Whether you struggle with low self-esteem or want to improve your relationships and/or leadership style, knowing your character strengths and becoming familiar with strength-based tools will be the greatest tools you can add to your life tool box.
Here are some ways to find your strengths and live life with purpose!
What is Strengths-Based Psychology?
Strengths-based psychology is an approach to psychology that sees people as more than just a set of problems to be fixed. Rather, it focuses on what can be done to help people become their best selves, both in terms of relating to others and being productive.
A great assessment you can take to learn more about your character strenghts is the VIA Character Strengths Survey. There, you will get to know what your top 5 Character Strengths are.
Next, explore how these strengths might manifest themselves in your life. What would happen if you put more effort into using your natural talents? Would it have any effect on the people around you?
Use daily gratitude practice to also reflect on your day in terms of what character strengths you have used. Maybe you had to negiotiate something or compromise. In this sitiuation you might have shown empathy, social intelligence and communication skills. Or maybe you cooked dinner for friends or family, in which case you could have used your kindness, generosity and creativity. See, it's that easy.
How strengths-based approaches can combat negativity bias
I have a theory. What we focus on the most influences our neural pathways. The more we work in a certain way, the harder it is to deviate away from that. Therapists and coaches with an attitude as the one above are not only making it harder to let go of the negative, but can unintentionally prevent their clients from moving into a place of flourishing. It is a self-feeding negativity loop.
Let's look at what happens when you add an awareness of character strengths into your everyday life:
You learn to identify your wins easier. Your brain has plasticity, you are training your brain to identify not only your own, but other people's strengths. By doing that you are enhancing the strength of gratitude and appreciation. As a result your relationships become more positive, deeper and more meaningful. You experience what we call “Positivity Resonance”, a positive bonding experience. As a result your self-esteem grows. It's an endless upward spiral into florishing. And yet, so many practitioners refuse to incorporate this into their work.
You might be saying:"But I don't want to run around with rose-tinted glasses!" Don't worry, your brain has an inbuilt negativity bias to protect your from harm. All that positive approaches do is to shift your perception and vision into “reality”. You see the whole spectrum, not just the negative. It's like getting a new pair of glasses but for your life.
Why people get stuck in therapy
Let me share an experience I had a few weeks ago during a training weekend for a course I am currently taking:
One of the tasks we have been given is to do a 20-minute presentation on a topic we feel passionate about. We are asked to suggest topics and then the whole group would vote on what presentations to take further. A majority of the topics were on, yes, you guessed it, problems and difficulties. I suggested positive psychology. There was zero reaction and zero interest from fellow psychotherapists. To me, this is a disappointment, but no surprise. Therapists can also get stuck in a negativity bias loop.
In humanistic therapies Positive Psychology can often be perceived as a fad and “not deep enough”. The vast amounts of scientific evidence are being discounted.
The majority of my clients are people who have been stuck in therapy but want to give it one more final try. They often report that their therapist kept looking backwards instead of towards a better future. They have gained more awareness in therapy but still don't know how to move forward. When they mentioned that they don't want to look into the past anymore, the therapist would see that as a defence and make that the focus of the session. It's time to work differently. Fixing a problem is not automatically creating something good.
Strengths-based leadership today
I don't usually bring politics into my emails, but here we have a perfect example of great leadership. One of the most inspiring leaders of today is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His resolve, defiance and resilience is not just inspiring and moving the Ukrainian people, but it is also touching the entire world. How does he do that?
Yes, we feel empathy seeing the pictures of destruction. People fleeing and seeking refuge. But there is another aspect that touches us: People are being seen and heard. Zelenskyy keeps reminding not only his people but other world leaders and their citizens of their humanity, their character and their strengths. He talks of loyalty, humanity, faith, trust, bravery, perseverance, love, kindness, fairness, leadership, gratitude, hope and even brings in humor in the darkest of times. He sees and appreciates the support he gets and asks for what he and his people need whilst at the same time not being afraid to also critize without hate. This is why we identify. And this is why we are so moved to show support, civilians take up arms and build defenses, people take refugees into their homes.
If a country's leader can do all that, imagine what you can do.
A litte exercise for you to do with a friend
Get together with a friend or your partner and each share for one minute a story of when you were at your best. Try to listen to what strengths the other has exhibited and note them down. After each of you has shared their story, read to eachother the strengths you have identified and evidence them by pointing to the story. Reflect on how this made you feel. Did you feel seen? Did you feel appreciated? Did it feel good to focus on the positives of your friend or partner?
Setting boundaries can include choosing what you want from your life and deciding who deserves to share those parts with you. The hard thing about setting boundaries is that many people might not like them. You must be true to yourself and do what is best for you as an individual, even if it means disappointing others. Here are some ways to start going through the process of setting healthy boundaries in your life.
Sometimes a little self-awareness goes a long way in strengthening boundaries. The truth is that it can take a lot of courage to say no to someone, but it's important to stand your ground.
Why Boundaries Are Necessary
Setting boundaries is crucial because it gives you the freedom to make choices without feeling pressured. Boundaries are what keep us from doing things we might regret. When you hold others responsible for their actions, they are less likely to try taking advantage of you. Setting boundaries also ensures that other people understand that you have your own life and don't need them to take care of you. You deserve to live a life where you can fully be yourself, not just an extension of another person's desires.
Define your boundaries
One of the first steps to setting boundaries is to think about what you want. Think about what your boundaries are and how they might affect your life. For example, do you want more free time? If so, you might need to free yourself off from something or someone to consider what you really want. That might be the friend who consistently turns up when they want something but then disappear when you need them. Or it might be a project that takes your time but doesn’t go anywhere and needs re-evaluating. It could even be your job.
Another important step in the process is to think about how your boundaries will be received. It can be difficult to set boundaries with people who have been close to us for a long time, but it's crucial if those people don't respect your needs or wants.
I remember a client many years ago who, whenever she met a certain friend for coffee, ended up paying. Her friend always had an excuse. At first, my client felt guilty even thinking about the fact that her friend might be taking advantage of her. This is the kind of generous person she was. She was too anxious to have a straightforward chat with her friend about what is happening as she did not want to sound accusatory and possibly lose that friend. There was of course much more to unwrap there, but for now, we needed a quick solution so I set her a challenge: Next time you go for a coffee only take enough money to pay for your drink. Don’t take cards. She was so conditioned by her friend’s unwillingness to take responsibility for her bill that she straight away got worried about her friend: “What if she really didn’t bring any money and then she will be in trouble?”
“Did you say you are inviting her for a coffee?”, I asked.
No, she didn’t. Her friend keeps saying that next time she will pay but then ends up finding another excuse not to and my client keeps paying the bill. “I promise you, she will have money, “ I reassured her.
One week later my client returned with a smile: “I did what you suggested. It was hard. When it came to paying my friend said she forgot her purse. Because I only took enough for my coffee I had no choice but not to rescue her as usual. Miraculously my friend found her card in her handbag.” It was time to re-evaluate that friendship and to have an honest and open conversation.
This is only a small example of how we can even get conditioned to having our boundaries violated and then being taken advantage of.
Consider whether or not you are willing to let people go if they don't agree with the boundaries that you have set. Remember that this does not necessarily mean being unfriendly or cutting people out of your life entirely; it just means being true to yourself and doing what’s best for you as an individual, even if it means disappointing others.
Create a plan to follow through on your boundaries
It can be hard to set boundaries, but it is possible. There are two parts to the process that will make setting boundaries successful. First, you must assess your current situation and relationships. This includes specific things like whether you want a relationship with someone, whether friendship, romantically or professionally. Think about what your ideal relationship with this person or situation is. Next, create an action plan for how you'll follow through on these boundaries. Whatever boundary you create, find out how to follow through on it and then do it!
Take action and tell people your boundaries
When someone does something you don't like, let them know how you feel about the situation. For example, if a friend asks for money every time they see you and that gets old quickly, let them know that you don't have any more money to give them. Be honest and direct with the person, but stay calm throughout the interaction. Another way to set healthy boundaries is by being clear about what your expectations are for different situations in your life. If someone wants some of your time or attention, be clear about when you are available or what kind of attention you are willing to give them.
What if no one wants to respect my boundaries?
If you set a boundary but no one wants to respect it, it may be time to re-evaluate. If you have tried setting boundaries with someone and they continue to push back or violate your boundary, then it may be time to reconsider the friendship or partnership. On the other hand, if the person respects your boundaries, then that’s great! You have found someone who will give you the space that you need.
Boundaries are key to healthy relationships and avoiding negative feelings. Setting boundaries with those around you, as well as with yourself, can be difficult. But it is possible to set boundaries and still have the relationships you want. Setting boundaries is the perfect testing ground to see if a relationship works for you or not.
When is the last time you evaluated your boundaries?
It's only natural for humans to resist change. It takes time, dedication, and energy to make changes. But the world around us is rapidly changing, and adaptability is one of the most important skills you can have to thrive in this fast-paced world.
It may be difficult to recognize your own adaptability levels at first glance. This article will teach you how to recognize different types of adaptability and how to adapt to change.
The Importance of Adaptability in the World
The world is a quickly-changing place. You may be reluctant to make changes yourself, but adapting to the constant change around us is critical for success. If you can't adapt, changes will leave you behind.
In contrast to the predictable environment of yesteryear, today's world presents a slew of challenges and opportunities. Some days, it's difficult to keep up with all of the fresh information that whizzes past our screens and into our brains.
But being out of sync isn't just frustrating.
Those who thrive are those who learn from those who have come before them and have adapted to changing conditions with ease.
Here are some signs that you might need to work on your adaptability:
- You resist change even when it's good for you
- You look back instead of looking forward
- You resist learning new things
- You prefer predictable situations to unpredictable ones
What Is Adaptability Actually?
Adaptability is the ability to adjust or change oneself to new circumstances.
The concept of adaptability can be applied in many situations, such as at work, with friends, and in relationships. It's important to note that not everyone has the same levels of natural adaptability skills. Some people are more naturally flexible by nature, while others may need to work harder. However, there are ways you can improve even if you're on the less flexible end of the spectrum!
Different Kinds Of Adaptability
There are three different types of adaptability skills. The first type is called passive-adaptation, which is the skill of adjusting to your environment without too much conscious effort. You may not even notice that you're doing it!
The second type is called active-adaptation, which is the skill of changing your environment to suit you. It's similar to the first type but requires more mental engagement.
Finally, there's interactive-adaptation, which is the skill of changing both yourself and your surroundings at the same time. This third category requires a lot of work and can be exhausting or even frustrating at times.
If you find that you struggle with one or more types, don't worry! There are many ways to improve your skills in order to better adapt to any situation. Some tips include:
* Meditating regularly
* Working on difficult conversations
* Practicing mindfulness during challenging moments
How To Adapt To Change
1. Don't be afraid to try new things - Change can be scary, but it's also exciting. You don't know what change has in store for you, and that's what makes it exhilarating. There's no better way to grow than by taking risks and trying new things. Engage your child-like curiosity.
2. Get creative - You can never predict how a situation is going to turn out, and that means you should always prepare for the best and worst. The best way to do this is to remain open-minded and get creative when handling unexpected changes in your life. Engage your playfulness.
3. Don't quit when the going gets tough - When faced with an obstacle, some people will feel like giving up or settling for less than they deserve because they think it's the easier thing to do. You'll never get what you want if you settle for less than what you deserve in life—don't give up at the first hurdle. However, it is also important to know when it's time to quit. Don't stick with something just for the sake of it.
4. Have faith - Sometimes without warning, everything changes in our lives all at once. When these storms come along, have faith that everything is going to work out eventually because there are so many opportunities around every corner, you just have to keep looking for them! And yes, this can sound overly optimistic if you are going through a rough patch in life or work, but help often arrives at the most unexpected moments.
5. Be open-minded. I said it before, I say it again. Even if everyone around you is a stickler for doing the same things over and over again, be open to new perspectives and opportunities. Sometimes going against the grain will be your biggest advantage.
Over the many years of training and me practicing psychotherapy, I have seen many different psychotherapists and how they practice. This also has informed the way I work. From 2012 to 2019, I managed a psychotherapy centre which I founded in 2012 until I decided to work remotely from our home in London.
When the approach is more important than seeing the person
In those seven years 9-12 therapists used to work in that centre. In that time I have become very familiar with the different approaches different therapists work with. What I have noticed is that some therapists are very much in love with the therapy they practice and with their own philosophy. I realized that this doesn't necessarily mean that this can lead to a very rigid approach and can be a disservice to their clients.
What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is that some therapists, their theory, and the model of practice is more important than really seeing the person. Let me give you an example. When I started my center, what was important for me was to create a space that was a home away from home, a welcoming space, rather than a cold clinical space. I wanted my clients to come into the center and therapy room that was light and spacious and welcoming. I would offer a glass of water or tea to help my clients relax and feel welcome and respected. One day a new CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) psychotherapist had started at the center. Whilst she was still in a session with a client, her next client was already at the door I opened the door let them to the waiting room and offered them a drink. They asked for a glass of water. Later that evening, their therapist approached me and asked me not to offer their clients anything to drink. I was quite surprised that they would ask me this, it was a hot day and it just seems to me like the thing to do to make people feel comfortable and provide that caring space. This therapist was so stuck in their way of working they believed that offering a client a glass of water was negative for their therapy process. Sadly, there are quite a few psychotherapists who subscribe to this idea. She that offering a client a glass of water means that in their sessions, some clients will hide behind that glass of water, they will use the water to self-soothe but she wanted them to experience the necessary discomfort. To me, this is simply crazy and a neurotic way of working. Since then, I have spoken to other therapists who also refuse to offer their clients a glass of water or tea because they feel for different reasons that offering clients something to drink is a bad idea. Imagine this! To me, this is an absolutely silly approach. This is how crazy the therapy world can be. This is not something I subscribe to.
What therapy really is
The way I see therapy is that it is a relationship. A combining of forces. You know your past, you know your experience, you know your needs and your wants, and you know where you want to be in life. I have studied psychology, trained as a psychotherapist as well as a coach. I have worked in research, I have undergone my own therapy as part of my psychotherapy training. And we are combining our forces to get you to where you want to be. And I do that by providing you a safe space. Though now I work online rather than in a therapy centre, it is still very important for me to provide that space for you.
An example of when to walk away
Let me give you another example. When I was 20, and I was studying in Berlin and I wanted to see a therapist. At the time, I didn't know all the intricate differences between what kind of therapies there are. I was just glad to find somebody who took insurance. I was late to the initial session because it was in a very different part of Berlin and I got lost. This was pre GPS times. When I arrived at the therapists house, she looked very angry. She suddenly led me into her office, sat opposite me, and then proceeded to tell me that I didn't want to be there. I was so confused. I was only 20, I had been looking forward to work on my anxiety regarding public speaking and couldn't wait to finally start the session. Instead I was confronted with somebody who was telling me that I didn’t want to be there. I told her that I just got lost because this was a part of Berlin I have never been to. It was a big road, I took the wrong turn. And that's all there is to it. She continued to explain to me that if I really wanted to be there, I wouldn't have taken a wrong turn. It was absolutely crazy. She proceeded to analyze my getting lost by misreading the map or not getting into the right lane, early enough to take the right turn, as some kind of subconscious process as signifying me not wanting to be there. It was absolutely crazy and also incredibly disappointing as I felt let down and invaded. Her projecting her phantasy of what had happened in the end actually led me to leave the session. She made me not want to be there. A self-fulfilling prophecy. It certainly was a very unsafe environment. Fortunately enough, a short while later I found an amazing psychologist I could work with. This is an example of a therapist projecting her own fantasy onto her client. I have had clients who had bad experiences with therapists in the past. And there are many similar stories that I've heard. I find it very sad that even though we are trained to see the real person, to see you and hear you, sometimes you are missed.
An open and welcoming environment for you
Working with me provides you with that open curiosity about you and your journey. Of course, we make assessments, we might wonder whether the process is this or that and might feel inclined to interpret something you say but I will always check in with you and see what you really mean. Open communication and transparency are so important. You will not be squished into a model or into a fantasy of what I think who you might be or what I think might be going on, I'll be communicating with you openly. Because this is the space that every therapy client needs. A space to be themselves without any judgement - an open space. Not a box that you are being put into. I respect you religious views, your sexuality, your pronouns. Simply, you and who you are and who you want to be.
How do you know whether you are with the right therapist?
Simply put, trust your gut. Whether you want to work with me or somebody else. Meet a therapist first and just have a chat with them. Ask them questions and see what kind of questions they ask you. If they ask you the same question several times it might mean that they want you to say something they want to hear or they might not be listening. If they welcome you and are curious ,if you can sense their empathy and their patience and their openness that already is a good sign. See if they ask you if you had therapy before, and what has worked for you, as well as what hasn't worked for you. You can ask them what kind of therapy they practice, what their beliefs are about therapy and mental health. Ultimately, trust your gut instinct. You don't have to stay with the therapist, just because you already had a few sessions with them. You can at any point choose somebody else to work with.
For example, I like to check in with my clients now and then ask them “Hey, how was the session? Did you get what you wanted?” I do that in therapy as well as in my coaching work. If there is something you want to do more of, we can do that. If you think “that wasn't my cup of tea, I want to try something else”, we can do that. It's about working towards the same goal together. Whatever your healing journey is, my goal for you is your autonomy and your independence. That means for me to become redundant. The moment the client says “I'm good, I think I can stop therapy” is one of the most amazing moments. This is why I love this work. Because I know you are ready. And if I feel that maybe there might be some more work to do, I will share that with you. And that's fine. Sometimes, therapy can get really tough, and you might not be ready to go a bit deeper. That's okay, too. It's important for therapists to honor their client’s boundaries and their defenses. A therapist shouldn't push a client into a zone that's not comfortable for them. You have a right at any point to say “I don't want to talk about this. “What you talk about is your choice. If you feel that the therapist is pushy, you can say so. If they insist on being pushy, you are free to leave. First, give them feedback so they know what they're doing. However, if they don't honor your feedback, you might want to rethink whether this is the right therapist for you. You do not want to work with somebody who might potentially traumatize you. Some therapists see themselves as the experts who knows better than you (ie. Not aware enough of their ego) and might not be aware of the power imbalance in therapy. It is important to acknowledge that when you come to therapy and you open yourself up to the stranger sitting opposite you, whether in the therapy room or on the scree, that ultimately, you make yourself vulnerable. And you want to be with somebody who honors that vulnerability and respects it.
Follow your gut. Give it a try. If you feel safe with a therapist you've chosen that's great. If not, it's okay to walk away. I hope you appreciate this little insight. And if you are interested in a brief consultation to see whether we might be a good match feel free to contact me
"Do not celebrate your success"
This is not a statement I am making, but it is a “correct” answer in an exam for a meditation course that I participated in. It is run by a yoga school. I call these kind of statements spiritual gaslighting.
Let me tell you why celebrating your success is so important…
In my 13 years of working in mental health and coaching I have seen many people embarrassed of talking about their wins and successes. When I ask about their strengths they would often blush, their body language would change inward. You could feel the discomfort in the room.
Most of the time it was a fear of seeming big-headed or appearing as arrogant. I am not talking here about false humility, but of shame.
When this happens I tend to ask about times that were tough, how they overcame them as well as their achievements. Whilst my clients share their stories I look out for signs of strengths they will have used to overcome adversity and note them down on a small whiteboard in front of me, away from my clients' sight. At the end I turn around the whiteboard and show my clients what I have identified. Maybe you can imagine the shock on many faces. When I explain each strength I have spotted, I give an example from what they have told me that proves that this is not some “let's make you feel better” exercise, but instead an honest positive representation of themselves. Those are some of the most beautiful moments in our sessions. Seeing someone else realize their worth right in front of you and transforming their self-esteem is priceless.
So why is it so difficult to celebrate?
Many of us tend to focus so much on the daily hustle and bustle and struggle to keep our heads down that we forget to celebrate the successes that we and others have achieved at work and in our private lives. Coupled with pseudo-spiritual statements as the above we are more likely to neglect celebrations. Many of us have never been taught to spot good character traits and strengths in ourelves or others. The effect: you start seeing your achievements negatively. If you focus on what you have not achieved and not on what you are doing, you are less likely to stick to the task and achieve your goals. By not noticing or downplaying your success, you tell yourself that you are doing nothing to be proud of and that you do not deserve to be celebrated. When we celebrate success, no matter how small a win is, we cultivate your success mentality. By telling yourself that success means success, you also succeed at building up your self-confidence and attitude to success.
There is a reason why it feels so good when we celebrate success, and it has to do with the neuro-happy chemicals in our brains. Dopamine is released into our brain when we expect to achieve something, and when we achieve it, it feels good, and we want more of it. This way you can condition yourself to seek out that experience again, potentially gaining momentum in productivity and growth. Taking time to celebrate, not just your own successes, but also the ones of others can elevate your levels of oxytocin and endorphins, increase serotonin and lower cortisol which is responsible for stress. You also experience more moments of positivity resonance with the people around you. These are moments of positive connection that strengthens your bond.
How to celebrate if you are not used to it or if you feel shame about it?
Don’t wait for big wins that we have been conditioned to see as the only worthy ones of celebrating. Start celebrating small wins. Those small wins have a ripple effect.
Here are six ways you can start celebrating today:
Once you are used to celebrating feel free to be more open about your wins and successes. Yes, you might experience envy here and there, but most people around you will join you in your celebration. You might even inspire others to aim for the same goals or to celebrate their own individual wins and successes.
Remember, whatever we do has a ripple effect. Just as much as teaching people that celebrating is not healthy can shut people down, sharing your joy and celebrating can teach people to experience healthy pride, increase their sense of self-confidence and bring people closer to each other. All starting off with one little celebration.