Wednesday, August 26, 2009

3 Ways to Find Your Hidden Strengths

Hidden strengths sound mysterious and maybe even a little like magical thinking. You might have read this and thought "I wish I had hidden strengths but I'm just not that deep." You might have thought "I could really use a few more strengths today." If this is what you are thinking, you are probably thinking it by yourself. Other people are the fastest way to find out what strengths we are hiding from ourselves. They often see us as more clever, more resourceful and more talented than we see ourselves.

Depending on your mood, you might not agree that people are seeing you this way now. But think of the people you admire and respect. Think of the people who have had a powerful positive impact on you. Do you believe they always knew how strong they really were?

Tip #1: Think of somebody you like and admire. Notice just one quality that you really respect in that person and spend a little time remembering times they have shown that quality. Because you have picked someone you know, you can focus on their experience as though it were happening to you. Just step into one of your memories of them having that strength as if you were them.

Tip #2: Think of a strength you would like to have. Now think of the people who know you well and ask yourself: "Who would not be surprised if I were to show that strength?" When you have identified the person who would not be surprised to find that strength in you, ask yourself "What is it about that other person or about our connection that allows them to expect this from me?"

Tip #3: Take a walk. It's hard to feel stuck while you are actually on the move. As you walk, think of a strength you would like to have and walk as if you already had it. Give yourself a booster of this quality every 50 steps or so and walk until you have learned how to keep that quality in your walk.

That's three things you can do today that will uncover strengths that will be enormously helpful to you as you make it through the things you have to do to get to the things you want.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three kinds of cupcakes

It was my turn to provide treats for the office today so I made three different kinds of cupcakes - plain chocolate, chocolate walnut, and coconut vanilla. Not everyone likes walnuts or coconut but the people who do really enjoy them. At the end of coffee time, there were mostly plain chocolate cupcakes left.

If there had only been one choice, it would have been the plain chocolate and everyone would have liked them.

Cupcakes are not very serious. That's actually what I like most about them. It's impossible to take cupcakes too seriously - or to take yourself too seriously while munching on a cupcake. Cupcakes are for fun.

Choice is for fun too. It's not always about what's necessary. Sometimes it's about paying a little extra attention to making the most of the moment.

Coffee break lasted quite a lot longer than ten minutes today. And everyone went back to their desks feeling like part of something. Not because I made three kinds of cupcakes. Because paying attention and having fun is almost as sticky as the icing on cupcakes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When it gets quiet

There are two groups of you out there. One group says "quiet? are you crazy?" Often, these are busy people, people who have too much to do at work and at home, people who are raising young kids and fighting to hold onto jobs that are less secure and less enjoyable than they should be. The other group doesn't say anything at all. They run their own businesses and they know that when it gets quiet, it gets scary. They might not have kids or they might have grown kids: either way, they know what it's like to come home to quiet.

What do you notice when it gets quiet?

In our training, we give people simple ways to make it quiet in their heads. Some of them hate it. Quiet scares them. Some of them love it - but mostly because they are used to too much noise. They know that quiet won't last, so they enjoy it while they have it.

When it gets quiet, we lose our sense of where we are. Sound is an important part of how we locate ourselves and how we balance. Without it, we find that we are slightly disoriented. It's a little like floating with your ears just underwater. Cool in a way, but not what you expect.

Today, I am floating with my ears underwater. After all the deep connectedness of training, it is suddenly quiet. It's as if the world around me is taking a deep breath and enjoying the last weeks before the busy-ness and business of fall. With my ears underwater, I notice my heart beating. With my ears underwater, I float on the margin between peace and panic.

In the quiet, I choose my words more carefully because they ring so loudly.

In the quiet, I am at a crossroads. I know I am asking myself to choose. What next?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amateurs do the things they want in the way they want to do them

The title of this post comes from a column by Kurt Andersen in the August 10, 2009 issue of Time magazine. The column is called "The Avenging Amateur." Andersen argues that an amateur "must throw himself into situations where he's uncertain and even ignorant, and therefore obliged to figure out new ways of seeing problems and fresh ways of solving them." Amateurs are people who "don't worry too much about breaking rules and aren't paralyzed by a fear of imperfection or even failure."

I first encountered a celebration of the amateur in the world of business when I read the original edition of Max dePree's Leadership Jazz. Since then, I've worked with many professionals who were brave enough to challenge their own sense of competence and decorum. They are working to reclaim the innovation and open-minds of amateurs.

Words are the frames we put around concepts, but each word is also framed by its context. Context has made 'professionalism' a hallmark of excellence and dependability for many decades. Now, context is shifting a little. We live in a world where the internet makes it hard to distinguish between professionals and amateurs. Often, the people who take the internet by storm are amateurs - brilliant minds and passionate hearts who work and communicate outside the structures of professionalism. Finding intrinsic value in your work is a concept embraced by those who have been stuck on the wrong side of demographics. Effectively shut out of the 'professional' roles they might otherwise have claimed, they make a virtue of necessity. They embrace their status as amateurs.

So. . . we have lots of reasons to consider a new frame - a frame in which people excel and thrive by committing themselves to both discipline and opportunity. We can look for models of this mixture in the arts: artists work hard and make money sometimes.

Artists and amateurs leading the way: is this what the world is coming too? I hope so.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

It's been a long time since I was first intrigued by Jack Kornfield's excellent title, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

I'm reminded of it this morning, as I make my way back after the intensive training we did last week. Ecstasy is not precisely the right word, but it does convey the sense of being pulled strongly into another way of seeing, another way of being. Training lasted 8 days for the NLP Master Practitioners, 8 long days. As the leader of the group, I am fascinated, engaged, compelled, energized, and exhausted by the experience of nudging everyone just a little further than each would go alone.

Now I'm back at my desk, trying to make sense of paperwork, of logistics, of marketing, of the world as it is. I am driven by a new sense of purpose and distracted by a sense that there is so much left to process from the last week. Even when I sit very still, a part of my mind is whirring, whirring, whirring in the background.

It's been nearly ten years since I read Kornfield's book. As I flip through it now, I am not surprised that a number of my students have explored Buddhism. There are so many ways of opening the perceptions to find a better fit between ourselves and the world around us. There are so many ways to find that we fit after all.

And now. Maybe I need some laundry, some filing, some cleaning - simple, repetitive, grounding chores. I need to be practical and I need to rest and I need to let my mind loosen the connections it has made, come back into itself, remake itself. It is what my students are doing this week. They are separating and connecting and transferring what they learned to the places they really need it, to their lives as they live them.

After the training, the long, slow background processes of integration.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Thoughts the night before a training begins

It doesn't often show, but I am always nervous on the first day of school - even when it's the first day of training. For eight days, I am going to watch this group get closer and closer - and then it will be over as suddenly and improbably as it began.

I don't train groups that make sense. I train wildly diverse groups of interesting people. They don't always have much in common except the desire to experience themselves and others with a little more clarity, a little more colour, a little more depth. They are quite often very smart people.

Tomorrow I will be the leader of a group of very smart people. If I thought teaching meant telling, I would be very nervous. It's a very good thing that I will lead mostly by asking good questions, listening carefully to the responses they get, and following the genuinely new information that finds its way into the room.

A little clean up, a little sleep, a little baking. . . and the adventure will begin.