Think for a minute of all the voices of authority that exist in your life. Your list most likely includes people you trust and admire, books by authors and experts, perhaps religious figures you know. We tend to put our trust (sometimes exclusively) in external authorities.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
There are three points from Einstein's statement I want to unpack relating to what it means to living your strongest, most authentic life this new year.
First, everybody is a genius. That means you. That means me. That means the person next to you, too.
Does it feel that way to you? Does this statement resonate as truth to you?
Perhaps we have difficulty believing this truth about ourselves and others because we live in a culture that equates genius narrowly with IQ. Or we equate genius with a certain kind of thinking style (e.g. those who know how to work through complex mathematical equations or quick and astute problem solving). Or we were raised in a family that emphasized a certain style or kind of learning and since we didn't match that, we felt stupid. Or we were raised by emotionally stunted parents who were inherently insecure and took it out on us by putting us down and telling us we weren't worth much and wouldn't amount to much.
But I think Einstein is absolutely correct about people. Everybody is a genius in some area, especially in the arena of their own strengths.
Second, we must start measuring the right things to ascertain genius.
Truth is, fish simply can't climb trees. They're not designed for that (except for the Mangrove Killifish and several other types which wait out the dry season for several months on a low lying branch until the rainy season brings more water).
When is the last time you went to an aquarium, looked at the fish, and remarked disgustingly, "Stupid fish. Why aren't they up climbing trees! Instead, they're just content to swim around here under the water. Idiots!"
No, you and I don't judge fish for not climbing trees. We don't measure the genius of fish by whether they are climbing trees or not.
But think about how our culture is fixated on weakness--parents spend more time focusing on where their kids are failing or what the kids aren't doing enough of, managers spend more time trying to fix employees' weaknesses, politics obsesses on leaders' inabilities and mistakes, media fixates on what's wrong. Everybody gets judged for "not climbing trees."
When people are measured by the wrong standards, and they get judged by how far they are from that standard, what ultimately happens is people internalize this message "I'm stupid!" I've coached people who have that mental tape that plays every time they do something and can't do it well. "I'm stupid."
And they often never get to the possibility of realizing that in fact they're not stupid at all, they're simply being measured by the wrong standard.
We all have to do things we're not really good at. We have to manage around our weaknesses in order to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities.
But if we focus more time and energy on trying to improve our weaknesses to the exclusion of operating within and leveraging our strengths, we are draining unnecessary energy from our brains. And our emotional mood plummets. Our self esteem ultimately hits rock bottom. And the painful and vicious cycle spirals on.
And today, self esteem is at an all time low in individuals, organizations, and even regions. We don't feel good enough. We don't feel like we're ever measuring up.
Third, everybody is a genius in the arena of their strengths.
Coaching hundreds of people through the years, I've seen time and again that everyone is an expert in the area they're suppose to be an expert in, their strengths and how to use them.
One of the reasons why I love doing strengths coaching is because of the question we focus on: instead of asking, what's wrong with people and how do we fix it, the question is, what's right with people and how can they leverage it?
Those of us who work with the StrengthsFinder assessment (developed by the Gallup organization) which identifies a person's top five signature strengths know that there's a 1:34 million chance that someone else has the same top five strengths in the same order as you. This makes our individual genius amazingly unique and special.
Fish instinctively know how to swim and do underwater acrobats because they're designed and wired for underwater swimming. Some fish are wired to even fly out of the water, but they always go back under. They're water creatures and that's what we measure them by.
Once strengths are identified (and people do have to engage in the identification as they answer questions related to what behaviors they do that bring them energy and feelings of strength), everybody can increase their instinctive ability to know how to use them. And with coaching, they are able to establish new ways to both notice and leverage their strengths---conscious competence.
Latest Research Confirming the Significance of Strengths Living
The point of strengths work centers on the well-researched fact that when we focus on our strengths, we are 8 times more likely to be more engaged and more productive in what we're trying to do. We believe in ourselves more and live with more confidence which in turn increases effectiveness.
Here's some science to confirm this reality.
A recent blog post I read referred to some fascinating new studies using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to track neural activity showing how focusing on your strengths
"arouses the parasympathetic nervous system, invoking cognitive, emotional, perceptual and behavioral openness and improving performance. It also creates the conditions for neurogenesis, allowing people to learn and develop new healthy habits and competencies."
By contrast, focusing on weaknesses arouses the sympathetic nervous system which increases your heart rate, raises your respiration, moves blood from one place (e.g., your digestive system) to another (your muscles), etc. These responses are all "arousal" responses which get you ready to fight or flee in times of danger---good for short term survival; terribly damaging for long term health.
Ways to Be Strengths-focused This Year
I'm challenging you to make 2014 the year of living your strengths in unprecedented ways. * Identify your strengths - take the test. * Notice how you're using them - make a list. * Establish how you can be even more intentional about using them in new ways (try planning goals this year around each of your strengths and keep track of how you're doing). * Learn about the strengths of the people in your life (at home, at work - I do a lot of strengths coaching with couples as well as work teams - very profound). * Affirm their use of their strengths every time you notice it. * Hire a coach to guide you and support this revolutionary journey of growth and effectiveness.
I guarantee that if you take these steps, you'll notice radical improvement in your attitude, your self esteem, your energy, your focus, and even your whole body.
Einstein is right. Everybody is a genius! So go out and live your genius this year! I'm cheering you on.
Looking for a Speaker or Coach?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Higher Demands, Less Energy The American culture is becoming increasingly a place of higher demands. Employers are trying to squeeze more and more from their employees. Expectations for productivity are higher than ever. Competition is fiercer than ever. And compensation isn't keeping up with the demands.
The average American worker is not only given less annual vacation time than counterparts around the world, he or she actually takes less of this time than the others. Americans are working harder and longer than ever before.
A consistent theme I hear from the leaders and senior managers I coach is the insane amount of work they are engaging in on a daily basis - almost to the point of complete breakdown. And they all feel somewhat trapped in this never-ending cycle. It is definitely not a sustainable strategy.
Energy Is Renewable
One of the things I've learned is that life is all about energy management. Truth is, time is a finite resource. But energy is renewable. We all have the opportunity to make choices that can actually increase our energy. It all depends on how we manage this amazing resource.
I read a profound article in the Harvard Business Review written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, "Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time" (Oct. 2007). In the article, they suggest that "energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals— behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible."
I love this perspective because it provides hope that we all have it within our power to do something about our energy which is so often lagging and drooping from the incessant demands we face regularly: we can learn to recognize the energy-depleting behaviors / activities we engage in; and we can learn what instead energizes us and so develop ways to more intentionally step into those.
It's all about energy management.
How Strengths Renew Energy
This is why I coach and consult people and organizations around strengths. Strengths are in fact wired into us - they are our natural preferences - innate talents that come from the natural flow of electricity (energy) via certain neural pathways (each one leading to certain specific behaviors). Because of the chemicals released in these pathways, the pathways become ingrained in us. If they're our natural preference pathways, they're pleasant for us to stimulate so we tend to stimulate them more than others. And the more we use them, the more we strengthen them. It's a powerful feedback loop.
So when we pay attention to what our natural strengths are, and when we choose to use them more intentionally, we are putting ourselves in an energy flow that is not only more efficient and fulfilling but also more sustainable, renewable. Using our innate resources (like strengths) actually increases energy because it's aligning with our unique individual biology - it's stewarding our brains effectively by leveraging those neural pathways with their accompanying electricity and chemicals.
When we are not using our natural preferences, according to neuroscientists our brains are actually expending 100x the energy than when we're leading with our natural preferences (our innate wiring and talents). One hundred times! So instead of making deposits, we're making massive withdrawals from our energy bank unnecessarily. Our brains are wearing out. And consequently, our whole feeling of energy lags and droops. We're not being "fully alive."
It's all about energy management.
Take the StrengthsFinder Assessment
If you haven't taken the strengthsfinder assessment yet to discover your top natural strength preferences, you need to! There are two ways to take the test: buy the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 from Amazon for $14.00, or go directly online to the Gallup site, pay $9.99, and take the test. What a small price to pay to radically increase your ability to renew your energy!
My work as a coach and consultant is to unpack these results for people and organizations. I give them opportunity to think through and strategize how they can be more intentional about using their strengths in every aspect of their lives - work, relationships, spirituality. When people take this work seriously and really engage via their strengths, the results are always amazing - people have more energy, more fulfillment, more effective productivity, less stress, more of a feeling of flow, more of being, as Schwartz and McCarthy describe, "effortlessly absorbed." Who wouldn't want all that??
It's all about energy management.
It's time for people to stop trying to simply work harder and start working smarter. Leverage your natural preferences, your strengths. Let your brain work effectively and efficiently the way it was designed to. Learn what makes you unique from everyone else. And then embrace it, step into it, stand in your truth, and let yourself be the powerful person you are. Develop a truly sustainable life.
You want more energy? Try managing and stewarding the energy you have. I guarantee: you'll find your energy is in deed a renewable resource.
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in strengths coaching? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I do a lot of coaching with individuals, groups, businesses, teams, churches around the issue of strengths (utilizing the results they get from taking the online StrengthsFinder). What are your top strengths? How are you using them? What are the shadow sides of each of your strengths and how can you manage those shadow sides? How can you use your strengths more intentionally, consciously, and competently? How Strengths Work Increases Well-being
I love doing this strengths work with people because I've seen that when people tap into their strengths more deeply and consciously, their ability to live a more productive and fulfilling life at work, in relationships, and even in spirituality radically increases. In fact, research shows that people who more often than not lead with their strengths are six times more meaningfully engaged in their life circumstances and they experience a three times higher sense of overall well being in life.
Who wouldn't want those kind of odds?
I'm noticing more and more that when people begin this exploration, increasing their understanding of how they're wired and what their innate talents are, they are in fact coming face to face with who they really are and who they are truly designed to be. And that is a profoundly spiritual experience.
Why Strengths Work Is Spiritual
One of the descriptions of spirituality I appreciate is this: "The intentional journey of becoming more whole, more fully alive, and more deeply human which results in authentic and meaningful connections with self, others, and the transcendent.”
The more in-tune we are with who we are, the more in alignment we are with how we are each designed and wired, the deeper and more authentic and meaningful our connections are to others and even to God.
One of the early Church fathers, Irenaeus, wrote,
"The glory of God is man fully alive."
Think about that for a minute. God's glory is heightened and made more evident when people are living fully alive. God's glory is shown, not when we constrict our lives or other people's live, not when we narrow our lives down, but rather when we expand our lives, when we increase our aliveness, when we alignment our lives to who we were made to be and to learn to live that way with more abandon and confidence and courage.
And that's exactly what happens when people tap into their strengths more consciously and competently. They become more uniquely fully alive---they become more of their true selves, as God designed them. Living out our strengths is one of the most significant ways we uniquely manifest the image of God in each one of us.
God is definitely not into the "cookie-cutter" approach to life. All you have to do to see that is to open your eyes and behold---to pay attention and to notice---the profound and immense and rich diversity that exists in this world.
Some Strategic Strengths Questions I Use With Clients
I have the sacred privilege as a strengths coach to be a front-row witness to this wonderful diversity with every person and group I do this work with. I always am in awe of how beautiful and unique every person is. And that individual beauty I see only grows and deepens as people come to embrace their unique strengths profile and learn to live it more consciously and effectively day after day.
So here are some of the questions I assist people in exploring and processing about their strengths:
- How have you seen yourself using each of your top strengths? Give specific examples. Describe how you felt when you were engaged in that activity/behavior.
- What have you noticed is the shadow side of each strength? What is your specific negative tendency with each strength at times? For example, if your strength is Empathy, do you ever find yourself getting too emotionally involved in people? Do you take on their feelings so deeply that you can't seem to let them go, to separate yourself from their feelings, so you can begin to feel exhausted, burned out. Their negative or painful feelings you start to take on yourself? Give specific examples of how you have manifested the shadow side of your strengths.
- How have you noticed your strengths playing out in your relationships? Give some specific examples. For instance, if you have Adaptability, do you tend to wait until the last minute to plan an activity with your significant other? Do you prefer not to structure or plan something but to let it come to you or simply go with the flow? How does your strength(s) impact your significant relationship?
- What is the strengths profile of your significant relationship? How do your top five individual strengths react together as a couple? Where are you both strong? How does that reveal itself in how your relationship shows up in the world? What do people experience in the presence of your relational strengths profile?
- Develop some specific, tangible goals for how you can increase the use of each one of your top strengths in the major life areas: work, relationships, spirituality.
- What are deficiencies in your strengths profile that you need to consider bringing other people with complementary strengths into your life? How can you partner or collaborate with people who bring strengths you don't have so you can be more productive and effective?
I typically go on a 12 session, 3 month journey with the people who want to really dig deep into putting their strengths to work in their lives. And I can tell you, it's a hugely rewarding, satisfying, transforming experience. They all tell me how life changing it is. And the more I do it, the more life changing it is for me, as well.
How Strengths Work Impacts Organizations and Congregations
I also do strengths work with congregations and other organizations. Once people begin to understand the role their strengths can play in their personal lives, this new awareness carries over into their actions within the organizational mission. When we take a look at which of everyone's top strengths are most represented---based upon everyone's test results---that corporate strengths profile delivers some astounding and powerful implications for how the whole group is designed to be at their strongest in the way they serve their constituents and communities. Effective mission and productive service grow exponentially. And people who serve in those groups experience a much higher level of engagement and fulfillment than ever before.
So in the end of life---whatever your view about how that happens in terms of divine accountability for your life---what's true is this:
God will not ask you why you weren't more like someone else. God's only question to you will be, What did you do with what you were given? Did you steward your Self as deeply, passionately, and faithfully as you could? Were you your own true Self?
This is one of the reasons I think strengths work is so spiritually significant---and why I believe in knowing my strengths and using them as courageously and actively as I can. It's about being the only Me that really counts in the end; and the only Me that truly brings me fulfillment, purpose, and joy.
Want to Know More?
Would you like to know more about this process? Feel free to email me: email@example.com. I'd be happy to give you more perspective. Would you like to engage in strengths coaching with me? Feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.