The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Control, Creative Work And Contentment

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Some people seem able to deal with distractions and do creative work. Some people find this more difficult. This is especially so if they are sensitive and get depressed about events happening in the world.

Imagine you want to channel your sensitivity into doing positive work rather than becoming paralysed. One approach is to focus on the following steps.

Control: It is to feel in control.

Creativity: It is to feel you are doing creative work that is stimulating. 

Contentment: It is to feel satisfied and contented that you have done your best.

Different people choose different ways to do fine work whilst also relating to events in the world. The route they choose can have consequences for themselves and their projects.

Some people choose to continue with their creative work but also keep in touch with current events. This approach has both pluses and minuses.

They continue to get inspiration from doing stimulating work. If they are sensitive, however, the daily diet of news fed by the media can be depressing. They can be distracted by worrying about what they can’t control in the world.

Some people choose to cloister themselves in their equivalent of a sanctuary. They may be aware of big events in the outside world but they prefer to focus on their creative work. This is something they can control and, in the process, give their best to the world.

Some people blend both approaches. They sometimes go out to gather information and do work in the world. Returning to their sanctuary, they reflect on what they have experienced.

Such people then focus on what they can control in their lives. Bearing this in mind, they translate what they have learned into a piece of creative work.

Choosing to focus on the task in hand, they have only limited contact with the outside world. Recognising that they only have so much energy, they prefer to apply it to the project, rather than worrying about events beyond their influence.

They keep doing their best until they feel the piece of work is finished. This can lead to a feeling of contentment. The work will not solve the world’s problems but they have used their energy to produce something special. They may then go out and share the creative work with the world.

Looking at your own life, when have you taken some of these steps? When did you focus on what you could control, do creative work and experience a feeling of contentment?

You may have been working on your garden, renovating a house, writing a book, directing a play, leading a team or doing some other project.

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

Describe a specific situation in the past when you focused on the steps of control, creative work and contentment. 

Describe the specific things you did to focus on these steps. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of focusing on these steps.

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Control

Being creative often calls for feeling in control of our environment. It also calls for focusing on what we can control rather than worrying about what we can’t. This can be especially difficult if we are sensitive to events happening in the world.

Creative people sometimes demonstrate the characteristics described by Elaine Aron in her book The Highly Sensitive Person. They have the emotional equivalent of sensitive skin and this can affect their immune system.

Sensitivity is what makes us human. Emotions such as empathy enable us to encourage others, but sometimes such feelings can take over. Elaine says it can be useful to understand highly sensitive people who “just feel more deeply.”

Everybody experiences highs and lows. We then need to channel such feelings in a positive way, rather than become paralysed. Highlighting this challenge, Elaine’s book is subtitled How to thrive when the world overwhelms you.

She has devised a test that a person can use to explore certain themes. Elaine invites them to identify if they are sensitive to certain lights, sounds and smells. Do they avoid overwhelming situations and harsh input, such as violent films?

Elaine invites the person to explore whether they have a rich inner life. Do they also like to spend time alone to gather strength? In the past have they been described as shy or sensitive? You can find the self test on her site via the following link.

http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/

Highly sensitive person

Different people are sensitive to different things. I have also found it useful to invite a person to explore the following themes.

Do you feel strongly about certain values? If so, what are these values? What do you feel when you see these values lived? What do you feel when people behave in ways that go against these values?

Are there certain kinds of people that give you positive energy? What are the characteristics of these people? Are there certain kinds of people that create negative feelings? What are the characteristics of these people?

Do you have a heightened sensitivity when doing certain kinds of work? Are there situations in which you quickly see patterns? Are there specific activities in which you have good personal radar – you seem to know what will happen before it happens? How can you use this sensitivity to do good work?

How can you thrive in the future? How can you do the things that give you positive energy? How can you manage or avoid the things that give you negative energy? How can you do work that is stimulating? How you use your sensitivity to help other people?

Imagine that you want to do creative work. There are several areas in which you can aim to take control. Let’s explore each of these themes.

You can control what
you put into your soul

Everything is food. The kinds of experiences we encounter can enter our bodies and souls. Bearing this in mind, it can be helpful to expose yourself to healthy rather than unhealthy experiences.

Barbara Fredrickson has done pioneering work that demonstrates how having positive emotions can improve our lives. Twenty years of research culminated in her book Positivity.

The book was based on solid research but it also captured the imagination. Why? Interviewers and readers focused on a key theme that provided a signpost to the future. This was:

People who have positive emotions in a ratio of 3:1 in relation to negative emotions are more likely to flourish.

Some people dispute the ratio figure, but the overall approach remains valid. People are more likely to enjoy life – and help others – if they are surrounded by positive rather than negative influences. Barbara explains this in the following way.

The key is to increase the amount of positive emotions you have in relation to negative emotions. 

We need a ratio of 3 to 1 to lift us, increase our resilience and flourish. For many people the ratio is 2 to 1. For some it is 1 to 1 or less.

The consistency here is extraordinary. For individuals, marriages and business teams, flourishing – doing remarkably well – comes with positivity ratios above 3 to 1.  

By contrast, those who don’t overcome their depression, couples who fail in their marriages, and business teams that are unpopular and unprofitable each have ratios in the gutter, below 1 to 1.

Positivity

Barbara explains that positivity is more than simply being happy. And it certainly isn’t putting on a smiling face to grin and bear things.

Positivity is based on being true to ourselves. It embodies gratitude, love, playfulness, curiosity and adventure. These emotions trigger each other and create an upward spiral. They ‘broaden and build’, helping us to make breakthroughs and bring new things into being.

Such emotions provide the basis for creativity, problem solving and even evolution. They enable us to open our hearts and minds. Negativity, on the other hand, closes down our ability to think, create and grow. Barbara explains positivity in the following way.

(Positivity) consists of the whole range of positive emotions – from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude, and then some. 

The term is purposely broad. It includes the positive meanings and optimistic attitudes that trigger positive emotions as well as the open minds, tender hearts, relaxed limbs, and soft faces they usher in. 

It even includes the long-term impact that positive emotions have on your character, relationships, communities and environments.

Below is a link to the Positivity Self Test. One key point is worth bearing in mind. The test invites you to focus on your emotions today. Barbara and others recommend that you try it over a period of a month to get a realistic reading.

http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php

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Let’s return to your own life and work. How can you increase the amount of positivity that goes into your soul? How can you avoid or manage the negativity that may affect your mood?

Positive realists believe it is vital to search for truth. At the same time, however, it is important to explore positive solutions. Such people believe in finding a way forward rather wallowing in despair. You will do this in your own way.

You can control your
creative environment

Creative people spend time in their equivalent of a sanctuary or other space where they can do their best work. They also follow their own successful patterns for doing creative work.

Imagine that you want to do a piece of creative work. Looking ahead, how can you structure your days? What are your prime times – the times of the day when you feel most creative? How can you protect and make the best use of these prime times?

What is the kind of environment in which you work best? Do you have a specific physical place where you feel at ease? You may have your own version of a sanctuary or studio. How can you spend more time in this place?

Do you follow any rituals when doing creative work? You may have a shower, drink coffee, prepare properly, play music, start your work, build in breaks, go for a walk, have a siesta at some point or do other things. How can you follow these rituals and continue to do your best?

Great workers create an environment in which they are able to flow, focus and finish. You will do this in your own way.

You can focus on what you can
control when doing your work

Sometimes you hear people using the phrase ‘controlling the controllables’. The phrase is often used by athletes but many people apply it to other aspects of their lives.

People cross an emotional threshold in their lives, for example, when they choose to focus on what they can control. They opt for this route, rather than worrying about what they can’t control.

Some find this approach to be liberating. One person said:

“Several years ago I had a health scare. Fortunately I got wonderful treatment, but it also taught me a lesson.

“Nowadays I put my energies into the things I can control. This means choosing to have a positive attitude, encouraging other people and doing satisfying work.

“In the past I often worried about events beyond my control. Sometimes I used to spread gloom and doom, which was self-indulgent.

“These days I count my blessings. Each day is a bonus and I try to do my best to help other people.”

Imagine that you are doing a piece of creative work. What are the things you can and can’t control in the situation? How can you build on what you can control and manage what you can’t?

You can control your attitude, the way you structure your day, your professionalism and the effort you put into doing the creative work.

You can’t control whether people will appreciate what you produce or whether it changes the world. You can try to manage and influence these things but you can’t control them.

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

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Let’s assume you are clear on what you can control. It is then time to embark on the next step.

Creative Work

Imagine that you are clear on: a) The piece of work you want to do; b) The real results you want to achieve by doing the piece of work. How can you perform at your best?

One approach is to start by exploring your positive history. It is to find and follow your successful style of working. Let’s explore how this works in practice.

Looking back on your life, can you think of two times when you did creative work? These could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have been encouraging a person, writing an article, renovating a house, designing a product, giving a performance, building a prototype, leading a project or whatever.

Start by looking at the first example of doing such work. What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed to do creative work? Move on to the second example and ask similar questions.

Looking at the examples you have given, can you see any recurring patterns? If so, do they give any clues to your creative style of working? One person summarised their style in the following way.

My Creative Style Is:

To focus on something I feel passionately about.

To gather information and create a picture of the end goal.

To let the thoughts sink in, relax and create a plan for achieving the picture.

To set a deadline for completing the work – because I work better with deadlines. 

To organise my working time in blocks – be it hours, days or weeks – so that I have time to absorb myself in the work. 

To make the best use of my prime times – the times of the day when I have most energy – to do the perspiration part and perform the work.

To go for walks during the day to freshen my perspective and these sometimes lead to creative breakthroughs.

To be persistent and, like a sculptor chipping away at a giant stone, and keep going until the work feels finished.

To know the work is ready when it looks right, feels right and I can say to myself: “Yes, I have done my best.” 

To relax for a while and then focus on the next thing I feel passionately about doing.

Let’s imagine you know elements of your creative style. How can you follow these principles in the future? If appropriate, make an action plan for taking these steps and doing good work.

“That sounds fine,” somebody may say. “But how can I organise my time to get the jobs done?”

One approach is to organise your time in blocks. This is often easier to do if you are working by yourself rather than interacting a lot with other people.

Creative people, for example, often aim to manage their energy in this way. They relax, rehearse and refocus their energies towards achieving a specific goal.

Entering their version of the arena, they click into action and are fully engaged. They then do their best to get the desired results.

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Creative people keep doing the right things in the right way every day. They have elements of OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Discipline rather than Disorder. They keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance.

Every person has their own rhythm for living, working, resting and other activities. Some people learn to find and follow their chosen pattern. They are then able to channel their energy in a positive way.

This is fine if a person is working alone, but it can be challenging when working with others in a team or organisation. Life can then be full of interruptions that disturb your rhythm.

So can how can you then manage your energy and organise your time in blocks? One person explained their strategy in the following way.

“I began by focusing on my working week. Some of my work was satisfying, but sometimes I felt disjointed. It seemed like I was fitting into other people’s patterns, rather than my own.

“Some give-and-take is obviously necessary when you work for a company. After all, the business won’t change to fit your rules, but things felt out of sync. So I sat down and planned the best way to follow my natural rhythm during the working week.

“My first step was to identify when and where I worked best. My most productive times in the office are in the morning – between 7.30 and 11.30. So I organised my diary to, as far as possible, be in charge of my own agenda during those times.

“My most creative work is done in a quiet place away from interruptions. So I found a quiet corner to work on my laptop away from the open plan office.

“I felt quite energetic working in the office on Monday and Tuesday, but then wanted to be on the road, visiting clients.

“So that is how I arranged my diary. Meeting customers on Wednesday and Thursday, with Friday spent working from home.

“Internal meeting remain a challenge, however, and I prefer those where I know the agenda. So I did two things.

“First, I emailed my boss the day before our regular catch ups to outline what I wanted to discuss. I did this diplomatically, of course, underlining we would be following his agenda.

“Second, when asked to attend other internal meetings, I requested the agenda before I accepted the request.

“Taking these steps helped me to be much more productive. I now feel more in sync with my preferred working pattern.”

You will have your own pattern for delivering the goods. You may choose to follow your style for doing creative work, follow your daily disciplines, organise your time in blocks or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind what works for you, describe the specific principles you can follow to do your best to perform creative work.

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Contentment

The Oxford Dictionary defines contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Sometimes this can come from developing a sense of gratitude and appreciating life. This can lead to a feeling of peace.

Sometimes it can come after doing your best. When doing creative work, for example, you may flow, focus, finish and, as a by-product, gain fulfilment. You may also experience a feeling of positive exhaustion.

Different people feel contentment by doing different things. Here are some of answers that people give when exploring this theme.

I get a feeling of contentment when: 

Being with our children … Working in the garden … Singing in the choir … Completing a piece of creative work … Passing on knowledge to people … Seeing people develop … Feeling I have done my best. 

During the past 30 years there have been many studies that have explored the characteristics demonstrated by people who live happy lives. Here are some of the themes that these studies have highlighted.

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You will have your own way of developing a sense of contentment and happiness in your life. One approach to making this happen is to do creative work that produces these feelings.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to focus on the steps of control, creative work and contentment? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to encourage a person, improve your health, nurture your garden, renovate a building, pass on knowledge, lead a project, create something beautiful or whatever.

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

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to focus on the steps of control, creative work and contentment. 

Describe the specific things you can do to focus on these steps. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of focusing on these steps.

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