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Stephen Lew, Director of The School of Positive Psychology, Shares Profound Insight on Some of His Favorite Titles

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Stephen Lew is the Director of Training and Development of The School of Positive Psychology, a leading higher education and training facility based in Singapore.

In a 2005 report, the World Health Organisation warned about the future main challenge of the world: depression. Stephen wanted to make a difference, to create a platform that helps people and organisations develop sustainable and practical wellbeing skills.

In 2007, The School of Positive Psychology was established to promote the art, science and practice of positive psychology – an emerging branch of applied psychology that combines the essentials of conventional schools of thought with more modern methods. With a more practical approach to your daily life, positive psychology can help you help yourself and others around you.

Stephen has experience working in the higher education and organisational leadership training. A certified psychotherapist, he’s skilled in executive coaching, positive organizational psychology, resilience leadership and capabilities development.

Keep on reading to find out more about the books that pivoted his journey towards personal development and human excellence, but also the ones he’d recommend to those who want to become better leaders.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 12 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is my all time favourite and followed by “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

The Alchemist speaks of a fable, built on the metaphorical pillars representing life’s challenges, particularly on a boy’s narrative of his journey of life. The story is fuelled with lessons of passion, trials of fear and uncertainties, courage, and in many aspects, illustrates the need of driving one’s capacity towards fulfilling their passion and calling. The transformational process of the protagonist brings upon parallel insights to my personal development, sometimes serving as a philosophical archetype. I especially dig the author’s term, ”warrior of the light”. This is stuck in my psyche, and I think that everyone can choose to become a “warrior of light” or learn to unlearn from being a “victim of darkness”.

Man’s Search for Meaning draws onto the importance of developing awareness for one’s existential needs. Our existence or existential identity is a beacon of our life’s journey.

The Compassionate Instinct” is a great resource for those who wish to enhance their socio-psyche abilities for thought leadership, especially for wellbeing leadership development. The literature probes into the infinite resources of human capital, particularly into avenues of humans’ compassionate instinct. Our compassionate instinct plays a cardinal role in how we choose to connect to others. Flourishing pro-social business oriented organisations formed by positive collaborative relationships and positive energy networks capture the essence of human goodness. For a start, this book brings light to the possibilities of how we can tap onto our innate human goodness of people, instead of relying on the traditional socio-economical emphasis of human survival instinct, or the “fight or flight” mode.

At the end of the day, if given the option, would you rather work for an environment led by power hungry, “carrot-and-sticks leaders”, with full absorption of economical and self-serving interests who advocate success only through the measurement of financial performance? Such work environments are often characterised by silo mentalities, groupthink, power and control relationships, with recurring episodes of workplace pessimism, anxiety, lack of trust, thus leading to employee disengagement, burnt out, absenteeism and even workplace hostilities.

Or, would you rather choose to work for organisations that value the wellbeing of their employees and clients, or to co-create an environment that encourages individuals and teams to thrive? Whereby everyone are autonomous and feeling engaged at work, achieving both wellbeing and work performances. In such environments, everyone gets to contribute to a culture of pro-sociality, empathy, respect and kindness, leading to a thriving organisation. I think we all can tap onto our compassionate instincts to set up sustainable and realistic work environments that everyone can collectively reach their higher state of optimal functioning, in the way bringing in the best of our human psychological evolution, to create a better world for everyone to live in.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch is the top of the list. This series of books brought simple and amazing insights, initially I thought it was just another category of religious books (given the titles), and I didn’t like the idea of subscribing to organised religions due to the limitation of perspectives. However, this book opened “doors of perceptions” for me, and I was peeled to almost every page of the book. The amount of higher intelligence, wisdom and critical thinking is captured brilliantly in concise philosophical points through the dialogue between the author and his connection to the higher self/ or universal being. The books offers spiritual (non-religious) and universal insights to human experiences, meaning, life and death, evolution and nature, metaphysics and quantum science. This book “came” to me almost 18 years ago, it was given by a dear friend, during the time when I began my journey of self discovery. The books ignited a flame within me, and charted a path towards spiritual awakening and higher learnings. My “existential identity” began with that book. It connected many dots, and answered many questions I posed.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Besides “Conversations with God” and “The Alchemist“, there was another book titled, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, that book pivoted my journey towards personal development and human excellence. At the point of time, nearly 2 decades ago, I started an inner quest of holistic wisdom, through the studies of metaphysics, meditation practices, philosophy, popular psychology, transpersonal psychology, dreams interpretations and comparative religions, I discovered an unconscious part or of the human selves, and its correlation to our psyche/spiritual developments.

My lens of perceptions shifted my ethos towards the development of a “meaning” oriented, and “spiritual” oriented journey, inspired and empowered by an eclectic synthesis of learnings, and with many great conversations with people and personal “ah-ha” moments, I decided that this would be my “Calling”, to becoming a psychotherapist/clinical hypnotherapist and subsequently to becoming positive psychology coach. Eventually my curiosity piqued towards the developments of human psyche and competencies, where I am inspired to help people and organisations, to enhance their psychological capital and human capital resources.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I am a “Symbolic” and “auditory digital” based learner. Which means, I would read the words aloud, or repeat the words in my mind. Audio books are most helpful especially when I am driving or commuting. I “vandalise” my books by scribbling insights, highlighting key points and punctuating it with exclamation and question marks! I know that many people would be so annoyed by this. I have known people who take pride and precious care of their books, by opening the pages in such a way without making a crease or a dent. I am the polar opposite 🙂

What I meant by a “Symbolic” reader, or lack of a better term, “messy”. I tend to jump from book to book, in a way, that I could be reading 3 books at one go. Most of the times, I’d be reading an organisational psychology or psychotherapy/hypnotherapy or behavioural economics book.

How do you make time for reading?

I usually have “reading periods” or “reading moments” at night. With Kindle, it easy to pick up and read anywhere I go. It can happen In between work appointments, before a consultancy and training project, or before bed time. I’d attempt to read one chapter before bed time.

How do you choose what books to read next?

When the book title appears more than 3 times.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

Emotional agility by Susan David.

Emotional agility offers encompassing insights of how we can enhance resilience by facing our psychological resource both positive and negative emotions. The ability to own the emotional process transforms into a higher state of emotional intelligence, which stretches our comfort zones and paradigms of thinking, and everyone can make tweaks to nudge their mindsets, and to strengthen their pathways by creating newer or better versions of themselves.

Links where you can follow Stephen Lew or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Stephen Lew in this interview:

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