The Strengths Blog


August 25th, 2014

The Strengths Companion: G is for Great Days, Good Days and Grunt Days


Great days are when you fly and feel exhilarated. Good days are when you do fine work and feel satisfied. Grunt days are when you feel as if you are just doing grunt work.

Sometimes we create these different kinds of days. Other times they seem to happen to us.

Great workers make the best use of each kind of day. They also ask:

“How to turn a grunt day into a good day and a good day into a great day?”

Let’s explore how you can enjoy these three kinds of days.

Great Days

Can you remember when you enjoyed a great day?

You felt alive, alert and able to do fulfilling work. Perhaps you were immersed in writing, solving a problem, building a house or whatever.

What did you do right to help to create such a day? Different people have different methods for shaping such great days.

Some people, for example, plan the day ahead and organise their time in blocks. This gives them the chance to flow and focus on a piece of work.

They follow their own rituals and rhythm. Encouraging themselves on the journey, they build in time for rest and recovery. This gives them the opportunity to do good work and, when necessary, to rise to the occasion.

Looking back at the end of the day, they reflect on what went well and how they can follow similar principles in the future. They also explore what they can do better next time and how.

Other people will have other rituals. Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work gives an insight into the different patterns people follow to do superb work. You can discover more via the following link.


If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific times when you have had great days.

Describe the specific things you did to help to create and make the best use of the great days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to create and make the best use of great days in the future.





Good Days

Can you remember when you enjoyed a good day? Good days provide a sense of satisfaction, even if you do not hit the heights.

What for you are good days? You may set specific goals, sweat – but in a good way – and see positive results.

You are probably working with the right people, in the right place and doing the right things. Perhaps you are pursuing your labour of love, tackling a tough challenge, helping your team to achieve a target or whatever.

Certainly there may be obstacles. But part of the satisfaction comes from finding solutions and reaching the goals. Looking back, you recall both the joy and the learning.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific times when you have had good days.

Describe the specific things you did to help to create and make the best use of the good days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to create and make the best use of good days in the future.





Grunt Days

Can you remember when you made the best use of a grunt day?

Such days may get off to a difficult start. Tasks dominate the diary and the biorhythms seem against you. Something isn’t right and it feels like pushing water uphill.

How to make the best use of such days? One approach is to take time to draw breath and focus on your life compass. People want to see a connection between their daily tasks and their life goals. So may you ask:

“What are my life goals? What is my overall picture of success? How will today’s work contribute to me achieving the picture of success??

Sometimes this can be a struggle, but it is important to find a connection between what you are doing and your overall life goals. Doing so can help to make your soul sing.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn highlights this capacity in his book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

He describes how Ivan Denisovich Shukov, who is serving a ten-year sentence in the Gulag, takes a pride in his daily work. Several commenters say that Shukov’s approach includes the following themes.

He acts under a moral code that allows him to continue to respect himself … He no longer thinks much of home or freedom but instead thinks about that day, taking pride in his work as a mason.

In working hard at his masonry and taking pride in building a good, strong, straight wall, he is in effect subverting the prison authorities who seek to punish him by making him work.

Shukhov, instead, is gaining self-esteem by learning a new skill in prison and making his actions meaningful to himself.

Shukhov finds a sort of freedom through work because he is no longer working for the authorities but for himself.

He even wants to carry on building when the signal for the end of the day sounds.

Fortunately we do not live in a Gulag, but there may still be tough days. Let’s assume you reframe the situation and make the best of the grunt day.

You start by finding a larger meaning in your work – for yourself or for other people – and then set your goals for the day.

Looking ahead, you break down the day into chunks. If possible, you build in time to re-energise yourself at various points during the day.

Starting out on the journey, you get an early success. You focus on the list of things to do and encourage yourself by ticking items as you complete them along the way.

Taking a break, you again refocus on your lifetime picture of success and then plunge back into the work. Looking back at the end of the day, you feel almost exhilarated.

Sounds odd? Perhaps, but like Shukhov you may have beaten the system. You have defined and followed your goals. The grunt day may even get a 7/10.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific times when you have had grunt days.

Describe the specific things you did to make the best use of the grunt days.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow similar principles – play maybe add other skills – to make the best use of grunt days in the future.





October 30th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: B is for Beating The Double Bind

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Have you ever been in a double bind? This is a situation in which – no matter what you do – you seem bound to lose.

Double binds cause great pain in the family and at work. Here are some suggestions for overcoming such situations.

You can recognise the double bind

A child used as a pawn between rowing parents, for example, will feel they cannot win. Here is the worse case scenario in a divorce.

The mother says to the child: “If you love me more than your father, come to me.”

The father says: “If you love me more than your mother, come to me.”

The child has an impossible choice. Showing favour to one parent will incur the wrath of the other.

Both options are painful. Retreating into their private world is often their only salvation.

Double binds also occur in our relationships at work. A strong signal that you are entering such territory is when you feel a knot in your stomach.

Something happened – either between you and a manager, in a meeting, or elsewhere – which makes you feel uneasy.

Examining the situation in detail, you find that you have been placed in a position where, whatever you do, you are bound to lose.

Some people even put themselves in double binds. For example, they use 50% of their energy thinking of a positive way forward in their lives.

They then employ the other 50% knocking it down by worrying about what can go wrong.

Confusing? Yes, but some people experience this inner dialogue. This becomes debilitating.

The first step is to recognise the double bind. Simply giving a name to it puts the situation outside yourself. You are not to blame and can move onto the next step.


You can do your best
to beat the double bind

Clear contracting is the best way to untangle the double bind. Start by contracting with yourself.

You can do three things. You can clarify:

The things you can and can’t control in the situation.

The things you therefore do and don’t want to do in the situation.

The action plan you want to follow for going forward.

Imagine that you normally spend Christmas holidays with difficult parents. Looking back on previous festive visits, they start well, then lapse into boredom.

September arrives and your parents will phone any day, inviting you for two weeks.

Prepare your reply: “I am happy to come for two days. Then my partner and I are going to take a break overseas in the sunshine.”

“But I have already ordered the turkey,” may be the response.

Stand firm. Tough perhaps, but it is one way to move forward in the relationship.

Imagine a difficult professional situation, perhaps working at a desk next to a negative colleague. They are addicted to misery and are constantly whinging.

If you remain quiet, you get depressed.

If you ask them to stop moaning, they say: “Aren’t I allowed to express my feelings?”

You can try to make clear contracts with them about how you would like them to behave in the future and outline the benefits.

Sometimes this approach works, but frequently it doesn’t. The people causing the pain are not open to win-wins. They are stuck in win-lose or lose-lose.

How to act in such situations? One approach is to follow the steps mentioned above.

Clarify what you can and can’t control.

Clarify what you do and don’t want to do.

Clarify what you want to do going forward.

It may not be possible to solve everything straight away. When in doubt, however, choose the route forward that will, in the long term, cause you the least pain.

You can then follow your own agenda, rather than that of others. Eventually you will find that you can spot and avoid double binds.


You can recognise potential
future double binds

Survivors develop the radar to spot double binds when these appear on the horizon. They recognise that avoiding such pain can save lots of energy.

For example, you may apply for a manager’s job and be given the message:

“This is a great opportunity to show your leadership skills. There are many bright people in the team, but they come across as cynical.

“The last 3 managers failed to motivate them and, as a result, the team didn’t reach its targets. The company is trying to save money and it is not an option to make these people redundant.

“So this will be a good test of your motivational skills.”

Watch out. This is a classic no-win. Make a clear contract with yourself about what you do and don’t want to do.

Then make clear contracts with other people. Some may be addicted to double binds, but that does not mean you need to fall into the trap.

Do everything possible to set-up situations that give you – and other people – the greatest chance of success.

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation where you may experience a double bind.

Describe the specific factors that mean that, whatever you do, you are likely to lose.

Describe the specific steps you can take to beat the double bind.

Prevention is better than cure. Spot the potential double binds ahead of time. You can then, wherever possible, set up situations to succeed.

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October 29th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: A is for Appreciating Your Assets


Looking at your life and work, what are your personal and professional assets? How can you build on those assets in the future?

Alexander Calder, the sculptor, said: “I had the good fortune to be born happy.”

That is a great start in life, but each of us have many kinds of assets. People who are happy often have a sense of gratitude. They count their blessings rather than count their burdens.

Brother David Steindl-Rast is known for his work on gratefulness. He writes:

“People want joy, they don’t want things … The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy – because we will always want to have something else or something more.”

Let’s explore some aspects of counting our blessings, rather than counting our burdens.

Personal assets

Some time ago I held a mentoring session with Dave, a manager who was normally positive. But on that occasion he felt depressed in his job. Feeling the world was dark, he had fallen into a negative spiral.

Fifteen minutes into the session Dave decided to change tack and count his blessings. Within half-an-hour he had turned himself around. He aimed to tackle the challenges at work, but also appreciate his true wealth every day.

“Recently it has been tough at work, but I need to keep things in perspective,” said Dave.

“I have good health, a fantastic wife and two lovely children. We have loyal friends, a home, a garden and some money in the bank.

“During the past thirty years I have overcome many setbacks. That strength will carry me forward in the future.”

Looking at your own life, what are your personal assets? You may have a positive attitude, strong personal drive, imagination, appreciation of life, caring family, reasonable health, encouraging friends and some finances.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe your personal assets.

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Professional assets

Looking at your work, what are your professional assets? You may have certain talents, a strong work ethic and the desire to help other people to succeed.

What are your strengths? What are the specific activities in which you deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs? When are you in your element – at ease and yet able to excel?

What are the activities in which see the destination quickly? When do you go ‘A, B … and then leap to Z’? Where do you have a track record of delivering Z?

What is your successful style of working? Looking back, can you think of two projects – in the broadest sense of the word – that were deeply satisfying?

What made each of these projects satisfying? What did you do right then to perform superb work? What were the principles you followed?

Looking at these projects, can you see any recurring patterns? These can give clues to your successful style of working. How can you follow these principles to do satisfying work in the future?

Looking at your professional life, who are the kinds of people with whom you work with best? What are the characteristics these people?

Who is your ideal employer, manager or customer? What are the challenges facing these people? How can you use your strengths to help these people succeed?

What do you want to give to people? Over the years you will have built a vast repertoire of strengths, strategies and skills that you can use to help others.

How can you pass on your knowledge? How can you translate this into practical tools that people can use in their daily lives and work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe your professional assets.

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Building on your assets

“Certainly I must tackle the issue at work,” said Dave,

“But that is solvable, even if it may mean moving to a new job.

“Sometimes I have the occasional sulk, but I can limit that to 10 minutes. Then I can get my act together and try to succeed.

“Today has been a bit of a reality check. It has been good to recognise all things I have going for me in life.

“Maybe it would be good to sit down with my wife, look at what we do have and plan the next move forward.”

Looking at your own life and work, how would you like to build on your assets? How can you make use of these gifts? How can you use them to help other people?

Kathleen Taylor, for example, says that we can learn many lessons about living from people who are dying.

She has spent more than 20 years working as a counsellor in hospices. When asked about her work, she says she loves her job.

Why? She enables people to tackle this final chapter. At the same time, she learns from them about what does and does not matter in life.

Kathleen says that, when facing death, a person is able to be who they really are. They become courageous and honest. They find joy in the smallest moments.

They are authentic and able to be their true self.

They talk about things they have never expressed before.

They look back on and make sense of the body of work in their life.

Kathleen says that, whilst there are many stages in our lives, three stand out.

When we are young we are fearless and set our course.

When we are in mid-life we question and maybe readjust our course.

When we are at the end of our life we find answers about our course.

Kathleen believes that we can take a hint from people who are living their last days. She says:

“I would like to hope it is never too soon to learn these lessons.”

Maybe we can take some of these steps earlier in our lives. We can be who we truly are and express our uniqueness. One way to do this is to build on our assets.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to build on and make use of your assets.

Describe the specific benefits of doing these things – both for yourself and other people.

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October 25th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: V is for Vulnerability Being A Great Teacher

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Vulnerability is a great teacher. Sometimes we learn valuable lessons when we are vulnerable. We recognise what is important how we can live our future lives.

Sometimes wisdom seeps into our bones and we apply the lessons in our daily lives. Other times we forget the messages. Let’s explore what we can gain from such times.

Recognising that vulnerability
can be a great teacher

Can you think of a time when you felt vulnerable? You may have suffered a debilitating illness, lost someone close, experienced an unexpected setback or whatever.

Suddenly you felt out of control. You felt unable to shape everything in your world. Certainly you aimed to control the controllables, but many levers lay beyond your reach.

What did you do next? After a while you may have begun to reflect, go deeper and listen to your soul.

“Everything is temporary, nothing is permanent,” we are told.

But it is when we feel vulnerable that this lesson strikes home. We have chance to consider what is important on life.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific time when you found that vulnerability was a great teacher.

Describe the specific things that were happening then that contributed to you feeling vulnerable.

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Recognising your deepest values
during the vulnerable times

“My wife suffered a serious illness,” explained one person.

“Then, to make matters worse, my job came under threat. So our income was threatened.

“My first reaction was to simply want everything to be like it was before.

“But then I realised that things had changed forever. We could give up or learn to manage the new reality.

“Starting to research her illness, we scoured the web for information and met with patient groups. This paid dividends. She eventually chose a specific form of treatment with a fine doctor.

“We also took stock of our assets – our finances, relationships, professional contacts and other resources. We soon realised how wealthy we were in real terms.

“We explored the possibility of downshifting. This would mean moving to another part of the country, perhaps near my partner’s parents, and starting a different kind of life.

“My wife recovered and the job survived. But we also heeded the lessons. One year later we moved closer to my partner’s parents.

“She returned to part time teaching, which she loves, and I set up my own business.

“Our daughter likes living in the country and has started doing part time work at a stable.

“Our son changed his chosen subjects at university. Rediscovering his youthful idealism, he plans to become an environmental journalist.”

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe what you learned during your vulnerable time.

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Following these values during
your less vulnerable times

“Near death experiences focus our minds,” we are told.

Our deepest learning is in our bones, however, not just our hearts or minds. Vulnerability can affect us on the primary level and teach us to re-evaluate our lives.

Sometimes we embrace the lessons, sometimes we don’t. Sages throughout history have journeyed into the wilderness to overcome hardship. They emerge humbler, stronger and wiser.

Sometimes, however, the wilderness comes to us. We then gather our forces, focus on what we can do and embrace lessons for the future.

Successes help us to grow, but so do setbacks. Vulnerability can be a great teacher.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific lessons from the vulnerable time that you can continue to apply in your life.

Describe the specific things you can do to apply these lessons.

Describe the specific benefits of applying these lessons in your life.

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June 30th, 2013

The Strengths Companion: E is for Energy

Peak performers are good at managing their energy. This enables them to be at their best when it matters. Similarly, managing one’s energy properly plays an important part in making good use of one’s strengths.

There are, of course, many different kinds of energy. Some writers have produced excellent books on how to manage one’s physical energy. Others are quite practical in terms of managing the philosophical and psychological aspects. Some writers are also rather vague.

Managing one’s energy properly, however, can contribute to achieving great results. One of the best books on the subject is The Power of Full Engagement, written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. This has the subtitle: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance.

Jim and Tony have worked with outstanding performers in many fields. The book focuses on the role of the Corporate Athlete. As their site The Human Performance Institute says:

“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. This fundamental insight has the power to revolutionize the way you live your life. The Power of Full Engagement is a highly practical, scientifically based approach to managing your energy more skillfully, both on and off the job.”

The book explores how people can manage their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. Far from being flaky, it offers down to earth concrete ideas that actually work in practice.

You can find out more about their work at The Human Performance Institute and The Energy Project via the links at the end of this article.

Other writers use other categories for focusing on the different kinds of energy. One of the most common is to focus on people’s philosophical, psychological and physical energy. Let’s explore how this relates to strengths.

Philosophical Energy

Peak performers do what they believe in. They gain strength from pursuing a particular purpose, credo or goal. When in doubt, they go back and refocus on this aim. This gives them energy to get up in the morning and do their best that day.

Psychological Energy

Peak performers have a positive attitude. They foucs on stimulating projects and spend time meet with positive people. This provides the strength required to deal with negativity and find creative solutions to challenges. They use their psychological energy to work towards achieving their goals.

Physical Energy

Peak performers make good use of their physical energy in the areas where they perform brilliantly. (Sometimes they may neglect this discipline in other areas.)

They start with their bodies: they eat and rest properly. They plan their time properly. They make good use of their prime times – the times of the day when they have most energy.

They often organise their time in blocks. They can then become absorbed in a subject, rather than be interrupted. They are positively engaged, rather than partly or pretend engaged. They follow the creative process of absorption, adventure and achievement.

Great workers build in time during the day to reflect. They clarify the big picture, consider the potential options and choose their strategy for going forward. They then flow, focus and finish.


Peak performers combine these elements together. They prepare themselves physically and mentally. They relax, rehearse and rise to the occasion.

Energy is life. So they make good use of their philosophical, psychological and psychological energy. They harness this strength to achieve their picture of success.


* The Human Performance Institute.

This provides a link to the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

* The Energy Project.

Tony has combined with other people to form The Energy Project. This aims to help people, teams and organisations to manage their energy to achieve high performance. Below is a link to their site plus their blog.