The Strengths Blog

 


January 25th, 2015

S is for Stimulating The Soul

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People need to nourish the deepest part of their being. They may stimulate their soul by working in the garden, listening to music, walking by the sea, visiting beautiful places, performing creative work or whatever.

Some people stimulate their souls by giving. They love to nurture plants, animals or other human beings. Giving to other people can lead to them experiencing what is called The Helper’s High.

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

Describe the specific things you do to stimulate your soul.

Describe the specific benefits of doing these things.

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Stimulating the soul is vital for human beings. It provides them with the opportunity to learn from the deepest emotions in life – such as love, beauty and wisdom.

Piero Ferruci is a psychotherapist who wrote Beauty and The Soul. He believes that beauty can help us to heal and open our eyes.

It can help us to reconnect with our feelings, connect with other people and discover new dimensions. He writes:

“All of us, in one way or another, seek beauty. We know it brings happiness and wellbeing.”

Beauty, as ever, is in the eye of the beholder. A person might experience beauty in nature, art, music, theatre, sport, mathematics, ideas, meaning or whatever. Piero continues:

“Some manage to see the inner beauty of people: generosity, intelligence, honesty. It is a beauty less evident, but deeper and more lasting.”

Piero writes like a poet, but he supports this with facts. The book describes many studies showing the tangible benefits of beauty in schools, hospitals, work places and society.

Beauty is more than an extra, it is a basic necessity of life. He adds:

“Beauty, then, brings us back to the here and now. In the presence of beauty it is harder to be distracted. To follow the way of beauty means to live in a state of mindfulness that does not admit distraction or escape.

“We are here with our whole being. This is our kairos, as it was called in ancient Greece: The moment of opportunity, the timeless instant when revelation comes.”

Beauty is the perfect medicine, says Piero. Its side effects are positive, rather than negative. This is certainly true when it comes to people. He writes:

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“Moral beauty is alive and well. In fact both kinds of beauty exist – outer and inner. The former is more obvious, more likely to attract attention, more immediate, gratifying and short-term.

“The latter is subtler, deeper, usually needs more time to be perceived. And often it is not fully disclosed to the distracted eye.

“Physical beauty is a sprinter – it covers short distances faster. Beauty of the soul is a marathoner – it shows up over long distance.”

Beauty nourishes the soul. But it may also be necessary for our survival as a species. You can learn more about Piero’s work via his website.

http://www.pieroferrucci.it/index_eng.html

People also crave to do soul work, rather than just salary work. Soul work engages our whole being and enables us to channel our talents.

Unfortunately many people trudge to soulless buildings to do soulless work each day. This pattern is set in some schools that insist on driving the joy out of education.

Looking at your own life and work, how can you continue to nourish your deepest self? How can you help others to stimulate their souls?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on these themes. Looking to the future, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to stimulate your soul.

Describe the specific things you can do to encourage others to stimulate their souls.

Describe the specific benefits of stimulating the soul in both yourself and other people.

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January 24th, 2015

P is for People’s Motivation

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There are many models for understanding people’s motivation. This article explores how they may be driven by the following factors.

Personal Values

They may be driven by their personal values, their beliefs or what they feel is important in life.

Purpose

They may be driven by a sense of purpose or a mission they want to accomplish in life.

Pleasure

They may be driven to do things that give pleasure to themselves or other people.

Pain

They may be driven to deal with the pain that they or other people may be experiencing in life.

Profit

They may be driven to achieve something that, in the widest sense, is profitable for themselves or for other people.

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

Describe a specific situation in the past when you were motivated by personal values, purpose, pleasure, pain or profit.

Describe the specific things you did to translate the motivation into action.

Describe the specific benefits – for you and for other people – of translating the motivation into action.

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Sometimes it can be useful to tap into people’s drivers to enable them to work towards a specific goal. Bearing this in mind, let’s explore the following factors that motivate people.

Personal Values

Many people are driven by their personal values. These motivate them to focus on what they believe is important in life or to follow certain beliefs.

People who perform courageous acts, for example, sometimes find it unusual when others praise their efforts. They have certain values and take the opportunity to translate these into action. Such people say things like: “It was the natural thing to do.”

Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. One approach is to help them to focus on their deepest values. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.

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People choose their values in different ways. They may choose to follow certain values, for example, after reflecting on what they believe is important in life.

People’s values can be strongly influenced by the culture they grow up in during their formative years. They may then adopt certain belief systems that influence their behaviour.

Belief systems can be a positive influence, because they provide a strong driving compass that enables people to do fine work. They can, however, be a negative influence.

Why? They sometimes stop people seeing reality. As the old saying goes: “Do people believe what they see or do they see what they believe?”

Civilisations have died in the past because they stuck to their belief systems and denied the reality of what was happening around them. Ninety-nine percent of the data showed that they were heading to danger, but they preferred to focus on the one percent of doubt. This led to disaster.

Oil companies will only change their policies, for example, if they see or are told that changing to clean energy will make them more money. This is because their corporate values are about making profit. Let’s move on to another motivator.

Purpose

A person may be driven by a sense of purpose or a mission they want to accomplish in life. Pursuing this activity often brings meaning to their lives. They can refer back to this core compass when things get tough in their lives or work.

Peak performers often follow one of their passions and translate this into a clear purpose. They may want to help other people, climb a particular mountain, pass on knowledge to future generations or whatever.

Great teams also have a clear purpose. They may aim to find a vaccine for an illness, build a successful prototype, win a sporting trophy or whatever. They have a compelling reason for being.

Many people now cite the quote that may or may not have been said by Mark Twain. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Some people wait for a purpose to appear, but this seldom happens. People are more likely to develop a purpose by doing things they find stimulating. Those who follow this route often believe that:

“A purpose is something that you develop. It is not something that you find.”

Such people do not always start by being absolutely clear on the career they want to pursue. They are passionate, however, about something they want to explore or do.

They therefore throw themselves into gathering experience on their chosen theme. This can lead to them finding a more specific purpose.

Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. One approach is to help them to begin focusing on their deepest purpose. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.

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Pleasure

People love to do things that give them great enjoyment. They also like to give pleasure to other people.

The pleasure principle is a term that stems from Freudian psychology. It says that people are motivated towards pleasure and away from pain. Hence it is sometimes called the pleasure-pain principle.

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There are many exercises people can use to tap into this drive. One invites them to focus on the things that give them positive energy. Here are some of the things they write.

Positive Energy

The things that give me positive energy
in my personal or professional life are:

Being with our children … Gardening … Listening to the sound of our waterfall … Singing in the choir … Taking walks by myself … Playing the guitar … Cooking for our family … Caring for our horse … Doing exciting projects at work … Sleeping deeply.

Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.

Energy is life. Doing more of the things that give them positive energy can increase their motivation. It can also increase their strength to deal with challenges they meet in their life.

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Pain

People are sometimes motivated by pain. They may only go to the dentist, move on from a job or change their lifestyle when the pain is unbearable.

Pain can also act as a motivator to help others. People who have empathy with others who are experiencing hardship, for example, can translate this into action. They may then channel this energy into working to improve people’s conditions and build a better world.

Looking at your own life, has there ever been a time when you were motivated by pain? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

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Profit

People may be driven to achieve something that, in the widest sense, is profitable for themselves or other people. The immediate reaction is to think of money as the profit. Certainly this is the case for some people and companies, but there are many other kinds of prizes.

Sometimes the profit is to feel better, to improve one’s health or to see other people grow. Sometimes it is to feel you are living a good life and leaving a positive legacy. It is to sleep with an easy conscience that you are doing your best to help both present and future generations.

People are motivated to do things that they believe will bring benefits. Here is one example that illustrates the principle.

During the 1990s I worked with a task force that successfully introduced a wellbeing programme into a big company. The biggest challenge was getting the programme signed off by the Directors.

The task force were savvy. They believed the programme would help with wellbeing, motivation and retention. When presenting the approach to the Directors, however, they began by outlining how it would maintain or even improve profitability.

The task force had done their homework. They were able to show how having healthy employees would impact the bottom line and also attract talented people.

You may or may not agree with this approach. The programme was immediately backed by the Directors, however, and produced many other benefits.

People like to do things that are, in the widest sense, profitable. This highlights a key challenge when working with decision makers in business and other fields. It is to show how it is profitable to care for life on the planet to ensure the survival of the human species.

As mentioned at the beginning, there are many models for understanding people’s motivation. If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may be motivated by personal values, purpose, pleasure, pain or profit.

Describe the specific things you can do then to translate the motivation into action.

Describe the specific benefits – for you and other people – of translating your motivation into action.

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January 22nd, 2015

F is for Flowing rather than Freezing

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We used to be told that people could display one of two responses in a challenging situation. They could choose to fight or to take flight. There is another response, however, which is to flow.

Looking back, can you recall when you chose to flow rather than freeze? You may have been giving a presentation, playing a sport, performing a song or whatever.

Great workers get the fundamentals right to provide the foundation. They then aim to flow and perform fine work. This is easier said than done, because people sometimes freeze in difficult situations.

There are often both physical and psychological aspects to performing at your best in a particular situation. People sometimes get these right and experience their equivalent of going into the zone.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered much of the work in this field. He wrote the book Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. You can find an introduction to his work via the following link.

http://www.thepositiveapproach.info/mihaly-csikszentmihalys-work-on-flow-with-video/

Mihaly says that flow experiences are those where you become completely absorbed in an activity and time goes away.

A person starts by choosing to do something stimulating and perhaps stretching. This could be writing, skiing, solving a problem, tackling a challenge or whatever. They then go through some of the following stages.

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

Describe a situation in the past when you chose to flow rather than freeze.

Describe the specific things you did then to flow.

Describe the specific outcomes of choosing to flow.

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During the 1970s I worked in Sweden with people who were helping athletes to apply sports psychology. They highlighted how great champions focused on both the physical and psychological aspects of flow.

The physical aspects meant doing the right training, eating the right food and getting the right amount of rest. On the day it involved going through the right rituals, breathing properly and being physically ready to do your best.

The psychological aspects meant pursuing the right strategy in the right way. On the day it involved being fully present and being good at positive self-talk.

Ingemar Stenmark, the great Swedish alpine skier, was one of the people they studied. After the first run in a slalom event, for example, he might be leading by 0.01 seconds.

Stenmark embodied the positive approach in skiing. On the second run he pursued the strategy of: “Trying to win, rather than trying not to lose.”

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Peak performers often use positive affirmations in order to flow, focus and finish. Such affirmations are rooted in their own experience, however, rather than plucked out of the air. How to choose such affirmations?

They often begin by looking back at their positive history. What did they do right to achieve a specific goal? What were the principles they followed? How can they follow these principles in the future?

Peak performers choose positive affirmations to remind themselves to follow the principles. The words they choose must be their own and resonate within. They are then more likely to harness their energy to reach a particular goal.

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Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to flow rather than freeze? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to flow.

Describe the specific things you can do to flow in that situation.

Describe the specific outcomes that may result from you choosing to flow.

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January 21st, 2015

P is for Philosophy, Principles and Practice

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Different people have different approaches to life. Some people focus on their philosophy, principles and practice. They take the following steps to clarify how they want to translate their aims into action.

Philosophy

People sometimes take the opportunity to clarify their philosophy of life, work or other activity. Different people take this step in different ways.

They may start by clarifying what they believe in or what they want to do in a certain area of life. They may say: “I believe …” or “I want to …”

Different people reflect on their philosophy at different times. A person may experience a difficult illness, for example, that gives them the chance to define what is really important. They define their inner compass for shaping their future life.

They may then say something like: “I believe it is important to have a sense of gratitude and also encourage people in life.”

Alternatively, they may say something like: “I want to devote the rest of my life to encouraging people and helping to build a better world.”

A person may also decide to define their professional philosophy. They may clarify their beliefs and what they want to achieve in their particular field.

An educator may say: “I believe it is important to encourage, educate and enable people to achieve ongoing success.”

A professional soccer coach may say: “I want to build a team that plays positive football and gets positive results.”

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

Describe a specific area or activity in which you would like to clarify your philosophy.

You may want to focus on clarifying your overall life philosophy or your philosophy in a particular activity.

Describe your philosophy in this area or activity.

You may want to start brainstorming by beginning with the words: “I believe it is important to …” or “I want to …”

Keep going until you feel empty. Then try to summarise your beliefs or the things you want to do. The things you write may evolve over the years. For the moment, however, write this summary as your philosophy.

Describe the reasons why you believe in this philosophy.

You may believe in the philosophy because it follows certain spiritual or other beliefs. You may also believe that following it will bring benefits to people.

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Principles

The philosophy is the ‘What’ and ‘Why.’ It clarifies what you believe in or what you want to do. It also describes why you believe in the approach.

The principles are the ‘How’. They outline the key strategies you can follow to translate the philosophy into action. Later we will explore how to put the principles into practice.

How to define the principles you can follow? One approach is to start by revisiting your philosophy. You can then brainstorm and settle on for, example, the three key principles you can follow to translate it into action.

My Philosophy is:

*

The principles I can follow to translate
this philosophy into action are:

*

*

*

You may be able to define the key principles in three headlines or, if you wish, expand them further. Looking back at my own work, for example, I spent many years working with people, teams and organisations.

The philosophy was: “I want to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success.”

The principles were: “I want to clarify people’s picture of success and then offer practical tools they can use: a) To build on their strengths; b) To pursue practical strategies; c) To achieve their picture of success.”

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. As mentioned earlier, this invites you describe your philosophy and the key principles you can follow to translate it into action.

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Practice

Now comes the crunch part. Many people believe in philosophies and principles, but sometimes they find it challenging to put these into practice.

How to make this happen? Looking at the key principles, describe the specific things you can actually do to translate these into action.

Bill Walsh, the American Football coach, took this approach when encouraging all the employees of the San Francisco 49ers to follow certain principles.

He believed that if people delivered certain standards then the score would take care of itself. Although he never mentioned winning, the 49ers went on to win top prizes.

Below is a summary of the ways he invited all the employees – from ticket sellers to top players – to behave each day.

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Different people choose different ways to translate their philosophy into principles and then into practice. You will, of course, have your own way.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to bring together all your previous work and do the following things.

Describe your philosophy in a specific area or activity.

Describe the principles you can follow to translate the philosophy into action.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate each of the principles into action.

Describe the specific benefits – both for you and for other people – of following the philosophy and translating the principles into practice.

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January 19th, 2015

P is for Doing Things At The Right Pace

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Some things need to be done slowly. Some some things need to be done quickly. Some things needs be done at different paces at different times.

Looking back, when have you done something at the right pace? You may have been making a crucial decision, recovering from an illness, building a relationship, tackling an urgent challenge or whatever. What did you do right to go at the appropriate pace?

Carl Honoré struck a chord with his books In Praise of Slow and The Slow Fix. He believes that human beings can enrich their lives by doing some things more slowly. You can discover more about this approach at his website.

http://www.carlhonore.com/

Carl is not against speed in itself. In fact, some things need to go more quickly. On the other hand, people can become addicted to filling their time with as many activities as possible. Sometimes this is necessary, but sometimes it is counter-productive.

Good decision making, for example, often calls for balancing fast thinking and slow thinking. Fast thinking generates the pieces of the jigsaw, but slow thinking helps us to make sense of the whole picture. Many of our epiphanies come from doing some slow thinking.

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Sometimes it is hard to answer the question: “What is the right pace for doing things?” One possible answer is: “The right pace is the one that gets the right results.”

Good decision makers start by defining the real results to achieve. These could range from, for example, ‘peace of mind’ to ‘higher productivity’. They then follow the right strategy at the right speed for achieving these results.

Such decision makers focus on: a) Effectiveness; b) Efficiency. Being effective calls for climbing the right mountain in the right way. It then calls for pursuing these strategies efficiently. Unfortunately many organisations are trying to climb the wrong mountain more efficiently.

Peak performing people, teams and organisations recognise the importance of pace. Sometimes they will need to go slowly; sometimes they will need to go extremely quickly. It depends on the results they want to achieve.

One soccer team I worked with, for example, aims to start matches at a high tempo. The club’s training centre has the following instructions written on the wall: “Start on the front foot. Win the ball. Dictate the pace.” The players aim to take control and dictate the rhythm of the game.

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

Describe a specific situation in the past when you went at the right pace.

Describe the specific things you did then to go at the right pace.

Describe the specific things that resulted from you going at the right pace.

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Daniel Forrester describes the value of going at the right pace in his book Consider: Harnessing The Power of Reflective Thinking In Your Organization. He encourages people to take time to reflect before making decisions.

Some decisions do need to be made quickly. But there is often time to consider the options and improve the chances of success. Here is some background from Daniel’s website.

http://danielforrester.com/

Consider

About The Book

“STOP, THINK, AND DON’T DO SOMETHING STUPID!”

This is the warning Dr. Robert Bea drills into his Civil and Environmental Engineering students at the University of California in Berkeley.

Bea wants to dramatize what he terms the inevitable “oh shit” moments that present themselves-before an actual engineering calamity like the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster happens.

There’s an intangible and invisible marketplace within our lives today where the products traded are four fold: attention, distraction, data and meaning.

The stories and examples within Consider demonstrate that the best decisions, insights, ideas and outcomes result when we take sufficient time to think and reflect.

While technology allows us to act and react more quickly than ever before, we are taking increasingly less time to consider our decisions before we make them.

Reflection supplies an arsenal of ideas and solutions to the right problems.

Forrester shows us that taking time and giving ourselves the mental space for reflection can mean the difference between total success and total failure.

Recognising the importance of rhythm
when going at the right pace

Peak performers often develop a rhythm to go at the right pace. They may do this when writing a book, training for a marathon, turning around an ailing company or whatever.

Every person has their own rhythm for living, working, resting and other activities. Some people learn to find and follow their chosen pattern. They are then able to channel their energy in a positive way.

Peak performers often divide their time into blocks. This enables them to build in time to relax, rehearse and rise to the occasion when it matters.

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Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a specific situation when you may want to go at the right pace? This could be in your personal or professional life.

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

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to do things at the right pace.

Describe the specific things you can do then to go at the right pace.

Describe the specific things that may result from you going at the right pace in that situation.

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