All life on this planet is hardwired for survival. Ensuring survival comes in many ways; scanning for threats, staying protected, propagation and taking care of one's own species/family through food, shelter, water and any other comfort.
It is no surprise that a large portion of this survival instinct is HARDWIRED into the physiological and psychological design of the brain. That is to say, we learn to look out for threats, avoid them, and keep pain at bay.
Since we no longer live out in the wild, our threats now come in various ways, but the brain still does it's job wonderfully. It looks out for threatening words, body language, compares information from the past to assess the present, and even keeps dangerous (painful) incidents in memory to avoid coming across such a situation again. This last can sometimes manifest as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Simply put, we STORE pain to PREVENT future pain. We hold onto ideas and beliefs of not being valued, betrayed, or sidelined from the past so we can recognise it and avoid ourselves from falling into the trap again. Much of this happens without our conscious awareness or control.
The brain is a beautiful and complex organ, yet operates under simple mechanisms - CONNECTION. Neural connections are either strengthened or weakened to increase the efficiency of information transfer. The stronger the cable (connection) the faster the speed and response.
In looking out for threats, we INCREASE connections that effectively highlight danger (real or perceived). In the body, this is a stressed state, as all levels of vigilance is heightened. Our cognitive resources towards things like creativity, solutions finding become limited, and emotional response pathway becomes more "attuned" to the fear response mechanism (fight-or-flight).
Sure, we DO recognise the POSITIVE situations and emotions and do experience them. But, in all honesty, how active ARE we in looking out for the GOOD in a day, versus the BAD or the threats? How much of our active memory recall/rumination is on the positives, and how much on the negative?
The GOOD NEWS is, the brain is capable of so much more and can in fact be "rewired" to re-learn and be re-conditioned. Connections in the brain are constantly shifting based on thoughts, behaviour and environmental inputs. Just like the strengthening of NEURAL NETWORKS towards threats; the same can be done to LOOK OUT for POSITIVES - such as friendliness, joy, love, compassion, helpfulness etc.
Looking out for the BEST in people and situation does not come intuitively, BUT when this skill is practiced regularly it builds RESILIENCE in a person. Being able to find meaning and connection in our experiences brings JOY, because by nature, we are social creatures, and WANT to live a MEANINGful life with meaningful relationships.
Achieving our goals and highest potential doesn't come easy when we work on eliminating our weakness and FIXING the broken parts of us. We thrive when we discover our TALENTS and GIFTS. We are especially delighted when we discover things we didn't even know we had or could do. Fixing what's wrong signals that we are NOT DOING WELL in something. It naturally brings about a stress response as there is a part of us that wants to protect the positive mental image of ourselves.
If we are able to re-frame a weakness into an opportunity for growth, then it becomes enjoyable. In fact it aligns with the part of the brain that has a need to protect, by seeing it as building skills to GROW stronger; which is beneficial in survival.
IF we START OFF with our STRENGTHS in achieving goals and highest potential, then it becomes more ENJOYABLE, engaging and builds upon our sense of purpose. Being aware and receiving affirmation and confirmation of these strengths increases ones sense of self worth, value and confidence. Knowing our unique make-up and gifts are being put to good use in achieving a meaningful goal reinforces that sense of purpose.
Talents that remain untapped, become weak and limp. However, when uncovered and used regularly, and in various new contexts, it becomes a great avenue for exploration, expansion and innovation. Talents become our strengths and we can improve these natural abilities to build upon other areas we may not be so great at. Finally, we could use our strengths to overcome our weaknesses.
There is a pitfall in overusing one's strength though. Relying TOO MUCH on it, overuse, and inappropriate use of it in every opportunity, can unfortunately become a deterrent to ones growth.
IN coaching, the ultimate goal is for the client to achieve their highest potential in what they set out to do. If some of these goals involve working with a team of people, then it helps to build on the team's strength.
Let's take empathy as a sample strength to work on. Empathetic people easily put themselves in other peoples shoes. It is good to have someone who can connect with others regardless of their level of agreement. This helps mitigate tensions and improve open discussions. Someone who is OVERLY empathetic however, could run the risk of just listening to EVERYONE, understanding them, and not coming up with any decision that will help the team move forward.
The challenge for an empathetic person is to find balance through listening to all needs, and make a firm decision based on the GREATER NEED and outcome of the group.
They then once again effectively use empathy to explain the greater goal in a way that would resonate with each member of the team; rallying support and pulling the team together.
The polar opposite of an empathetic person is someone who is single-mindedly focused on outcomes and makes decisions without taking other people's concerns into consideration. Their strength is FOCUS and DECISIVENESS, but to those who value empathy, this would be seen as insensitivity.
Our misunderstandings of each other come from our differences. However it is our differences that brings VARIETY of strengths into the mix. When we are able to see people's strengths as valuable assets, we can focus on building upon each other rather than avoiding or tearing each other down.
Knowing our strengths and the ability to recognise other people's strength is in itself a STRENGTH. It increases emotional intelligence and improves management skills, at home, work or social settings. Learning to work with both our OWN and OTHER people's strengths helps build confidence in everyone, build positive relationships, and enhance everyone's experience.
In creating lasting transformation in a client's life, a coach is compelled to build this aspect of a client to put them on a path of success and continuous growth. It begins with recognising one's strengths, what they are doing WELL, and using their natural gifts to enhance their overall WELL-being.
There are many tools available to us, and a large body of research based on positive psychology to build on strengths. One of the simplest exercise to REWIRE our brain is to look out for the best in both ourselves and others. The father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, has a simple 'What-Went-Well" exercise to help focus the mind on identifying what went right or what worked well. Over time, this builds on our strengths and increases our overall joy and satisfaction levels.
So, what went WELL in your day today? :)
**Note: This blog entry is to meet Catalyst Coaching Certification course content of FLOW5 C.O.A.C.H Process on the Connect module: "STRENGTH-BASED COACHING"
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