Dr. Suzy Green is a Clinical and Coaching Psychologist (MAPS) and the CEO and Founder of The Positivity Institute, an organisation dedicated to the research and application of Positive Psychology for life, school, and work.
The ‘Answers to Thriving' is an ongoing interview series that takes a look at the women who have created a life of success. We uncover key moments, lessons and habits that have influenced the life they lead today.
You can’t start the day without:
A ten-minute, guided mindfulness practice – it really settles me and gives me a sense of calm and focus to begin my day.
A favourite quote:
“Go forth and set fire to the world”
by Mary Ward
One wellness ritual you do regularly:
As well as mindfulness, I prioritise exercise – it’s a great anxiety management tool.
A podcast you love:
Making Positive Psychology Work by Michelle McQuaid.
A recommended read for personal growth:
There are so many, but one of the most powerful for me was The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s more spiritual and philosophical than scientific. Another classic is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.
Which business or person inspires you right now and why?
I’m a big of a fan of Mark Bouris. He ran Wizard Home Loans and now he runs Yellow Brick Road, which is a financial company for mortgages. He had a TV show last year called The Mentor and has a podcast too. He’s really passionate about small businesses in Australia and he often interviews people in the early start-up stage, or a few years in and asks them what have they learnt, what would they do differently and gives them business advice. I learn something new every time I listen to him and he’s genuinely trying to help small businesses in Australia.
Have there been any people who have particularly helped you progress in your career and if so, how have they supported you?
I’ve had some amazing mentors and supporters in my career. I left school at sixteen to go to secretarial college, which was something I was very good at, but I got bored very quickly. I then met my partner in my twenties and he recognised my potential and was the one who suggested I went to university. I had some really awful bosses as a secretary, but my final one actually sponsored me when I told him I was interested in studying. He helped me to get a scholarship through BHP and really helped put me on the path to starting my whole career.
I’ve had other amazing mentors in my psychology career, one of whom was a counselling psychologist I met whilst teaching at Sydney University. I’ve known her for almost twenty years and she still works part time with us, as a consultant. She has been an invaluable psychological supervisor to me, both personally and professionally, encouraging me to really stretch myself.
What has been the most defining moment of your career to date?
I think it was during my very first lecture at university. I was so anxious. There were 120 students and I sat right at the back, feeling really uncomfortable. During his opening talk, the Lecturer said that, out of all of us in the room, a maximum of 12-15 us would make it through to the very end and do doctorates in psychology. I knew instantly it was going be me - something just clicked, it was intuition.
Do you have any fears you’ve had to overcome in order to pursue your ambitions?
Definitely public speaking and my anxiety. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, it can actually shut down your thinking to the point where you just freeze and become totally overwhelmed. I was always so anxious about people judging me as not smart enough or not knowing enough. I had a real fear that someone would ask me a question to which I didn’t know the answer and it drove me to becoming obsessive about reading scientific papers. Teaching at post-graduate level I believed I should be able to answer all of the student’s questions. So, I had to do a lot of personal work to accept that simply wasn’t humanly possible and that it is okay to say, “you know what, I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s a good question and I’ll get back to you with the answer”. Realizing I could respond in that way was a real breakthrough for me.
It has been shown that the best way to overcome these sorts of fears is by habituation, which basically means doing the very thing that scares you repeatedly, until your brain finally accepts that it’s not a threat – and that is what I have done to overcome my anxiety. I think maturing helps with your sense of perspective too. And that’s not to say my fears have completely gone, I do still feel anxious from time to time, it just doesn’t affect me as much anymore. That’s why I’m so passionate about teaching young women these mental toughness skills and anxiety management skills, so that they can be brave and get out there and help change this world.
doing the very thing that scares you repeatedly, until your brain finally accepts that it’s not a threat
Is there a particular achievement you’re most proud of?
Well, there have been a few! But I’d definitely say completing my doctorate tops the list. No one in my family had ever been to university, so I had no expectations, no role models. It wasn’t anything I ever thought I would do, but it has made such an impact on my life. I now know how important education is.
One thing I am particularly proud of is being involved in Positive Education here in Australia, it has almost felt like a calling to me. In terms of business, the corporate is our most profitable and fastest growing service, but working with educators and schools is the most meaningful work for me. You can really see the difference it makes to children’s self-awareness, mindset and mood. It makes me very proud to be involved and I feel we are really beginning to bring about a change. Eventually I hope to see these skills being taught in all schools.
What piece of career advice do you know now, that you wish you could have told yourself in your early twenties?
First of all, I would tell myself to relax about things more and to trust myself more too. I used to seek reassurance a lot, from people I thought knew better or who were smarter. I still think that’s a wise thing to do for important decisions, but it’s even more important to be mindful about whose counsel you seek and also to listen to your own intuition as well. Learn to trust yourself more.
For women who want to make a positive change in their life but don’t know where to start, what advice would you give them?
Do all you can to increase your self-awareness – both strengths and areas for development.
I’d love to see younger women allowing themselves time out to really think about who they are, what they value and who they want to be. Read as many self-help books as you can and go and get some professional support. Therapy or psychological counselling doesn’t necessarily mean a year on the couch. For some people it might be, but for the majority it might be six sessions only. I’ve had clients in their thirties or in their forties who just can’t believe they didn’t do it years ago. You don’t need to have a clinical disorder to benefit from therapy. Even exploring your family background and childhood experiences can be really illuminating and help to build self-awareness.
Go and do some courses on well-being and try out different speakers because it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. Just see what resonates with you.
I’d love to see younger women allowing themselves time out to really think about who they are, what they value and who they want to be.
What does Thriving mean to you?
I think Thriving is similar to the word Flourishing, which is a term used in Positive Psychology. The analogy to plants is used because, as human beings, we have this innate desire for growth and development, much like a plant. We want to grow and develop through our lifetime.
Over the last twenty years, Positive Psychology has done a lot of research on what it means to thrive. There are a number of models, but probably the most popular one is Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model, which is really simple. P stands for Positive Emotions - a thriving or flourishing individual experiences more of these than negative emotions. E is for Engagement, meaning flow – being in that state where you are completely absorbed by what you do and are using your strengths. R stands for Relationships – experiencing positive relationships in your life, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. M is for Meaning – having a sense of purpose and knowing what your values are. Finally, A stands for Accomplishment – but not at the expense of wellbeing. People often add H onto the end, representing Health - recognising its importance and how intimately related psychological and physical health are.
A stands for Accomplishment – but not at the expense of wellbeing.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to promote or share with the Thrivhers community?
If anybody is thinking about their life goals or are interested in increasing their self-awareness or psychological wellbeing proactively, we have accessible, inexpensive virtual coaching sessions and we’re getting some really great feedback on them. Engaging with a professional coach not only increases your goal attainment, but there’s a wellbeing effect.
Over 40 years of psychological research shows that it’s the daily striving towards meaningful goals, rather than actual accomplishment of them, that generates the feeling of wellbeing.
The Positivity Institute (PI) is a positively deviant organisation dedicated to the research and practice of well-being science for life, school and work.
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