Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why I love to work with Strengths

In a nutshell - I love to work with individuals and groups by exploring their Strengths.  I'm qualified to use a tool called the Strengthscope® from the Strengths Partnership and I find it a unique way to frame a coaching conversation or Group Development session.

If you look back on your education and career - how often has the focus been on what you're not good at?  Probably quite frequently.  Usually these will have been areas or topics in which you have little interest, do not inspire you and the learning would have been minimal and quickly forgotten.

How would it be, if instead of focussing on your weaknesses, that you you focussed on your natural Strengths? The Strengths Partnership, who developed the Strengthscope®, define your significant Strengths as those underlying qualities which energise you.  When using your strengths at work or in your hobby you are typically in a state of flow.  This is when the time flies, you forget to have lunch and you are completely absorbed & energised.

The Strengthscope® has some unique features.  It can highlight those potentially weaker areas and also help you identify when you are overusing a strength.  An overused strength can quite often become a weakness.  In the workplace you can also use a 360 Degree feature where you can ask colleagues to what extent they have experienced your strengths.

This focus provides a refreshingly different approach, which is a key foundation for Positive Psychology.  Conversations around how visible your strengths are and how you could combine them differently to address your weaker areas can be thought provoking and illuminating. When you consider ways in which you can stretch yourself in these areas of strength the conversations are usually invigorating and inspiring. 

In a team scenario it allows the group to reflect on where there are peaks of multiple strengths and also gaps which need to be addressed (or not forgotten!).  It also allows individuals to take on roles within the team where they will shine and be energised.

Your set of Strengths is something you can take with you throughout your career and life.  

My Significant Seven Strengths, with their brief definitions are:

Common sense
You make pragmatic judgements based on practical thinking and previous experience.

You take on challenges and face risks by standing up for what you believe.

Developing others
You promote other people’s learning and development to help them achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.

You readily identify with other people’s situations and can see things clearly from their perspective.

You remain adaptable and flexible in the face of unfamiliar or changing situations.

You take responsibility for influencing and motivating others to contribute to the goals and success of their team and organisation.

You are able to win agreement and support for a position or desired outcome.

I've been using these for the past seven years and I am committed to stretching myself in these areas as I progress in my career and studies.  

What activities put you in a state of Flow?  You'll more than likely be using your strengths.




Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Get Out of the Groove

This is a follow on to my previous blog post which revealed the mysterious world of chicken sexing and a technique to break an unproductive habit.

There is another technique you could try to break an performance interfering habit, again it's from Tim Gallwey, this time from his groundbreaking book, The Inner Game of Tennis. It's a great read whether or not you're interested in tennis.

Gallwey describes The Groove Theory of Habits "every time you swing your racquet in a certain way, you increase the probabilities that you will swing it that way again." (Tim Gallwey, 1974)

Consider this theory outside of its application to tennis.  The brain is made up of millions of neurons which fire off in different sequences, activating different branches to create and access memories.  The activity of these neurons also produces our external behaviour based upon our thoughts.

Each time an action (OR thought) is performed it leaves a slight 'impression' or trace through the massive network of neurons. When the same thought (OR action) is repeated a 'groove' is developed and is reinforced with each repetition. In time - the groove becomes quite established and those thoughts will drive repeated behaviour patterns.

Going back to Gallwey (and bear with me - I know this refers to tennis) "We have all had the experience of deciding that we will not hit a tennis ball in a certain way again....Often, in fact, the harder we try to break a habit, the harder it becomes."
So, how do we get out of the groove. Gallwey identifies an effective playful method "A child doesn't dig his way out of her old grooves; she simply starts new ones!"

Do you know what your grooves in life are? How could you start a new groove - what would it take? Try thinking of an outlandish, playful alternative when you realise you're slipping into your groove. You might want to hum 'Eye of the Tiger' really loudly, hand jive or eat a carrot.  




Thursday, 14 August 2014

I'm not a chicken sexer...

I'm a chicken sexer's son.

OK, so my Dad isn't a chicken sexer, but it's such a great job title.

Chicken Sexing

I started my career in the Home Office, Immigration Department.  My first job included the consideration of applications to enter the UK for various specialist reasons.  This included Chicken Sexers and Moroccan Tumblers.

I never questioned the requirement for these specialisms but I do remember handling one application from a Japanese chicken sexer - which I approved.

David Eagleman refers to the occupation of Chicken Sexer in his book, Incognito.

He explains the reason for the speciality.  When chicks are born in large commercial operations the males and females need to be separated - as they each receive different feeding patterns and have different destinies.  The job of a chicken sexer is to examine each chick and place it in the correct group. So, what's the big deal? The job is NOTORIOUSLY difficult as the chicks look exactly the same.  Experts in the field can accurately divide groups of one day old chicks.

The Japanese invented a particular technique called 'vent sexing'. From the 1930s onwards poultry breeders from around the world travelled to the Zen-Nippon Chicken Sexing School.

The most astonishing thing is that expert chicken sexers could not explain how they performed the task.  It was based on subtle visual cues - but the professionals could not explain what they were.  They simply looked at the chicken's rear and just knew which group to place them in.

The big dilemma was, how could an expert teach someone something they cannot explain?  

The solution was for the Master to stand over the apprentice and watch.  

The students would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and place it in the male or female pen.  The master would give feedback: a simple YES or NO.  After many weeks of this activity, "The student's brain was trained up to masterful - albeit unconscious - levels."

Unconscious Learning

This Unconscious learning is essentially how you have accumulated a great deal of knowledge about the world.

If you can drive a car - it will all be pretty automatic to you. How much effort or conscious brain power does it take to change gear?  When you were first learning it took every ounce of concentration but now it's mainly an unconscious activity.

So what about you responses to particular circumstances or events?  Are you ever frustrated that you always act in a particular way in certain situations?  You can identify that it's not productive but you're unable to stop.

Being conscious that you're in, or about to enter, a pattern is the first step. 

STOP Technique

There is a simple technique (which required lots of practice) called 'STOP'.

When you realise you are entering an unproductive pattern and having negative thoughts then apply the STOP technique, developed by Tim Gallwey.

S = Step back.  Put some distance between yourself and the situation.
T = Think.  What is the truth about what is happening? What's causing you to feel negative or stressed?  What are your priorities/options?
O = Organise your thinking.  What's your plan of action?
P = Proceed.  Move forward with increased clarity and understanding.

The technique is also very valuable to use:
  • at the beginning of each day - to reflect and plan,
  • before you go into a meeting or important conversation,
  • or before you pick up the children from school.
Thanks for reading


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

An Illustrated Tale - Introduction to ACT

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  I've been doing quite a bit of research on ACT and it appeals to me on a number of levels.

There is a popular book based upon ACT called the Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris.  In that book he shares a metaphor for ACT which I have built upon and illustrated below.

Imagine your life is represented by a ship, on the open ocean - you are the captain.

But have a look at the radar trace for the last five years (in red).  You seem to have been going around in circles for some time.  There have been a few times when you've made good headway towards Goal Island but then you've drifted back to the circular path.

You heart sinks as you notice other ships (green and blue), apparently steering confidently to the shore, managing to avoid some dangerous looking rocks.

Imagine the moment you set a course for your goals which are beautifully aligned with your values - the essence of you.

The very moment you change course something terrifying happens.

From beneath decks all of your demons appear.  They have horrific claws and fangs and make a ear-splitting racket.

There are several different species of demons:  
  • Some of them are emotions - like anger, fear or hopelessness.  
  • Others are memories of times when things haven't gone to plan.  Times when you've failed or been humiliated.
  • There are also the demons of thought (e.g. I can't do this, I'm bound to fail) and some are mental images in which you see the catastrophes coming to life.
  • There are more, how about URGES?  For example urges to smoke, over eat...
  • And finally on the demon front, there are those uncomfortable physical sensations, like shortness of breath or a leaden feeling in your stomach.
One of the very interesting features of ACT is that it doesn't pretend that the demons don't exist.  It also does not propose that the demons should be eliminated.  Because ACT knows that there are an infinite supply of demons. Even if the current ones are thrown overboard there will be more waiting below decks.  

What ACT does is help us understand how and why we've created these demons.  Russ Harris explains how the evolution of the human brain has led to this type of thinking. 

The demons are clever - if you're out at sea dreaming about what could be your demons remain relatively quiet below decks - lolling about and drooling. However, as soon as you show signs of taking action they begin to rouse themselves, poised for a demonic display.

If we can continue on our purposeful course whilst the demons are around us - that is the key.  As you become accustomed to looking at them and hearing their messages you can realise that the monsters aren't really that threatening. There are techniques that can be used to distance yourself from their messages. The aim is to co-exist with your demons and continue on your chosen trajectory.

You'll find you can really focus on your goals as the power of the demons diminishes, some of them will loose interest and you'll get more and more used to the others. Harris extends the metaphor to describe the appearance of dolphins and mermaids to assist you as you move further towards your goals (but these are a step too far for my current cartooning skills).

This metaphor really strikes a chord with me.  I'm doing more research into ACT and I'm very excited to begin my Uni Course in September as the head of my MSc is a globally recognised expert in the application of ACT in the Workplace.

So what can you do?

Here's a two Stage exercise to start you off.

Stage 1 - What projects or activities are you putting off?  Make a list.  Be honest and take your time.

Stage 2 - If you could acknowledge your demons for what they are, and not be afraid of them (because they really can't hurt you) what would be the next step you would take?  List these next to each project or activity you recorded at Stage 1.

How do you feel about taking that next step, knowing what you know about your demons?  "Their power relies totally on your belief in their threats".

In ACT the ways to reduce the impact of these thoughts is called diffusion - a subject for a future blog.

Thanks for reading.


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