“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.