The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Balancing Continuity And Change  

There are many models for helping people to develop. One approach is to help them to get the right balance between continuity and change.

The continuity part is vital. People often develop by building on their strengths and following their successful patterns.

Some individuals overlook the continuity part, however, and seem addicted to the idea of change. They keep saying:

This is what I want to change in my life.

This approach can be important to explore, but people can also gain strength from clarifying what they want to continue doing. Building on these assets can provide them with a platform for making changes.

Imagine that you are helping a person who wants to develop. Looking at the person’s life, it can be useful to invite them to explore the following themes.

The person may want to continue …

To do the things that give them positive energy, spend time with the people who encourage them and keep themselves healthy; 

To maintain their sense of gratitude – such as counting their blessings rather than their burdens – and build on these personal and professional assets; 

To build on their strengths, follow their successful patterns and do satisfying work;

To learn from their positive history by clarifying what they have done right in the past to overcome challenges and then follow similar principles in the future; 

To focus on the positive things they want to give to people during their time on the planet.

Several years ago I had a mentoring session with a driven person who felt troubled. They immediately began talking about the things they wanted to change.

Clarifying the agenda, we agreed on the topics to explore during the session. Before focusing on what they wanted to change, however, I asked if it was okay to clarify what they wanted to keep in their life. For example:

Did they want to keep certain aspects of their personality … To keep their friendships … To keep their talents … To keep their fighting spirit … To keep their ability to find creative solutions to challenges … To keep their professional network?

The person spent fifteen minutes describing the positive things they wanted to keep in their life. They wanted to continue:

To spend quality time with their child … To exercise … To practise yoga … To go to music concerts … To do the satisfying parts of their work.

Looking ahead to the next month, we chose: a) To put these positive activities into their diary first; b) To then schedule the other activities. The joyful activities would take priority rather than trying to cram these into an already crowded diary.

Moving on, we focused on the areas where the person wanted to make changes. Later in the article we will look at how people can take steps to implement changes successfully.

Looking at your own life, what are the things you want to continue doing? How can you do keep doing these things in your personal and professional life?

You may want to do the things you enjoy, take care of your health and spend time with loved ones. You may want to build on your strengths, harness your fighting spirit and do the satisfying parts of your work.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you want to continue doing in your life and work. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of continuing to do these things.

Continuity

Continuity plays a key part in helping people, societies and any system to develop. It can be useful to focus on the positive parts of a system and build on these elements.

Great workers, for example, focus on what is working. They then aim to do more of these things in the future. This creates a platform for making changes that will enable the system to improve and achieve success.

There are many tools for taking these steps. The following sections explore some of these approaches

The Positive History Approach

Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has overcome challenges and achieved specific goals. Everybody has a history of building on their strengths and achieving success.

Everybody has a pattern of doing what works – even if only for a short time. People can focus on what they did right then and how they can follow these successful patterns in the future.

This approach can be used when working with individuals, teams or organisations. It enables them:

To clarify their positive history and the principles they followed to get positive results; 

To clarify how they can follow these principles in the future to get positive results; 

To clarify how they can translate these principles into specific actions to get positive results.

This is an inside-out approach to development. It encourages people to build on what they know works and then do the work required to achieve their goals. It enables them to keep developing rather than think they have to change.

People can obviously learn things from outside, such as knowledge, models and tools. But the belief must come from within. They are then more likely to sustain their motivation when following the principles they know will work in a situation.

Looking at my own work, this is an approach I have used with many individuals, teams and organisations. We have used it to help people:

To manage crises or tackle challenges successfully;

To follow their successful style and do satisfying work;

To build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success.

Let’s look at a similar approach that helps people to continue building on the successful principles they have followed in the past.

The Appreciative Inquiry Approach

Appreciative Inquiry is a positive model for helping people, teams and organisations to develop. It studies humanity at its best and focuses on what works.

AI invites people to start by defining the theme they want to explore. They then work through a 4D cycle that goes through the stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. (Some people call this last stage Delivery.)

Definition

This involves people defining a theme they want to explore. For example: “How can we give great customer service? How can we develop successful new products? How can we communicate well inside our organisation? Etc.”

Discovery

This involves people recalling when they have tackled a similar issue successfully in the past and the principles they followed to deliver success. 

Dream 

This involves people clarifying how they can follow the principles in the future and translate these in a specific vision – a dream – they believe they can deliver.  

Design 

This involves people designing their strategy and action plan for achieving the dream. They also decide on who will do what and by when on the way to reaching the goals.

Destiny (Delivery) 

This involves people doing superb work, finding solutions to challenges and doing their best to deliver the dream.

David Cooperrider helped to pioneer AI in the early 1980s. At that time he was a 24-year-old doing his doctorate and was focusing on organisational development work at The Cleveland Clinic.

David began with traditional change management questions, looking at deficits and gaps in performance. Then something happened.

Impressed by the positive co-operation and innovation he found in the hospital, David changed tack. He began focusing more on people’s strengths.

He asked employees about their best experiences in work. People found that revisiting their successes ignited their desire to create an even better future.

David and his team had discovered a gold mine. He asked the Clinic’s Chairman, Dr William Kiser, if he could focus totally on this positive approach.

The Chairman encouraged him to go ahead. David and his project supervisor, Suresh Srivastva, would later write:

Human systems grow in the direction of what people study.

This proved the case at the Cleveland Clinic. The staff loved learning from their past successes and wanted to follow these principles in the future. They translated these into tackling specific challenges and producing concrete results.

Diana Whitney also pioneered the way with Appreciative Inquiry. Working with David, she co-authored the first book on the topic called Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change.

Since then AI has been used by people in all walks of life to tackle challenges in their daily lives, work and communities. People like the approach. They build on when they have performed brilliantly and aim to keep developing.

In my own work I have used elements of it when working with organisations in business. Every time that people have applied the approach properly they have delivered success.

Here is a video in which David provides some background to the AI approach. You can also discover more via the following link. 

Appreciative Inquiry

The Continuous Improvement Approach

This approach focuses on both continuity and change. It can be used by individuals, teams or organisations.

Great workers embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen – continuous improvement. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance.

There are many tools for taking this step. One approach is to focus on your own life or work and do the following exercise called My Development Book.

This is a tool I started using when running therapeutic communities for young people. Since then I have used it with athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders and other people.

Below is one framework that can be used. This example invites the person to focus on what they have done in the past week, but it is possible to use any timeframe.

The approach can also be adapted to encourage teams to focus on: a) What they have done well; b) What they can do better; c) What they can do to continue to develop.

 

Different people use this approach in different situations. Here are some examples from people that I have worked with over the years.

A leader described the specific things they had done to communicate the vision, explain the strategy and make clear working contracts with their people. Looking ahead, they described how they needed to behave towards an individual who was causing havoc in the team.

A teenager described the specific things they had done to be kind, encourage others and stay out of trouble, even when provoked. Looking ahead, they described how they could say ‘No,’ and walk on when offered drugs by former friends they met on the street.

A soccer team described the specific things they had done well during the last game and what they could have done better. Looking ahead, we organised the training to focus on how they could continue to build on their strengths and tackle the areas for improvement.  

Change

Great workers get the right balance between continuity and change. So far in this article we have mainly focused on the continuity part, so let’s move on to the challenge of change.

People often talk about the need for change but the real goal is improvement or achieving success. Change is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

People like to feel in charge of the change rather than others telling them to change. They also don’t like to be told that they must change as human beings. This highlights a key point:

People can learn to channel their personality – rather change their personality – and learn tools to achieve their goals

Bearing this in mind, it can be useful to remember the following themes regarding people and change.

Let’s explore each of these themes.

People must want
to make the changes 

People must want to make the changes otherwise it won’t work. A person or a group of people wants to feel in control. They want to feel they are choosing to make changes rather than others telling them they must change.

There are some situations, of course, where at first sight people may not appear to be in control. Outside events – such as changes that affect their lives or work – mean that they need to make decisions.

They can then choose their attitude towards these outside events. People can focus on what they can control rather than become paralysed by what they can’t control. This brings us to the next stage.

People must want the benefits
of making the changes

People sometimes make changes because they see the benefits – such as more pleasure, less pain or more profits. They may see how behaving in another way can produce different outcomes and help them to achieve success.

A person may change their life-style because they want to feel healthy and live longer. A company may change their strategy because it will make them more profit. A society may change their policy because it will bring more social benefits in both the short-term and long-term.

People often make such decisions on an emotional level, however, rather than just by being logical. They may do so because they experience a crisis or see that taking another path will have more emotional benefits.

A person must feel that from their point of view it makes sense to change. Looking at the world from a drug addict’s point of view, for example, there are both pluses and minuses involved in giving up drugs. Here is an overview of both.

The potential pluses include the following. They may live longer, feel healthier, be more connected to their feelings, avoid getting into trouble with the police and live a more fulfilling life.

The potential minuses include the following. They need to take responsibility, find a new purpose in life rather than just thinking of the next fix, deal with their feelings without drugs and leave friends who may want to offer them drugs.

People make choices in life and each choice has consequences. They are more likely to make changes if they believe that doing so will bring them more benefits. They have to feel that the pluses will outweigh the minuses.

People can choose different
approaches to making changes

People who make changes in their lives often choose to follow certain habits that help them to achieve success. If a person wants to develop a healthy lifestyle, for example, they may choose to do some of the following things:

To get enough sleep, eat healthy food, exercise, do things that give them positive energy, spend time with encouraging people, do satisfying projects, recognise the triggers that can derail them – then breathe, stay calm and manage their emotions in a positive way.

A person who wants to take these steps may focus on one of these themes, follow certain habits and get a success. They may then move on to tackling the next area where they want to make changes.

There are two main approaches to making changes. These are the organic approach and the new habits approach.

The organic approach
to making changes

This involves a person building on their strengths and developing the successful patterns they already have within them. They can then nurture these and follow positive habits to achieve their aims.

Let’s look at how this works in action. Imagine that a person has approached you for help in managing a setback. They may have lost their job, be going through a divorce or dealing with a disappointment.

The normal counselling approach is to encourage them to talk about the experience and go through the classic change curve. This can help, but at some stage it can be appropriate to help the person to tap into their inner strength.

The are many ways to take this step. One approach is to invite the person to explore the following themes.

Let’s learn from your positive history. Have you ever been in a similar situation in the past and managed it successfully?

What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed? How did you translate these into action? What happened as a result?

Looking at what you did right then, is it possible to follow any of those principles to tackle the present challenge? What other skills might you need to learn? 

Looking ahead, let’s look at how to translate these ideas into action. Bearing in mind what you can control, we can also look at how you can get an early success. 

Babette Rothschild has helped many people to build on their inner resources when dealing with trauma. Below is a short extract from her book Trauma Essentials. You can discover more about Babette’s approach to safe trauma therapy via the following link.

http://www.somatictraumatherapy.com/

This section has explored the organic approach to developing positive habits. In some cases, however, it may be important to take another approach.

The new habits approach
to making changes

Imagine that you want to develop a new habit. Bearing in mind the results you want to achieve, this calls for:

Doing the right things in the right way to get the right results.

Different people take this step in different ways. The route they take often depends on their reasons for wanting to develop. A person may choose to develop new habits because they want either:

To develop a new rhythm and change their behaviour in ways that help themselves or other people, or;

To deal with triggers that lead them to behaving in ways that hurt themselves or other people.

Let’s explore each of these routes.

The developing a new rhythm
approach to developing new habits

Some people choose to follow a new rhythm in their life or work and develop new habits. This calls for looking ahead, planning their days and then following their chosen discipline.

Let’s look at one example. A person may choose to start the day by doing some deep breathing and eating a healthy breakfast. They may walk some of the way to work, collect their thoughts and focus on what they want to achieve that day.

They may then create breaks every two hours when they can relax, refocus and rehearse what they are going to do next. Before going into a meeting, they may ask themselves: 

Who am I going to meet? What is happening in their world? What are the challenges they face? What are their goals? How can I help them to achieve their picture of success?

What are the actual words I would like the person – or people – saying after the meeting? How can I do my best to ensure they are saying these things? What else can I do to make it a positive and successful meeting?

Different people do different things to develop their desired habits. Some common factors, however, are that they plan ahead, prepare properly and keep following their chosen disciplines. They make sure that new habit becomes a natural part of the way they live life.

James Clear describes another approach to making this happen in his article The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How to Start New Habits That Actually Stick. Below is an excerpt from his article. You can discover more via the following link.

http://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits.

How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. 

How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. 

How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.

What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.

But what if you want to improve? What if you want to form new habits? How would you go about it? 

Turns out, there’s a helpful framework that can make it easier to stick to new habits so that you can improve your health, your work, and your life in general. Let’s talk about that framework now…

The 3 R’s of Habit Change 

Every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same 3-step pattern.

Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)

Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)

Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior).

The dealing with triggers approach
to developing new habits 

A person may want to develop new habits for dealing with triggers that can lead to them behaving in ways that cause difficulties. Sometimes they may manage such situations successfully. Sometimes they may fall into a downward spiral.

A recovering alcoholic may find it difficult to pass a crowded pub on a warm summer night. A person who frequently gets angry can be overcome by the rising red mist.

A footballer can make a mistake and punish themselves with negative self-talk. A normally positive person can fall into depression when hearing distressing news on the radio.

A drug user may respond to feeling anxious by searching for a quick fix. A couple may get into domestic arguments when one of them says something that hurts their partner.

There are different ways to manage such difficult situations. One approach is: a) To recognise the trigger; b) To buy time to think; c) To use tools for managing the situation in a positive way. Let’s explore these themes.

Triggers

A person can learn to recognise the potential triggers and, if possible, avoid putting themselves in such situations. Different people have different triggers.

A gambler may feel bored and click onto a betting site. A footballer may rush to confront a referee after a poor decision. A sensitive person may feel a panic attack coming on in a certain situation.

One of the first steps is to recognise such triggers. Looking ahead, a person can ask:

What are the triggers that can lead to me behaving in ways that hurt myself or other people? What are the specific situations in which I may experience certain triggers? What can I do to stop putting myself into such situations?  

What can I do if, despite my best efforts, I begin to experience such triggers? What are the warning signs? What are the physical or psychological signs? What can I then do to take action quickly to stop spiralling into unhelpful behaviour? 

Time

A person may need to buy time when recognising a trigger. Some make sure they don’t do anything rash by saying something like:

Stop. Walk away. Think.

Some people do deep breathing. Some have a ritual they follow to relax, re-centre and refocus. Some athletes take this approach in order to buy time and get back on track.

A tennis player, for example, may have a physical action that they follow after each point. They follow this routine to clear their minds and focus on the present. They then rehearse what they are going to do next.

Each person will develop their own way of buying time. Assuming they have taken this step, it is then time to focus on the next stage.

Tools

A person may learn to apply certain tools to manage the trigger and choose their way forward. Some people revisit their positive history and recall when they have dealt with a trigger successfully. What did they do right then? What were the principles they followed? How can they follow these principles in the present situation?

Some people drain themselves of emotion and try to look at the situation logically. They clarify their possible options for going forwards and the consequences of each option.

Option A Is To…

The pluses are … 

The minuses are … 

Option B Is To… 

The pluses are …

The minuses are … 

Option C Is To… 

The pluses are … 

The minuses are …

Imagine, for example, that a recovering alcoholic is passing a crowded bar on a sunny Friday evening. They look at the people smiling, talking and seeming to be having a good time.

Looking at the clock, they see it is 6.00 pm. They have nobody to go home to – just a television set and the promise of an empty weekend. They know that if they enter the bar it may result in them staggering home at 2.00 in the morning.

On the other hand, they know it makes sense to stay sober and take care of their health. This is the only way they will continue to have access to their children and, in the long run, keep their job.

What do they want to do? One choice is to walk in, get their first drink and relax. Another choice is to call their friend at Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is to walk past, go home and make themselves a meal. It is then to do positive things over the weekend.

Good decision makers clarify the pluses and minuses of each option. They then choose the option that will, in their view, give them the desired set of consequences.

Committing to their way forward, they aim to get a quick win. They then continue to encourage themselves on the route towards achieving their picture of success.

Different people use different tools for dealing with such difficult situations. It is vital that they use one they feel comfortable with and that works. This can help them to maintain the new habit of managing the trigger successfully.

There are many models for continuing to develop. This article has explored some ways to get the right balance between continuity and change.

Earlier you were invited to focus on the continuity aspect. This involved clarifying what you wanted to continuing doing in your personal and professional life.

If you wish, however, you may want to explore some areas where you want to make changes. If so, how could you make changes in a way that works for you?

You may choose to do so by following the organic approach. This would involve building on your previous successful patterns. Alternatively, you may wish to try to develop new habits.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to make changes successfully in parts of your life and work.  

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of making these changes successfully.

Share

    Leave a Reply

    You can use these HTML tags

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>