most valuable self-care strategies that I've ever learned. Because the beauty of it is it's both self-fulfilling … It's so appreciated by those that you're with too. They see that you just show up. I can tell how I'm just in this moments, when I'm really there with my daughters or my wife. It's a great validation of why I need to keep practicing that.
Another self-care strategy that's been really valuable for me is the importance of taking breaks throughout my day. One of the things I've learned from HBI was the recommendation around every 60 to 90 minutes that we oscillate our energy in some kind of way, whether that's mentally, emotionally, physically, to just take some kind of break. To push away from whatever it is that you're working on.
I've found so much value of just one, getting up and physically moving around my office space. Walking, getting my water bottle refilled, that's a nice way of doing multiple good things for yourself at the same time. But I also love … I follow inspiring thought leaders on Facebook and sometimes if I have two stolen minutes between conference meetings or something, I'll just stop and read an inspiring article on Facebook. It just adds great fuel to my day, to the next thing that I'm going to walk into.
Just being really deliberate about taking time for yourself throughout your day I think helps you to have more energy at the end of your days.
Emiliya: That is so true, and I think of the times when I'm speaking about mindfulness within an organizational setting. I'll sometimes say to a group of people, "If I'm thinking about something else or I'm not present, you guys can't tell, right?" I'll demonstrate it where I just stand there and I look like I'm smiling at them, but I demonstrate that I might be thinking many thoughts in my head that they might not know about. Most people nod their head that yeah, you can't tell if someone's mind has wandered because technically you can't read what they're thinking. You can't see what they're thinking.
But then I ask them to pause and I say, "But, do you really know when someone is present with you?" Then after a moment people go, "Yeah, yeah you do." Because you can tell the energetic shift and especially with children. It's such a gift to give them to know that what they say matters to the adults that they care about, that cares about them. To give them the gift of your presence.
Jeff: It reminds me of a story when both my daughters were younger. This was probably five plus years ago, but when I'd come home at the end of the day, there was a time when my younger one would run up to me and would want to tell me about her day, and because my wife works as well, I'm the first one home, I'd commonly pick her up and I'd set her on the counter while I start putting dinner together. I would say, "Annabelle, tell me about your day." All of a sudden, time would pass and I'd realize that I had heard nothing of what she just said to me. I'd be like, Okay, bad dad Jeff. Ask her again. "Annabelle, how was your day?"
This would happen multiple times and I was just realizing that I wasn't really hearing her. Then, over time I saw that she stopped coming up to me when I'd come home at the end of the day. This really causes some level of heartbreak for me. Like, "Wow, my youngest daughter doesn't get excited when Dad comes home anymore. What have I done to contribute to this?" I started being deliberate about when I would come home of sitting her on the couch next to me, or taking a knee and really connecting with her eye to eye.
What I saw … These weren't long conversations. Usually they were just a couple minutes of really just practicing connection, and I remember that after doing that enough times, it change again. All of a sudden, Annabelle was running to greet me at the back door. I was like, "Thank you for getting it right and paying attention enough, Jeff, to realize that you were contributing both to the problem, and now you're contributing to a much more meaningful solution now. Where, she's excited to have dad come home at the end of the day."
Emiliya: So beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for sharing that. Jeff, I'm curious, how would you define what it means to flourish?
Jeff: Great question. I think, to me, it's all about being able to reflect on your days and believe that you matter to other people. That you were present enough with them to have an impact. Small, medium, large, however it may show up. But to me, that's the more my journey has continued, the more I realize that it's not so much about myself as it started with, about me finding happiness, but that that comes more naturally as a result of me really making investments in others.
That, to me, is flourishing but again, there is this self piece, to your question that I love, around self-care that I have to be selfish enough to make sure that I'm taking care of my own wellbeing so that I can be the best I want to be and aspire to be to the people that come across my path and my life. When I know I'm doing that, the right balance of taking care of me so that I'm showing up to others the way I want to, that to me feels like those are my flourishing days.
Emiliya: Any tips or recommendations you would make for people who are interested in positive organizational cultures, or how corporations could begin to learn from what you are all doing at Allstate to bring positive psychology into their workplaces?
Jeff: I think, certainly, reaching out to organizations, like a human performance institute, or The Energy Project is another one, doing very similar work. Just understanding what they offer. You can try and build this yourself in an organization, and that's probably the cheaper way to go, but there's probably all sorts of potholes and roadblocks with that plan, versus going out and talking to organizations that already have really constructed a multidimensional framework, and have really made organizations a primary target audience that they work with. Just something I've really appreciated, knowing that they existed.
From there, there's a lot to learn then from other organizations. I love opportunities to talk to peers that work in other industries that use HPI. It's a great opportunity to learn how they've done their rollout, where they have challenges, it's all the same kind of … Any change initiative, it goes back to the common things around having senior leader sponsorship, change champions in an organization making this into different parts of the organization so it's more than just a workshop.
There's all these sustainability challenges that any organization would face, even after you've trained 22,000 people, leaning on other organizations that are already trying to solve for many of the same challenges, I think has been a … One, it's just a great support system, but two, so many valuable insights that you can go back and then try experimenting with and applying in your own organization is really helpful.
Emiliya: Earlier, we said that you serve as a coach within your organization, the lead performance coach. What does that role entail? Do you do a lot of the training, or do you actually do one-on-one work with individuals to help them implement their work?
Jeff: Yeah, it's almost misleading in that regard in terms of how we traditionally think of a coach, which is more of that one-on-one relationships. At Allstate, while that's the title of the role, it largely shows up in terms of the delivering workshops to, on average, probably somewhere 20, 25 participants, employees in the organization.
The coaching that I think I do has less to do with that formal role, and probably a lot more to do with the role I play to the other performance coaches on my team, or just other people, stakeholders that I get to know through the organization. But yeah, that's more the informal part of the one-on-one coaching versus a formal capacity that I serve in.
Emiliya: Got it. Yeah. One of the challenges I think the coaching industry faces is the use of the word coach, and how we keep coaching as coaching. Jeff, if people want to follow up to learn about you and your work, any way that they can be in contact with you?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. I would relish the opportunity to meet more people and expand my network in any way possible. The best ways to reach me would probably be via email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, by phone. 847-840-8385. I welcome the additional connections and opportunities to share what I've learned and learn from others as well.
Emiliya: Thank you, Jeff. Thanks for being with us today.
Jeff: Thank you so much, Emiliya. I really appreciate the opportunity to share some of my story.
Emiliya: Thanks for listening to today's episode. We hope that you'll take away a renewed energy around reappraising your thoughts, and that when stressful events happen, the mediator between being at risk for winding up feeling stuck and depressed, is not just having a genetic predisposition but it's the ability to work with our thoughts, to do less rumination and thought suppression, and to spend more time reframing our thoughts.
If you're someone who finds that it's a harder thing for you to do, know that these are all skills that we can build. I hope that you've taken some inspiration from learning about Jeff and seeing that there are organizations throughout the world that are doing their best to invest in their employees' wellbeing, and that there are strategies and skills that we can take on to self-care so that everyone thrives together.
Thanks for listening. We hope that you'll share this podcast with others that you think will benefit from it.