This week we are talking about positive psychology. What the heck is positive psychology? Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on character strengths and the behaviors that allow us as individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose. It helps us to move beyond surviving and to flourish. It’s what’s needed for you to create the life that you want, have the body that you desire, feel the way that you need, and have the relationships that you crave. It all comes down to your mindset and how you view yourself in the world.
I’m really excited about this interview because Dr. Sandi is going to help us understand how we can focus on the positive strengths that we inherently have as a person. The characteristics that are unique to us and use that to harness our behaviors and our activities to change our life. So, I really want you to think about what traits you possess that you probably totally just blow off and think are no big deal, but if we harnessed and we cultivated those traits, it could help you be your best self.
My expert guest today is going to talk about positive psychology and being a health coach. She’s going to talk about why it’s so important and how a health coach can positively impact your life.
On this podcast, we are going to talk about…
How positive psychology works.
Where we start using positive psychology in our lives.
Learning your character strengths.
Applying character strengths to your life.
What is the purpose of a health coach is.
How to grow our core strengths.
Becoming a health coach.
About Dr. Sandi Scheinbaum
Dr. Sandi Scheinbaum trains people to become functional medicine coaches and helps practitioners find coaches for their practices. She believes that growing the health coaching profession will be the solution to combating chronic disease and lowering health care costs. She is trying to fix the broken system.
As founder and CEO of The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, she is a leader in the field of health coaching education. She’s been an educator and licensed clinical psychologist for over 35 years. She was a pioneer in blending functional medicine principles with positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mind-body medicine. Dr. Sandi is the author of Functional Medicine Coaching, Stop Panic Attacks in 10 Easy Steps, and How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks.
Welcome, Dr. Sandi to the Gutsy Gynecologist Podcast!
Dr. Tabatha: I’m so excited to talk with you. I think this conversation is so important. I’ve been waiting eagerly to talk to you about it because it’s a new year and it’s time to hit the reset button. I really want women to take ownership over how they’re feeling, how they’re manifesting with their life, and how things are turning out. You are like the perfect person in my mind to have this discussion.
Dr. Sandi: I’m excited to talk about one of my favorite subjects.
How Did You Get Into Positive Psychology?
Dr. Tabatha: I would love for you to briefly discuss how you came about knowing and understanding positive psychology?
Dr. Sandi: It was a long winding path. I started out actually in education. I was going to be a teacher and I was for about five years. I had a classroom with kids that had learning disabilities and severe behavior disorders. I was always wanting to focus on somebody’s strengths. With these kids, I would do tons of psycho-educational testing and batteries of tests. Others in my field were focused on the deficits and what’s wrong and wanted to put a label on them. I always looked to their strengths.
Then when I became a clinical psychologist, I continued to have that same perspective. So, when my colleagues were busy coming up with a diagnosis and focused on what was broken, I would focus on picking out what was going right. Then in the mid-’90s, the then President of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, gave it a name. He came up with this notion of positive psychology. Positive Psychology focuses on what’s right and behaviors that you can learn to improve your mental health.
Then when I started studying functional medicine, it became another way of thinking that was remarkably similar. Rather than coming up with a medical diagnosis and how we going to treat it, we focus on the roots. Which can be really strong and we could strengthen the body. People can then begin to heal. It’s a very positive life-affirming perspective.
Dr. Tabatha: I love the idea of roots being a good foundation. We’re always focused on root causes as the issue.
How Does Positive Psychology Work?
Dr. Tabatha: I’ve been studying quantum physics and I can’t agree more that what we put out into the world is what we attract. So, if we are using positive psychology on ourselves and in our lives, we’re going to attract more positivity, right?
Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. That is how it works. That’s why I’m so passionate about positive psychology. I brought it in as one of the cornerstones of the curriculum at Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. We’re training health coaches and they are the ones who help people shift their perspective and create a different mindset.
Dr. Tabatha: Yeah, I think that’s really key, especially with chronic disease. People get so caught up in their diagnoses when what they really need is hope and a different way of looking at their future than what they’ve been getting from their conventional doctors.
You go to the doctor, you get your pill, it either stops those symptoms or adds more symptoms, you go back, and you’re just stuck in this negative cycle. You can go down this progressive disease pathway. People then lose hope. I see women who are at their breaking point and that’s really hard to come back from.
So, Where do We Even Start?
Dr. Sandi: It could start with getting our foundation. What is that from a positive psychology perspective? This was studied by researchers who looked at what makes a life worth living. They came up with this concept, which we call Perma. Perma means that in order to have a good life, you have positive emotions. You enter into a state of flow, where you get lost in something. Develop relationships that are meaningful. You have meaning and purpose in your life and you have achievement, no matter how small that might be.
What goals do you want to achieve? What do you want to achieve in the coming year, the coming month, the coming day, heck even break it down in the coming hour. You want to do something where you have joy in doing it. You find that joy and you become so absorbed and engaged in the process. Then you have that connection with the community, you have some meaning in your life, no matter how small that achievement may be.
Now, how do we get there? It’s called character strengths. Those are the foundational elements and we all have them. These character strengths are the backbone that leads to a sense of well-being. That’s how we get there.
Hope is one of those character strengths. Hope is the greatest predictor of future well-being. People who are in dire circumstances, miserable, and horrific conditions, but have hope that it’s going to get better and it’ll improve. They know they can do something to change.
There are so many ways that hope can be expressed and thought about. For example, people with a terminal illness, still are able to express hope. There have been studies of people with dementia, who still has hope. it could be a hope that you know, I could have that next breath. Or I can feel that sense as I exhale, I could have a moment of peace, or I can experience humor. That’s another character strength as well. It is a really important one to be able to laugh. These are things that are important not only for your physical well-being but your emotional and mental well-being.
How do I know what my character strengths are?
Dr. Tabatha: We’re figuring out what our character strengths are and how to develop them. So, how do I know what my character strengths are? I have patients all the time who just feel broken. They feel like they’ve given to everybody else and they’re done. They don’t know who they are anymore. How do you even remember who you are and how do you figure out what your strengths are? Because I know so many of us have just been inundated with the negativity of the past two years.
Dr. Sandi: When people are often asked, what are you good at? They’ll tend to think of skills that require training and lots of practice. But how did we come to be good at those? Because we practice. Now we’re getting into character strengths. For example, what does it take to have the self-regulation to sit down at the piano? Self-regulation is a character strength. Self-regulation is where you are imposing structure. There also is perseverance, to be able to keep going.
So many people who have chronic illnesses, show perseverance where they don’t give up. They may have gone to one doctor and they didn’t get the answers or the treatment they wanted. So, they may start listening to podcasts like this one and they are searching for a different approach. That’s perseverance. When things get hard, you don’t give up. You keep going.
Character strengths are of the heart and of the mind. So for example, to be able to put things in perspective and to be able to look out and say, “oh, you know, I probably won’t even remember this experience in five years.” Maybe you’re upset about something all day, and it’s in your thoughts, and you’re just so focused on what went wrong. But go forward and think, will I even remember this two, five, or even 10 years from now? Will this be meaningful to me? Look back and you could see a whole bunch of failures. And at the time you could be thinking the sky is falling and I’ll never quite get over this. Now I don’t even remember those experiences. That’s perspective.
Other strengths include judgment, prudence, being able to know when to be cautious, creativity, love of learning, and curiosity. Now we are looking into combining those strengths. If you’re curious, you want to be creative, you love learning and you’re going to be cooking. You’re going to find some new recipes and you’re going to learn new techniques for cooking. So they come in clusters. And this is really how we thrive. When we’re using our signature strengths you are at your happiest. You might be using your creativity or involving learning, that is when you are really in your element.
I hope that gives you some idea about character strengths. You may be thinking, “well, how do I know what my signature strengths are?” Well, you can go to VIA Character. This is a nonprofit research organization and they have a free assessment. You can take it and you can find out what your signature strengths are.
You can have your kids, colleagues, friends, or your partner take the assessment. You can then have conversations about our strengths. How am I going to use a particular strength today?
Dr. Tabatha: I think that’s a great idea. And just a side note, those are my five signature strengths. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’re describing me.”
How do I apply this to my life?
Dr. Tabatha: When I sit too long, I am losing my fire and my light. So, you really do have to think like what lights you up? What gets you going? What drives you to live? For kids to know what their character strengths are or knowing your partners would be really powerful. You can really hone in on those and just grow them. Because I find, if you just focus on what’s working and the good stuff, the bad stuff falls away.
Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. You know, you mentioned kids, and so many kids are thinking there’s something wrong with them. And even adults with ADHD. I always thought I had ADHD because I’m easily distracted. I’m always moving and fidgeting, this is zest, another character strength. Creativity is another one often labeled as I have ADHD. So focus on what is the strength and how can you use that strength with your goals.
Dr. Tabatha: I think everybody needs to figure this out about themselves. I envision women being able to tap into those five signature strengths and to really reclaim their health. Getting into good healthy lifestyle habits changes. How they’re eating, change their mindset, and their perspective of themselves.
I feel like so many women don’t know how to love themselves. I’ve been listening to a lot of men’s podcasts lately, trying to understand why women struggle so much. Men have no problem saying, “I’m awesome, I did this, and I did that.” Women really struggle. It’s in our nature and ingrained in us that you don’t focus on that. So, I think this is really important for women to just be able to say, “Hey, I’m really good, these are my strengths, right?”
Absolutely, that is the key to well-being. And when we train coaches, that’s one of the first things they do at our school. They take that survey, but we teach them how to coach other people. Using that survey, we work very closely with VIA Research Institute and it can be really transformational. Because it’s all in these strengths.
Sometimes strengths can be overused, like when in my younger days, I would appreciate clothes and shoes and I got too carried away. And in wanting to have all those things sometimes our strengths can also be overused. Appreciation starts with ourselves and being able to appreciate our own beauty, our own excellence. Also, seeing it in others and letting them know.
Dr. Tabatha: That’s why health coaching is so amazing. I finally got my practice together enough that I brought on a health coach and I think it’s taken my patients to the next level because they really do need someone to not only be their cheerleader but help them to see the value in themselves. You can learn how to be your own cheerleader using positive psychology.
What is the Purpose of a Health Coach?
Dr. Sandi: A health coach helps people go from where they are to where they want to be. It comes from the literal meaning of a coach. An old-fashioned stagecoach coach comes to get you and takes you to your destination. That’s what health coaching is about. It isn’t about telling somebody what to do. Some people may think that’s what it is. They think they are going to get a meal plan, get the specifics of what I need to eat, or how I need to exercise. Well, how does that work? How many times have we had experts tell us? Or we read a book and here’s the diet that you need, or here’s how to exercise. Most people have these new year’s resolutions, and two weeks later, mid-January, they are not observing them.
So what a health coach does is to help you to set those goals, and then break them down into really tiny steps and hold you accountable. They also help you shift perspective. For example, we often don’t see our own progress. A health coach can help you do that. They can support and validate you, but they are also somebody who first and foremost listens. They are not judgmental. They are not like your doctor or your nutritionist who might have an intention for you.
And real or not, we perceive the doctor as the authority figure and we’re gonna get scolded. So people tend to under-report when they are with their doctor. But they tend to tell a coach in more detail and that coach can validate those feelings. They can tell you that nothing is wrong with you, we’ve all had those feelings or engaged in those kinds of behaviors.
Now a lot of people are coaching in groups and you really feel like you’re not alone. That’s what makes this relationship so special. You feel like you have an ally and someone who gets you and can hear you out. That alone is important.
The other area that I think is often missed with health coaching is humanistic psychotherapy. So it’s not therapy. Therapy is where you are often looking at trauma and you’re really digging into what is causing severe depression. It’s dealing with something that you’d be diagnosed with and it’s a clinical approach.
But health coaches can validate and support emotional wellness. Often what happens is people realize they don’t need 10 years of psychotherapy, or they are now feeling ownership of their emotions. They’re able to sit with uncomfortable feelings and know that they’ll pass.
We have such a behavioral health crisis and there are just not enough psychologists, social workers, counselors to serve so many people during this time. A lot of this can be handled by a relationship with a health coach. Then they’re able to triage to say, “Okay, well, this person is expressing suicidal thoughts and really does need that care of a licensed mental health professional.”
Dr. Tabatha: So many golden nuggets in there! It really hit home with me when you were talking about how some people aren’t truthful with their doctors. It’s been ingrained in us that we have the authority and we know best. Patients have come to understand that they see the white coat and they don’t question it. I’ve heard patients literally say to me, “I didn’t want to let you down.” I feel like I’m a pretty approachable doctor. So imagine the doctor that actually wears the white coat and has that staunch attitude. You’re not going to tell them the truth. You’re going to tell them what they want to hear.
I love the idea that a health coach gives patients a safe space and it and brings out the truth of the situation because that’s the only way we can make a change. When we’re actually truthful with what we’re doing in our behaviors. I lie to myself, we all lie to ourselves. I remember when I first started on this journey, I got the Lose It app. I was going to track all my food. I realized, “I don’t want to put that cookie in here.”I had been lying to myself. So, if I had somebody to say to me, “it’s okay, we’re all human.” I feel like you could make a quicker headway and really dive in and accept your imperfections and work through them because we’re all human.
How Can We Grow Our Core Strengths?
Dr. Tabatha: We need to figure out what our core strengths are and focus on them. How can we cultivate them? What are some basic ways? Is it just knowing what they are?
Dr. Sandi: Practice. It’s knowing that when you’re not thriving or when you’re feeling really out of sorts, it’s because you’ve stepped out of your signature strengths. So, if I am struggling with something, how am I going to get out of it?
Well, maybe I need to turn on some great music because that’s what I love. And it is something that I know can be a spark for creativity. So it’s like sometimes I know I need to take a walk and trust that a creative solution will come about. We tend to think of creativity as a big sea. Think that, “I’m going to come up with an original song or write a poem.” But creativity is not just through the arts, it is that you can come up with a way to solve a problem.
Another way to bolster these strengths and to use them is to think about past situations where you came up with a creative solution and where you were perseverant. You ended up getting through it. We all have courage. It’s just like the Cowardly Lion, and we don’t realize that we had it all along. And so you have that courage. Can I have the courage to sit with an uncomfortable feeling? Can I have the courage to, for example, express to somebody in my life what’s hard for me?
It is all practice. At FMCA we are learning about strengths. We have a strength of the week that we focus on and help to spot our strengths. So, every day you can say, “Alright, what strengths can I spot in myself? How many can I remember to acknowledge? And then at the end of the day, what strengths did I use today?” Then you have those strengths conversations with others. It would also be great to have those conversations with kids as they identify their strengths.
Dr. Tabatha: I heard you talking about this on another podcast a while back. You had mentioned thinking about when you were a kid and what people used to say you were good at or what character strengths you had back then. Maybe some of that got dampened and pushed down and forgotten. But if you think back to times where people really praised you, and you did well at something, that’s a way to realize your strengths as well, right?
Dr. Tabatha: I personally thought about when I have a lot of joy in my life. I realized it’s with moving my body by dancing and running. You hit home when you said, “if you’re not focused on your strengths, you’re out of your element.” I go into a major depression if I’m not moving my body regularly. It is so connected and the only way to get back to it is to focus on that strength of I love movement. It fills me and that’s really cool to know about yourself. So if you can tweak that out I feel like you can make so much progress.
Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. And really using those strengths for balance.
Researchers in positive psychology took years and they studied literature, philosophy, religions and they looked around the world at different cultures and found that there may have been different names for these, but it pretty much boiled down to these 24 strengths. We all have them. They’re like a deck of cards, we’re dealt all of them. Some of them are just underused.
For example, I may show a lot of caution. But other times, I’m so full of zest and excitement, I’ll see something that I love in a store or online and I’ll buy it. And then I’m like, “okay, what did I just do?” I didn’t exercise enough prudence or judgment. In comparison, one of my husband’s top strengths is self-regulation, but also judgment. He will be deliberate to make a decision. He’s gotta go to three different stores and compare prices and products that it takes him forever and it used to annoy me because I’m lower in that strength. So, often in long-term relationships, if you can understand this about each other, that you’re complimenting one another, you realize that you create a whole, it’s that balance. So that’s where the focus of the strength can get into interpersonal relationships, as well as your understanding of another person’s strengths.
Dr. Tabatha: That’s so helpful because once you acknowledge people for their strengths, I feel that just makes them the best version of themselves. They want to step into that role and be better. I see that all the time with husbands, they want to please their wives, they want to do what you want, but they don’t know what their strengths are. So if you can honor that, and really bring that out and balance that I think that’s amazing.
Want to Become a Health Coach?
Dr. Tabatha: I get a lot of women who have revamped their health and I want to help them. That’s where you come in with The Functional Coaching Academy. Why don’t you just speak to that for a minute, because there might be somebody on here who is ready to change their lives and help other people?
Dr. Sandi: That is a common story that is told by our students or graduates, they have been on a health journey and found that they have healed or are on the path of healing and they want to serve others. And we are suffering right now. The incidence of chronic illness is skyrocketing, the after-effects of COVID-19, they still don’t know the toll that is going to take on our physical and our emotional health. The healthcare system is overwhelmed and struggling. So, we have seen this rapid rise in demand for health coaches.
The joy that people get from this kind of work, I can’t even begin to tell you. One of our students recently told me, “it’s like the glove that fits me perfectly, it’s what I’ve been looking for.” It really is this profound relationship that you are establishing with somebody. And we know that the process of coaching is just as transformational for the coach, as is for the client who is being coached.
We have doctors who have decided to become coaches, often, they are either leaving their work or they’re wearing two hats, or they are blending that coach approach into what they do with their patients. We have career changers and we have stay-at-home moms who have entered into the coaching world.
What we do is teach functional medicine and that is root cause medicine. We teach these principles with everything that you’ve been hearing about in terms of positive psychology and adding in mind-body medicine and psychology of eating, which is a huge topic that blends in with all of these others.
Dr. Tabatha: Your program is amazing. I’m impressed with everybody that comes out of it and the change that you’re making in the world. My listeners don’t realize that the first time I saw you speak was at a functional medicine conference. And I just thought that woman is badass. She just created this whole coaching academy and she’s training people to help one another.
Dr. Sandi: Change is possible. I started out as a school teacher, I was a psychologist in this teeny tiny office and had just a tiny little practice in the suburbs of Chicago. At 65 I just decided I have a mission to serve, to give back, and to start this program. Change is possible. It can seem really scary, but that’s where courage comes in, practice and be accepting of failure. It just means that it’s a lesson in continuing your journey.
Dr. Tabatha: That gives me goosebumps. I shifted my life after 40. I felt like, “how can I do this at this stage of my life?” It really does come down to courage and faith for me. I knew that there were bigger plans and better, horizons. I think that you have more courage than you realize because that takes a huge leap of faith and courage to do what you did.
So Where Can my Listeners Follow You, Dr. Sandi?
Dr. Sandi: Our website is Functional Medicine Coacing. You can go to Functional Med Coach on Instagram. I’ve been learning Clubhouse so you can follow me there, join one of our rooms, I’d love to meet you all.
Dr. Tabatha: All the links are in the show notes. So, definitely check out Dr. Sandi and consider being a health coach.
To Wrap it Up
I love that episode. I think it’s key to finally start loving yourself, admitting your strengths, honing in on those, and not being afraid to just say, “you know what, I’m awesome in this way.” Say it out loud, say it to yourself, step into it, and be more of it. I think as women, we are taught to not shine our light and that’s not okay. We need to turn up the brightness of our light so that we can shine it on others and help illuminate them in their brilliant amazingness. That is really the only way that we are going to get out of this dark hole of a situation that we’re in as a society, is to be the light that others need us to be and that we want others to be.
I want positive people in my life, uplifting people. But you know what, I can’t just bitch and complain, being a negative person that I want positive people in my life, that’s not how it works. The universe gives you what you put out there. So I started being the person that I wish other people would be for me. If I’m positive energy, in a positive light, that will attract positive people into my life. And lo and behold, it did. That is just how the universe works. You need to become more like the people that you want to attract and bring those people into your life. So let’s take some accountability. You guys, that’s what 2022 is about. For me, it’s holding myself accountable and about how I’m showing up in the world.
What was your golden nugget from this interview? I’d love it if you would share it in the comments below! For more tips and information to improve your health, follow me on Instagram @thegutsygynecologist