Live Happy is excited to present a series of interviews from our partners, The Flourishing Center, that highlight practitioners who are making an extraordinary impact in the world by putting positive psychology into practice. As we present you with inspiring human stories, we also want to empower you to put these strategies into action in your own life.
Today’s spotlight interview is with Monica Smith, an experienced project manager and change-management specialist with more than 12 years of experience working in the public sector. After graduating from The Flourishing Center’s Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) Program, Monica recently founded The Clear Mind Project to bring positive psychology and resilience to the addiction-recovery community and bridge the gap between crisis and true thriving.
TFC: What inspired you to bring positive psychology to the recovery community?
Monica: I have recovery experience myself, and for many years I found all the traditional recovery approaches to be helpful. But when I was exposed to positive psychology, it transformed my life. I uncovered research about growth mindset and post-traumatic growth, and felt truly inspired. And yet, I realized that few people in the recovery community—including therapists and other providers—were aware of these concepts.
Despite the amazing gifts of traditional recovery, I often saw people hovering in a neutral space after successfully getting sober. They weren’t engaging in self-destructive behaviors, but they also weren’t flourishing. They didn’t believe in their potential or see what was possible, and they often still had a negative self-view. I feel strongly that we could change this.
TFC: Tell us more about how you were originally exposed to positive psychology.
Monica: My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and I have a master’s in forensic psychology. So through my education, I knew who Martin Seligman was, and I got some exposure to positive psychology. I took a break for several years, but what brought me back was my own spiritual journey and self-development process. I’m a big Audible user—I usually have eight books going at any given time—and in listening to books about personal growth, I kept getting recommendations for books by some of the big names in positive psychology. Plus, while consulting for the government, I heard about Martin Seligman’s Penn Resilience Program. While this was peripheral exposure, it started coming together with what I was digging into personally.
TFC: You founded The Clear Mind Project over the last year. Tell us about it.
Monica: The Clear Mind Project is all about bringing the science of well-being and resilience to the recovery community. We offer coaching and workshops, and recently finished our first cohort of A Twist on the 12 Steps™. In this 12-week program, we take one of the traditional 12 steps each week and teach a complementary interpretation rooted in positive psychology. The idea is to say: All of the things you’ve been exposed to in traditional recovery are great, but they’re only half the story.
For instance, the first step is about admitting you are “powerless” and that your life has become “unmanageable” because of addiction. In this week’s workshop, I teach participants about what they can control—that they can choose their mindset, rewire their brain, etc.
TFC: How have people been responding to this integrated approach to the 12 steps?
Monica: Everyone who went through the program reported an increase in their well-being. I did a survey with all participants before and after, asking about their subjective well-being in areas aligned to the 12 dimensions I was teaching. I was particularly struck that on average, this group reported a 50 percent increase in agreement with the following statement: “I feel a sense of peace about my past and find meaning in negative experiences.”
TFC: That’s fantastic, Monica! What’s your vision for the future if more people had access to these resources?
Monica: I envision the program being balanced between addressing illness and supporting wellness. I want people in recovery to say, “Not only am I in recovery, but I am also feeling really fulfilled.” I would like providers in the field to have these positive psychology skills for themselves —let alone for their clients’ benefit. I see that creating upward spirals. Plus, I’d want strong support structures in place for partners and family members of those navigating addiction.
Overall, I want people to feel their sobriety is safe. Positive psychology has taught me about the illness/wellness continuum. If you imagine a scale of human flourishing from negative 10 to plus 10, traditional psychological paradigms try to get people to zero, or neutral. Many people recover from addiction and hover around there, where they are vulnerable to triggers. If we can move people north of neutral, although they will still experience triggers, they’re more likely to be OK because they’ll have more cushion. Everyone deserves a cushion!
To learn more about The Clear Mind Project, visit www.theclearmindproject.com. If you are in recovery or otherwise affected by addiction and live in the Washington, D.C. area, look for the next offering of Monica’s signature program, A Twist on the 12 Steps™, in early 2018.