The Art of Strengths Coaching

F is for The Flowing Way  

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to flow, focus, do fine work, finish and, as a by-product, sometimes find fulfilment. Different people take these steps in different ways.

You may take some of these steps when doing something that is satisfying. You may be doing a specific activity, tackling a challenge or working to achieve a picture of success.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did much of the pioneering work on flow. He described his findings in books such as Flow: The psychology of optimal experience and Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.

Flow experiences are those where you become completely absorbed and time goes away, says Mihaly. He explains this process in the following way.

A person starts by choosing to tackle a stimulating task they have a chance of completing. They set clear goals and embark on the work. They enjoy a sense of control, concentrate on what they are doing and get immediate feedback.

The person may then experience a deep and effortless involvement that removes the frustrations of everyday life. They find the experience is so enjoyable that time goes away. Their sense of self disappears when doing the task but afterwards their self emerges stronger.

Mihaly’s work led to many people researching the steps people take to experience such feelings. As mentioned earlier, one approach is for a person to flow, focus, do fine work and finish. They may then sometimes find a sense of fulfilment.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you followed some of these steps? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have been encouraging a person, playing a sport, doing a creative project, tackling a challenge or doing another activity. You may have been working as a counsellor, carpenter, designer, medic, coach, leader or in another role.

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 followed some of the steps involved in the flowing way.

Describe the specific things you did to follow these steps.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result.

Imagine that you want to follow some of these steps in the future. Let’s explore how you can make this happen.

Flow

There are several ways to take this step. You can do positive activities or follow principles that enable you to flow. If appropriate, you can encourage people to follow principles that enable them to flow. Let’s consider some of these approaches.

You can do positive activities
that enable you to flow
 

The most obvious route is to do the activities where you go into a state of flow. You may do this when writing, dancing, walking, gardening, playing a sport or whatever. One approach is to ask yourself the following questions. 

What are the specific activities that give me positive energy – even when I think about them? When am I in my element – at ease and yet able to excel? When do I enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal?  

When do I feel most creative? When do I go through the process of absorption, adventure and achievement? When do I flow, focus, finish and sometimes get a sense of fulfilment?  

People who go into a state of flow often enjoy the journey as much as reaching the goal. Mihaly explains this approach in his book Flow.

The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever.

The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself.  

The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognising that you are a flow.  

The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going.

You can follow principles
that enable you to flow

This is a route taken by people who learn from their positive history. It is one followed by great workers, sports people, creative artists and others who want to go into their equivalent of the zone.

During the 1970s I worked with sports psychologists who helped athletes to continue playing their ‘A Game’. They asked athletes to recall what they had done in the past to deliver superb performances.

Some athletes were reluctant at first because they felt it may destroy things that came naturally. After some time, however, they began to clarify how to produce such performances more consistently.

Here are some of the questions that the sports psychologists invited the athletes to explore. You can adapt these in your own way and then follow these principles to flow more in the future.

When have you experienced a sense of flow or gone into your equivalent of the zone? What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed? How did you translate these into action? What happened as a result of you taking these steps? 

Looking ahead, can you think of a specific event when would you like to follow these principles in the future? How can you follow these principles in the specific situation? How can you translate these into action? What else can you do to do your best in the situation?

You can encourage people to follow
principles that enable them to flow

Imagine that you want to help other people to flow. You may want to do this when helping an individual or when leading a team that helps people to flow, do fine work and find fulfilment.

It is relatively simple to take this step when working with an individual. You may be helping them as an educator, therapist, coach, mentor, trusted advisor or in another role. You can aim:

To clarify the specific activities in which they want to flow; 

To clarify the principles they can follow – either by learning from their own positive history or by learning from others – to flow;

To provide encourage them to follow these principles and provide them with practical tools they can use to flow.

You can start by encouraging a person to focus on a specific activity they want to pursue. It is then possible to offer them practical tools they can use to do fine work as individuals. 

Imagine you lead a team. You can create a framework that enables people to flow, do fine work and find fulfilment. One approach to doing this is to encourage people to build on their strengths, do superb work and achieve success. You can do this by aiming:

To create a positive environment in which motivated people can achieve peak performance; 

To encourage people to keep focusing on the purpose, principles and picture of success; 

To co-ordinate people’s strengths so that they do superb work and achieve the picture of success.

You can discover more about how to create such frameworks via the following links. These describe how to co-ordinate people’s strengths to achieve the picture of success. Taking these steps can enable people to do fine work as individuals and as teams.

The Super Teams Approach

Co-ordinating People’s Strengths

Imagine that you have clarified a specific activity where you flow and that you want to pursue this more in the future. This calls for moving on to the next step.

Focus

Today it is common to hear about focusing, but it is important for a person to clarify what they actually want to focus on. They can, for example, choose to concentrate on the following themes:

To pursue their personal values and translate these into action; 

To pursue a spiritual faith, a vocation or a sense of mission; 

To pursue a specific activity, a project or a specific goal.

Daniel Goleman described the importance of concentrating in his book Focus: The Hidden Driver Of Excellence. Here is a short video in which he describes several different types of focus.

Imagine that you want to pursue an activity where you flow. You may then wish to translate this into a specific project where you can do fine work.

You may aim to encourage a person, teach a class, run a mentoring session, renovate a house, lead a team or do another activity. This will involve the following aspects of focusing. It will be important:

To clarify your picture of success – the real results to achieve – and to make this your ongoing focus;

To clarify the key strategies you can follow to achieve the picture of success and to make pursuing these your ongoing strategic focus; 

To clarify the best way to make good use of your days – such as capitalising on the times you have lots of energy – so that when you do the work you will be fully focused.

Different people work through these themes in different ways. One approach is for them to focus on doing a specific project. The following exercise is one that helps them to make their plans. You will, of course, make plans in your own way.

Fine Work

Imagine that you are embarking on doing a specific project. How can you do fine work? There are many definitions for such work. These include the following:

Great Workmanship … Excellent … High Quality … Very Good … Outstanding … Superior.

People who do work where they flow are more likely to put their heart into what they are doing. They may be encouraging a person, cooking food, painting, playing music, renovating a house or doing another activity.

Kahlil Gibran described this approach in his writing. Here are some excerpts from what he said.

Work is love made visible

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear the cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in the house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

Seth Godin, the marketer and blogger, believes it is vital to do something we care about. We can then put our heart into doing the work.

Below are some extracts from an article Seth wrote on this theme. You can discover more via the following link.

Seth Godin On Caring

When we care enough, we raise the bar 

Practice alone doesn’t produce work that matters … No, that only comes from caring. From caring enough to leap, to bleed for the art, to go out on the ledge, where it’s dangerous.

When we care enough, we raise the bar, not just for ourselves, but for our customer, our audience and our partners. 

Seth encourages people to focus on what they care about rather than be concerned about their calling. Here is a short piece he wrote on this topic.

Seth Godin On Your Caring Rather Than Calling

In search of your calling

I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

There are various aspects to doing fine work. These involve doing the actual fine work, finding solutions to challenges and developing fresh thinking that sometimes provides breakthroughs. Let’s explore these themes.

Fine Work

Great workers pursue their chosen path towards doing fine work. They may aim to build on their strengths, follow their successful style and maintain high professional standards.

Such workers follow their chosen rhythm. They rehearse what they are going to do and click into action when entering their version of the arena. They then aim to keep doing the right things in the right way to get the right results.

Finding Solutions

Great workers anticipate and aim to prevent problems. When unexpected challenges do occur, however, they use their chosen method for finding solutions. Different people do this in different ways.

Good decision makers, for example, sometimes buy time before making a decision. They do this when working as a leader, paramedic, crisis manager or in another role. When faced by a critical situation, they stay calm and take the following steps.

They clarify what is happening and do something to manage the immediate situation – such as stopping the haemorrhaging or creating stability; 

They clarify the real results to achieve, explore the possible options for going forward and settle on their chosen strategy; 

They pursue their strategy, get some quick wins and do everything possible to achieve the picture of success.

You will have your own approach to finding solutions. Sometimes this may involve taking the next step.

Fresh Thinking

Great workers sometimes develop fresh approaches to delivering the goods. This may also involve making creative breakthroughs that help others to succeed. How to help people take this step?

Many teachers now help young people to learn the Four C’s of Twenty-First Century Skills. These are Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication.

The need to develop these skills emerged from research done with employers. They believe it vital for employees to have such skills to thrive in the modern work place.

Whilst the Four C’s have been labelled as Twenty-First Century Skills, many educators believe these are eternal skills. Great educators have made these central to helping young people develop.

Ron Berger is one such educator. He believes the purpose of education is to help young people to learn, to develop as human beings and to be good citizens.

This often involves encouraging students to do deep learning. They can then develop the skills of learning how to learn, create and deliver fine work.

Ron believes in helping young people to do beautiful work, which can also involve them taking beautiful actions. Below is a video from a Deep Learning Conference in which Ron explains these themes.

The video is long, but well worth watching. People who do beautiful work can build on the best of the past and also develop new thinking that provides creative breakthroughs.

Finish

Imagine you are doing fine work. The next step will be to finish. How to take this step? One approach is to follow your successful pattern for finishing.

Everybody has a successful pattern for finishing. They may have followed this when writing an article, running a marathon, renovating a house, teaching a workshop, leading a team or doing another activity. Bearing this in mind, it can be useful to ask yourself the following questions. 

Looking back, when have I finished something successfully? What did I do right then? What were the principles I followed? How did I translate these into action? How can I follow these principles to finish things in the future? 

Looking ahead, what is the piece of work I want to finish? What are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? On a scale 0-10, how high is my motivation to finish it? What will be the pluses and minuses involved? Am I prepared to accept the whole package?

How can I do my best to finish the work? How can I set aside time to do it properly? How can I follow my successful principles for finishing – plus maybe add other skills – to finish the work? How can I encourage myself on the journey? What else can I do to achieve the picture of success?

Different people have different approaches towards finishing. They also have different standards regarding their picture of success. One approach is for them to do their best to achieve excellence.

Ron Berger encourages students to develop the habit of delivering excellence. Now the Chief Academic Officer for EL Learning, he has spent many years working with children. Here is a piece written when he was working in a small school.

Fostering an ethic of excellence

For 25 years I’ve led a double life. I’m a full-time classroom teacher in a public school. To make ends meet for my family, I’ve worked during the summers, and sometimes weekends, as a carpenter.

In carpentry there is no higher compliment builders give each other than this: That person is a craftsman.  

This one word says it all. It connotes someone who has integrity, knowledge, dedication, and pride in work – someone who thinks carefully and does things well. 

I want a classroom full of craftsmen – students whose work is strong, accurate, and beautiful; students who are proud of what they do and respect themselves and others. 

In my classroom I have students who come from homes full of books and students whose families own almost no books at all.  

I have students for whom reading, writing, and math come easily, and students whose brains can’t follow a line of text without reversing words and letters.  

I have students whose lives are generally easy, and students with physical disabilities and health or family problems that make life a struggle.

I want them all to be craftsmen. Some may take a little longer; some may need to use extra strategies and resources. In the end, they need to be proud of their work, and their work needs to be worthy of pride.

Ron has gone on to provide teachers with many practical tools they can use to help students deliver excellence. One of the most well-known is the video called Austin’s Butterfly. This showed how Austin, a first-grader, developed his original drawing of a butterfly.

Below is a picture of his first version and his final version. This is followed by a video in which Ron explains how Austin was helped to improve his work.

Fulfilment

Imagine that you have done fine work. You may then experience a sense of fulfilment. Sometimes this can happen during the work, sometimes at the end.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that this can happen for both individuals and teams. He describes one example in the following way.

Surgeons say that during a difficult operation they have the sensation that the entire operating team is a single organism, moved by the same purpose.

They describe it as a ‘ballet’ in which the individual is subordinated to the group performance, and all involved share in a feeling of harmony and power.

Mihaly believes that we can learn from such fulfilling times. He explains this in the following way.

We have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate.

On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is therefore something that we make happen.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may want to take some of the steps involved in the flowing way?

You may want to do this when encouraging a person, playing a sport, doing a creative project, tackling a challenge or doing another activity. You may want to do it when working as counsellor, carpenter, designer, medic, coach, leader or in another role.

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 follow some of the steps involved in the flowing way. 

Describe the specific things you can do to follow these steps. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result.

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