How to Apply the PERMA theory for Financial Wellbeing

Today we’re continuing the theme of series five around how to move from surviving to thriving, and I’m interviewing the incredible Nik Hanson. Nik is a high performance trainer, speaker, and writer, and she works with women and business owners to really get to their high performance level, which is in the top 15% of their industries, but in a really sustainable way so they don’t end up a burnt out wreck.

I’ll be really honest with you, I currently feel like a little bit of a burnt out wreck with trying to manage work and life balance, and home schooling my children, so I’m really excited to interview Nik today. We’re going to be talking about the PERMA theory and how we can apply the PERMA theory for financial well being. The PERMA theory is based on a psychological tool; I won’t steal any of Nik’s thunder by describing what PERMA stands for, but there’s definitely no question that the PERMA theory really enables us to get focused around different areas of our life and how that can support our financial well being.

Nik is an expert in positive psychology, and today we want to talk about the theory of happiness. I’m a massive believer in focusing on what makes us happy rather than comparing ourselves to everybody else, which is what we do as humans. Our natural bias is to compare ourselves to everybody else, and that puts a huge amount of pressure on our well being.

Nik, for those people who have never come across your amazing work before, could you just tell us a little bit about you and how you got into this space of positive psychology.

So I was 26 when I decided to understand a little bit more about how people work. My partner at the time, his brother had autism and he fascinated me. I was really interested in how he thought and how his brain works. So I decided to go and do an A level in psychology at night school while I was working.

So I went and did that and really, massively loved psychology. I’ve always been fascinated with people, whichever industry I worked in, I always had a massive fascination with customer service and making sure people had what they wanted and understanding different people. So that’s where my journey started. And then I did a degree in psychology at the Open University, which again I loved.

Go forward 12 years and I’m now doing a master’s degree in positive psychology. This is quite a new science. So you normally go into psychology if you’ve got problems – if you’ve got anxiety, depression and you might find yourself wanting to speak to a psychologist. But positive psychologists work with people and help them to thrive and to flourish. This science is about happiness and thriving, which is massive right now. I went into high performance about 10 years ago, so work primarily with people that are high performers, and that includes entrepreneurs and working with them to increase their happiness and helping them to flourish. It’s absolutely huge right now.

What really fascinates me, actually Nik, is that you said that you got into high performance 10 years ago, working with high performance entrepreneurs; what kind of habits or nuances or traits do high performance entrepreneurs have from your experience?

So I was actually working in an investment bank at the time when I came across what I would call real high performers, and the majority of them had an abundance of energy for a start. They always had an amazing amount of focus and were very ambitious and very driven. But then you would see some of these high performers actually burning out, so they were so focused and that driven that they couldn’t sustain this high level for a long period of time.

Working with high performers to start with, I used to coach them and train them into being high performers within the bank. But then as time went on, I actually came into sustainable high performance. I’ve also helped businesses streamline how they work and how people work in big corporations, and part of that was sustainable high performance. So the traits of energy, ambition, focus: we all know people like that, but to have sustainable high performance is key as well.

And Nik, you’re going to share a particular technique with us that you use to manage your time really effectively and efficiently from an energy perspective. But I just want to touch upon the PERMA theory of happiness, and I know that there’s a particular framework within positive psychology that’s used to describe this theory of happiness. So could you just share that with us?

Yeah, sure. So a guy called Martin Seligman developed positive psychology. He was thinking all these people are focused on what’s wrong with people, and actually, there’s a lot of what’s right with people, why do we not focus on that as a science?

So Martin Seligman about 20 years ago developed positive psychology as a branch of psychology, and he came up with this model, which is an absolutely lovely model to follow, called the PERMA model. If you follow this model it’s kind of a nice, holistic look at your life. PERMA stands for:

  • P stands for positive emotion
  • E is engagement
  • R is relationships
  • M is meaning
  • A is accomplishments

P for positive emotion.

Think of a time that you felt really, really good. So did you get a degree? Were you on stage? Was it the day you got married, was it a day you had a child? Think about those positive emotions that you had on those particular days and take yourself back to that time. They are really feel good emotions that we’ve got and the emotion of anything is so important. You remember emotions on top of facts. So positive emotions is feeling good and things like optimism.

So right now we’re going through such a potentially traumatic time for a lot of people. What’s the optimistic emotion you’ve got? What’s the hope you’ve got for the future? Is it that people are speaking to each other more? Is that the people are giving each other more time? So what’s the positive emotion around what’s going on now?

And what is it that gives you pleasure and enjoyment out of life? The things that you love to do even if you’re not getting paid for it. Do you play an instrument? Do you do some sewing like I do? Do you bake? What is it that keeps you some positive emotion? So have a really good think about these positive emotions and how you can have more of that during the day.

Nik, what are you doing at the moment with your time to give yourself some of that positive emotion.

That’s such a great question. And there’s such a pull at the minute from what people are saying: you should be doing this, Nik, and you shouldn’t be doing that. And there’s so much of that on online social media. So one of the things that I’ve done is almost completely come off social media. So even though my business is predominantly online, I haven’t been doing the whole scrolling thing. And I also haven’t been watching the news. So I have a little quick click through the BBC News once or twice a day just to get the gist of what’s going on, and then I turn it off.

And the thing that I love to do, which I don’t normally have time to do, is to go for a walk, which sounds really basic. This is something I should have been doing, but my health I’d been putting at the bottom of the list as most people do. I’ve been doing 10,000 steps a day and that’s taking me just over an hour outside the house. But it has been such a lovely feeling I’ve got from doing this walk. Listening to the birds. Listening to a podcast.

I’m also into cross stitch which I find really difficult to say because it seems like such an old lady thing to do! I am what I consider a high performer. I’m always doing lots and lots of things, always really busy, so I get such a pleasure from it because my mind is completely still.

It is wonderful, isn’t it, how, in times when we are forced to create change what we are then grateful for and what we actually seek? I’ve just started learning to play electric guitar. I think now is a really good opportunity to be thinking about how to counterbalance some of the negativity. What positive things could you do to just create some positive emotion? And it’s not going to happen every day, it is an emotional roller coaster at the moment. Some days we wake up feeling great and we can think about all the opportunity right now, but other days we just want to get back into bed and hide. I think it’s just recognising that it’s okay to have both.

People think I’m a positive psychologist so I’m always happy, which is a bit of a misconception. Saturday just gone I decided I was going to stay in bed all day. I woke up feeling quite low and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s just acknowledge it, accept it, and sit with it’. Don’t try and push it away. Just accept it is what it is and tomorrow will be different.

A really, really good tool to use is something called a Gratitude Journal. So if you wake up feeling like this, or if you’re in a low mood before you go to sleep at night, write down three things which you’re grateful for. It could be something really big like I’m really grateful for the sun being out today, or my family or my business doing well, or it could be something like I had a great piece of chocolate! It doesn’t need to be big. It could be just three small things. That is a great way of going into what we call a growth mindset. And just really small things like that can make a huge difference, particularly now.

So that’s the positive emotion of the PERMA theory. So what about engagement? How does that contribute towards the theory of happiness?

So it’s generally about how you’re engaging, so what are you doing? Are you doing something fulfilling at work or is it something that you’re kind of just doing? And at the minute, again, we’re probably doing work that we may or may not have done before. So, for instance, I’m doing some volunteering for the NHS, and I’ve never done that before. It’s just that I felt I needed to step up. I really wanted to be on the front line. If I was a nurse or doctor I would be right there, you know, that’s the sort of person I am.

So the engaging side of things, we have a need to engage and we have these hormones and neurotransmitters that like that engagement, and it’s like an elevation of your well being. So it’s something that helps us be present. It can be activities which we’ve spoken about with positive emotion. Activities that we do that we can find calm and joy in, and that helps us to engage.

So it’s engaging with ourselves, but it can’t be engaging with people and other things as well that can help us with this. Playing an instrument or playing a sport for hobby: have you ever noticed when you’re doing something like that that hours and hours have just flown by without you even realising. And it’s this concept called flow. So if you’ve ever found yourself in an activity where you just completely lost track of time, that generally will be something that you find a high level of engagement with.

So have a think about those particular times you’ve had, and then you’ll know what’s good for you with engagement.

I'm really excited to interview Nik today. We're going to be talking about the PERMA theory and how we can apply the PERMA theory for financial well being. The PERMA theory is based on a psychological tool

Amazing and then the R is relationship, so tell us a little bit about that one.

Yes, it’s a funny, funny time for everybody at the minute. I’m a bit of an introvert, and a bit of an extrovert as well. So I’m kind of half and half, and I just spent a period of my life in what I called my own social isolation. I’ve just come out of a break-up, I’ve just moved house, you know, those times when you don’t really want to see people. And just as the virus hit was when I wanted to go out. I was just starting to reconnect to society. So I’m massively wanting to connect with people right now.

We are social creatures, and we’re hard wired to bond with other people. So how you are connecting with people right now is really important. I usually live on my own and I actually I made the decision to move in with my parents because I didn’t want to be on my own for six or 12 weeks or whatever it’s going to be.

So who is it that you connect to? Who is it that you’re watching on Instagram or Facebook? Who is that you’re having virtual drinks with? And if you’re not getting what you need from your relationships right now, who can you contact to get that?

When I go out on my walks I listen to podcasts and I also send five messages a day – usually they’re voice notes because I want to hear people’s voices and I want other people to realise that I’m thinking of them. So I just say “Hi, I’m thinking of you. How are you?” It’s that bond that were that we’re missing. And although I’m so grateful that we have Zoom, I’m so grateful that we have Facetime, but I am missing hugs.

That’s the hardest thing. My 94 year old gran right now is really struggling. She lives independently at home, she’s an amazing woman, and she ran a pub post war. But during the war she worked for the post office. Obviously during the war, we weren’t told to socially distance and actually connections was what held people together during the war. But in terms of finding ways to engage and the ways that are currently possible, we know that this isn’t going to go on forever. We know we’ll be able to hug our Mums and Dads again.

But I think for me what you just said there, Nik, about finding the positive in your relationships – this is a new opportunity to really think about who do you want in your life? Interestingly for me I’ve definitely seen a shift in my friendship relationships and my family relationships. We’ve been supporting each other much more than we ever have, even in my friendship groups. Find ways to support your well being during this short term period, or any time you go through a crisis or a significant change, and think about re-evaluating your relationships.

You’re so right and I’m really emotional about this. There’s a couple of adverts on at the minute that I am literally crying my eyes out to because it’s celebrating the connections with people. There’s a granddad playing chess with his grandson over Zoom. And this way we’re clapping for the NHS just brings tears to my eyes. Like you say, isn’t it time to re-evaluate? Who do we want in our lives, who actually is important. It’s such a great reset button. I feel like I have completely reset.

Who do I want in my life. Who am I inside? Who’s stepping up and leading and helping us through this and who isn’t, and who do you want in your life? Who are the positive people that you want around you. You can’t always make those choices with your family members, but you can choose how much time you spend with those people. We’ve adapted so quickly, and let’s make sure that we take some of this learning forwards when we are out of lockdown.

That leads us beautifully into the M for meaning. Tell us a little bit more about that one, Nik.

Yeah. So this one is having a purpose and finding your meaning in life. I was 26 before I actually cottoned on to the fact that I like people and I like studying people. I was fascinated by the brain and I was like; Why is that person acting differently to that person? I was 26 and I’m 40 now and still massively studying, there is a lot to learn.

I genuinely feel at the age of 40 I’ve just started to find my meaning and purpose. And it’s through all these different roads I have taken – I worked in corporate and then I worked for myself and I had lots of different changes within that time. That has meant that I’ve been asking; Why am I here? Who am I here to help?

Meaning sometimes can come from religion or spirituality. So if you’ve got either of those in your life it’s quite a nice way to find meaning. Also raising children and being a parent can give you a great sense of meaning. Volunteering too. So I’ve done some volunteering with the Prince’s Trust and working with young people to build businesses, and that gave me a massive sense of meaning.

It might be expressing ourselves creatively. So are we an artist? Are we doing something that’s creative like playing an instrument that can also give us meaning. The issue we’ve got is the media and I think a lot of social media will push us to think that meaning equals stuff, the pursuit of material wealth. It gives us a sense that if you have meaning it means you’re wealthy or you only give to receive. Money is not what provides people with happiness, even the richest people on the planet will tell you that it’s not about that.

So getting the true understanding of the impact of what you do, the work you do, even how you show up at the office in the morning: are you going to show up with a sad face or a happy face. And how are you going to impact those around you? That can get you through this time if you know you’re not doing a job you love you can build toward that. Have a really intense and intention on how you spend your time now to give you that meaning in what you’re doing.

Then what about the final one Accomplishment.

Yeah, so I think this is easy for me and it’s probably easy for you, Catherine, because we are kind of the goal setters. We are the go getters. We are the people who want to achieve more. So in the PERMA theory I like that it’s got accomplishment last, because there’s all this other amazing stuff before we get to that. Because we lead with that so much in life; Hi, I’m Nik. I’m a positive psychologist, I’ve got a master’s degree, I’ve got this, I’ve got that. And actually, that’s at the end of the list. People aren’t really bothered about what we’ve done and what you’ve accomplished.

But having goals and ambitions in life can help us achieve the things that we want. So to have that focus or really simple goal. I’ve got five year plan and I usually work in 90 days cycles, but at the minute it really isn’t realistic to do that. So I am working my clients on one week ahead. We are literally just let’s see what’s happening and let’s work week ahead. But we have bigger goals.

So one of my big goals is to adopt. I found out two years ago that I can’t have my own children despite always wanting them, so my big goal is to get to adoption in five years time. So I’ve got to get myself financially straight, I’ve got to get myself a lovely home and be really settled to bring that little one into that home. So that to me will give me such a sense of accomplishment. It’s such a drive for me.

So think about the thing, the two things, whatever it is that will drive you forward. And we talk about this push pull mentality. I don’t need to worry about getting out of bed every day because I’ve got this big goal that is pulling me out of bed every single day. So what is it that you’ve done that can give you a sense of satisfaction? What have you achieved? And where do you get that pride from?

This is all about the emotion, isn’t it? What sits behind that goal is the emotion. How you are going to feel when you got there. I’m a big believer in financial intention setting rather than financial goal setting. Goals for me is a finite point in time, and actually if we think about the the meaning behind your goals you’re much more likely to actually reach it.

In order to create a habit we have to create meaning behind it first, because that’s what drives us. That’s what drives the behaviour.

Nik, one final thing that I just wanted to touch upon is that you are amazing in terms of how you manage your time running your business. The theory of happiness for me is all linked towards financial well being and it’s not just about the money. It’s about how we feel. It’s about intentions. It’s about everything that supports that in our life. Your physical mental health is is actually way more important than your physical bank balance. Although most people think that having more money in their bank will provide them with more security, but actually it’s just that feeling that it provides them. It makes me feel more safe and secure.

So when it comes to structuring your time in your business, I know right now that a lot of people are struggling with time. Nik you use something called the Pomodoro Technique. Could you share with us what that is and how it works?

I am massively about freedom. So right now, I should be in Bali on a beach working. So, you know, freedom matters to me. And the way that you get freedom is to become more structured, which completely sounds the wrong way around, but stick with me with this.

Like you Catherine, I have to work at being structured. I could just float around all day long in a cloud of happiness talking to different people and be completely in flow. But you have to reign it in at certain times, so I came across this thing called the Pomodoro Tomato about five years ago. So what it does – and I have an actual trustee kitchen timer tomato, which I love – is it batches your time into 25 minute segments. So you have a 25 minute completely focused session, and then you have a five minute gap, then you have another 25 minute completely focused session and then another five minute gap, and then after four sessions you have a longer gap so that leads you onto lunchtime, a break, or a coffee break, all that kind of thing.

And what you do during the 25 minute batch of time is you just do one thing. No multi tasking, no 700 tabs open. I used to be so bad for going from one thing to the other and they’ve done studies on this and they found that when you multi task it can take you 20 minutes to get back into flow, back into what you were doing.

So what this tool helps you to do is get you into the concept of single tasking, which is the most important thing I’ve ever come across. I have to really work at this, but the actual structure of the Pomodoro gives you more freedom. I probably have, as a result of using this, two extra hours a day compared to what I used to have when I was multi tasking and not knowing what I was doing. So this massively helps bring structure to your day. So the two biggest things to make sure are; don’t multi task and using the tool to keep that structure.

I’m just trying another thing at the minute as well which is something Brendon Burchard does, and he works in a 45 minute time slot. So he works for 45 minutes and then he has a 15 minute break, and he does that for eight hours a day. So I’m also trialling that, so you can adapt these things. Once you have that focus to say I’m going to just do one thing per 25 minutes it completely changes the day.

What do you do in the five minutes?

Go to the loo, grab a quick drink, and one of the things that Brendon Burchard talks about during the 15 minute break is doing a couple of yoga positions, a bit of breathing techniques. So just getting yourself really in to the flow of energy that you need for the next batch of time and making sure that your next slot of time is a worthwhile activity. So review the next slot; is this the right use of my time in the flow that I’m in.

And you might find that some of your tasks are bigger than 25 minutes, so take 3 25 minute slots for one activity. So give it a go, I promise you, if you just do it for one day then you’ll see that it has a massive difference. Just say to yourself I’m going to use it one day a week and I’ll compare differences between using and not using it. It will give you so much more time.

Yeah, that’s a great idea. And just to finish on that, actually, one of the things that I started to do last year was actually tracking my hormone cycles. I would find that during particular weeks of the month, even days of the month, I was really high on energy. So I will batch my days around my energy cycles. So if, for example, just before my menstrual cycle I’m really high on energy I batch my content creation in those days, and in the days following my menstrual cycle I’m quite flat, so I make sure I have a quieter day.

Sometimes you get higher energy in the morning, sometimes higher in the afternoon, so just being curious on these different techniques is really useful.

I think you’re absolutely right and had not really thought about the cycles of the month, but I am much better in the afternoon: between two and six I am on fire. So I know that I can do my podcast between two and six. I’ll do my recording, I’ll do my YouTube, my lives, everything that takes that high energy. Whereas the morning or the evening I’ll just do my easy stuff. I call my easy tasks my C tasks and my hard tasks my A tasks. So I start splitting my tasks between A B and C and again you can batch them up.

And I think this all feeds into the theory of happiness and moving from struggling right now whether that’s emotion or time. Using some of these tools that Nik suggested today: positive psychology, the theory of happiness, thinking about whether to use the gratitude exercise, whether to use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time a bit more effectively. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us Nik.


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Book: Brendon Burchard – High Performance Habits

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