The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Approach Towards Finding Peace

There are many ways to live life. One approach is for people to focus on certain themes on the way towards finding peace.

This is an approach I have explored in my work over the past fifty years. During the early stages this involved helping young people to work towards achieving their life goals.

Bearing this in mind, I interviewed people in different fields to understand their life journeys. I wanted to learn about their aims and how they had worked towards achieving their goals.

My guess was that most people would say that they wanted to be loved, happy and successful. This often proved to be the case, but different people had different definitions of success.

Some saw success as raising a happy family; some saw it as making money; some saw it as leaving a positive legacy. Some saw it as a combination of other elements.

Different people had different approaches towards achieving their aims. Sometimes their approaches helped themselves and other people. Sometimes they hurt themselves or other people.

The interviews highlighted the principles that people could follow to achieve their life goals. These often mirrored the eternal principles that have been passed down by sages over the years.

These included being true to yourself, being kind, doing your best, continuing to improve and helping to build a better world. The challenging part was translating these principles into daily actions.

Since then I have continued to interview people about their aims. These have included people who work in therapy, education, sports, business and other walks of life. Here are some of the topics we explore.

 

The interviews reveal common themes. People want to be loved, happy and successful, but many want something more. They want to feel at peace. Such peace comes in different forms. It can come from:

A person having a sense of purpose and following their principles on the way towards feeling at peace. 

A person enjoying a sense of calm or harmony – such as within themselves, being at one with nature or when having another experience – and then feeling at peace.  

A person doing their personal best in a situation – aiming to produce peak performance – and then feeling at peace.

This article looks at the first approach. Before exploring this, however, it may be useful to focus on your own experiences.

Looking back on your life, can you think of a situation when you took certain steps on the road towards feeling at peace? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have followed your moral compass when helping a person, doing a project or even choosing to walk away from a piece of work. You may have done so when making a tough decision, doing what you believed in – even though it was risky – or doing another activity.

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 pursued certain steps and – as a result – experienced a sense of peace.

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps. 

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

Different people choose different ways to work towards a sense of peace. One approach is for them to focus on the themes of positive attitude, purpose, principles, peak performance and peace. Let’s explore these steps.

Positive Attitude

Some people choose to have a positive attitude. They have a sense of gratitude and aim to enjoy life. They aim to build on what they can control rather than worry about what they can’t control.

Such people are often positive realists. They focus on possibilities and are also good at reading reality. They demonstrate this quality in the specific activity in which they excel.

Going into the challenging situation, they quickly see what is actually happening. Staying calm, they then use their ability to take the following steps.

They clarify the real results to achieve – the picture of success.

They clarify how to build on the positive things in the situation – such as people’s strengths and successful patterns – and also find positive solutions to the challenges.

They then aim to apply their skills to get positive results and achieve the picture of success. 

Imagine you have a positive attitude. It can then be useful to focus on the next step. 

Purpose

People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do something they believe in and work towards achieving a stimulating goal.

Sometimes this can involve pursuing a short-term purpose, such as completing a satisfying task. Sometimes it can involve doing something each day towards achieving their life goals.

Sometimes it can involve serving something greater than themselves. It can mean following a spiritual faith, a vocation or a sense of mission. Pursuing this route often provides them with the strength they need to tackle challenges in their life and work.

Looking at your own life or work, can you think of something you want to do that would give you a sense of purpose? How can you translate this into action?

What are the real results you want to achieve that would also be an expression of this purpose? What is the picture of success?

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

Describe the specific thing you really want to do that would give you a sense of purpose.

Describe the real results you want to achieve by doing this thing that will also be an expression of the purpose. This is the picture of success.

Principles

Some people believe in following certain principles in life. They aim to follow these principles in personal or professional situations. 

Imagine that you have begun to explore your purpose. You may want to encourage other people, create beauty, help people find satisfying work, pass on a positive legacy or pursue another activity.

How can you translate this into action? One approach is to clarify the principles you want to follow in your daily life and work. The Dalai Lama says, for example:

My religion is kindness.

He therefore tries to express kindness in his daily life when communicating with people, giving television interviews and doing other activities. He keeps focusing on the core drivers in his life.

Many individuals take this approach. They clarify their purpose and the principles they want to follow. They aim to express these principles in personal and professional situations.

Such people prepare properly before going into a situation. One approach is for them to focus on the following themes.

The Particular Situation

The specific situation I am going into is:

*

The Picture Of Success

The real results to achieve in the situation are:

*

* 

* 

The Principles

The specific principles I want to
follow in my life and work are:

*

*

* 

The specific things I can do to follow my principles and do
my best to achieve the desired results in the situation are: 

* 

* 

*

Such individuals aim to do their best in the situation. Returning to their centre, they then aim to relax, re-centre and refocus.

This enables them to keep drawing strength from the central beliefs in their life. They then explore how they can follow their principles in the next situation.

A person who takes this approach is more likely to be centred. They keep returning to their inner compass. They then focus on how they can follow their chosen principles in the different situations they encounter in life.

There are, of course, both pluses and minuses to trying to follow your principles. Here are some of these.

The Pluses Are:

You may find that the principles provide an internal compass you can refer to when making decisions. 

You may feel more at ease by doing what you believe in and following long-standing principles that serve you well in many situations.

You may find that following the principles produces tangible benefits – such as feeling you have done your best and also delivering success.  

The Potential Minuses Are:

You may find that following the principles can mean making tough decisions and sometimes losing out on short-term gains.

You may find that other people criticise you or reject your efforts for following these principles.

You may sometimes fail to follow your principles and feel you have been untrue to yourself.

People who find peace often try to live in what the existentialists call good faith. They aim to follow their principles, especially when times get tough. Living in good faith gives them even more strength to pursue their chosen path each day.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you have are focusing on pursuing a specific purpose. What are the principles you want to follow to translate these into action?

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

Describe the specific thing you really want to do that would give you a sense of purpose. 

Describe the principles you want to follow to translate this purpose into action.

Describe the specific things you can actually do to translate these principles into action.

Peak Performance 

There are many models for doing your best. One approach is to focus on preparation, professionalism and peak performance.

Imagine that you clear on your purpose and the principles you aim to follow. You may already have done some work on exploring the specific steps you can take towards achieving success.

Bearing these in mind, it can then be useful to focus on doing some serious planning. Let’s explore some of the ways you may aim to take this step.

 

Preparation

Great workers are like mountain climbers and prepare properly before setting out on an expedition. Looking ahead, they also clarify the chances of achieving their goals. They then plan how to do whatever is possible to increase the chances of success.

Such workers often have several back-up plans. They may have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C to deal with different scenarios. They then settle on their action plans for achieving their aims.

Arie de Geus, the author of The Living Company, spent many years helping companies to do scenario planning. He found that peak performers develop what he called a memory of the future.

They constantly envisage what might happen in their chosen field. They also develop a repertoire of tools for dealing with such challenges. This means they are several steps ahead when these situations become a reality.

Different people use different approaches to planning, but they often explore similar themes. Bearing in mind what they can control in the situation, they focus on the following steps.

The What

They clarify the real results to achieve – the picture of success.

The Why

They clarify the benefits – to all the various stakeholders – of achieving the goals. 

The How

They clarify the principles they want to follow to give themselves the greatest chance of success. They then clarify how to translate these into action on the road towards achieving the picture of success. 

They clarify the resources required and how to implement the right principles with the right people in the right way. They also clarify the potential challenges they will face and how to manage these challenges successfully. 

They clarify the chances of success. Bearing in mind what they can control, they ask:

“On a scale 0-10 what are the chances of achieving the goals? What are the specific things that can be done to increase the chances of success”

They then take practical steps to increase these chances of success.

The Who

They clarify who will do what – including the professional standards they will need to demonstrate – on the road towards achieving the picture of success. 

The When

They clarify the specific action plan – including what should be delivered by when – on the road towards achieving the picture of success.

Great workers practice how they will perform on the day. Sometimes this involves physical rehearsal, sometimes it involves mental rehearsal. They continue rehearsing until these actions become part of their muscle memory.

Different people practice in different ways. One approach is to start by focusing on their picture of success. They then take the following steps.

They practice following their chosen principles and translating these into action on the way towards achieving success.

They practice managing the potential challenges they may face on the way towards achieving success.

They again practice following their chosen principles and translating these into action on the way towards achieving success.

Such workers make sure the principles they want to follow become second nature. Stepping their version of the arena, they click into action and focus on the next step.

Professionalism

Great workers keep following their chosen principles and aim to perform superb work. They follow a certain rhythm and keep doing the right things in the right way to get the right results.

A person will aim to deliver certain professional standards in their role as a nurse, chef, educator, engineer or whatever. Good trusted advisors, for example, aim to deliver some of the following standards.

Great workers also embody the concept of Kaizen – constant improvement. They aim to do superb work but also keep doing reality checks.

Bearing this in mind, they focus on: a) The specific things I am doing well and how I can do more of these in the future: b) The specific things I can do better and how. They then implement these ideas to keep improving.

Let’s return to the activity you want to pursue that will give you a sense of purpose. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the specific things you can do to be super professional when doing your chosen activity.

Peak Performance

Great workers continue to be professional. They then aim to do their personal best and deliver peak performances. Imagine that you want to take this step in your own way. Here are three approaches

You can pursue a sense of purpose, practice and then do your personal best to achieve peak performance.

You can learn from your own positive history and apply the lessons to achieve peak performance. 

You can apply the lessons from flow psychology and learn to flow, focus and finish.

Let’s explore each of these steps, beginning by focusing on the importance of practice in achieving peak performance.

The Purpose And
Practice Approach

Charles Garfield described this approach in his book Peak Performers. Published in 1986, this outlined the steps people took to do their best.

The book was aimed at people in business, but Charles said he first heard the phrase peak performance from a cancer patient. The patient said:

Staying alive these days is my peak performance.

Charles went on to study great workers in many fields. These included people in medicine, sports, business and the NASA work in which he was participating.

He found that many people had the ability to do superb work, but it often depended on them having a sense of purpose. They could then follow their principles and work to achieve their picture of success. He described this in the following way.

Charles found that such people focused on their picture of success. They then kept practicing how to achieve their aims. He described this in the following way.

I’ve discovered that numerous peak performers use the skill of mental rehearsal and visualisation. They mentally run through important events before they happen.

Peak performers develop powerful mental images of the behaviour that will lead to the desired results. They see in their mind’s eye the result they want, and the actions leading to it. 

Charles illustrated these points by describing the work of pianist Liu Chi Kung, who was placed second in the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition. Liu was imprisoned for seven years during the Cultural Revolution in China and was denied the use of a piano.

When Liu toured soon after his release critics were astonished to find his musicianship was better than ever. One person asked how he had managed to retain such skill, because he had no chance to practice. Liu replied in the following way. 

I did practice every day. I rehearsed every piece I had played, note for note, in my mind.

The Positive History Approach

Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has done superb work and overcome challenges. Everybody has followed successful principles, even if only for a few minutes.

This is an organic approach that helps people to find these patterns. It helps them to build on their positive habits – plus develop other skills – to achieve success.

Why follow this approach? People are emotional beings. They need to believe in their guts that following a certain strategy will achieve success. The Positive History approach nurtures belief by helping people to build on the successful patterns they already have within them.

Imagine that you want to achieve peak performance. One approach is to go through the following steps.

Describe a similar situation in the past when you performed superbly and achieved your picture of success. 

Describe the specific things you did then – the principles you followed and how you translated these into action – to achieve your picture of success. 

Describe the specific things you can do in the future to follow these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to perform superbly and work to achieve your picture of success. 

The Positive History approach 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 successful principles they know will work in a situation.

The Flow, Focus
And Finish Approach

Great workers often go into their equivalent of the zone to achieve peak performance. Different people do this in different ways. One approach is for them to flow, focus and finish.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered much of the work in this field and published his findings in Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. He said that flow experiences are those where you become completely absorbed in an activity and time goes away.

How can you achieve a state of flow? One approach is to do something stimulating and stretching. Mihaly says that you may then go through some of the following stages.

You concentrate fully on what you are doing, set clear goals and believe you have a chance of achieving success. 

You have a sense of control over your actions, do satisfying work and get immediate feedback.

You experience a deep and effortless involvement that removes the frustrations of everyday life. 

You find your concern for self disappears, but paradoxically your sense of self emerges stronger.

You find the experience is so enjoyable that your sense of time disappears.

You keep doing your best, keep developing and sometimes achieve your picture of success. 

Mihaly and his colleagues interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life when studying flow. These included factory workers in Chicago, farmers in Italy teenagers in Tokyo and paraplegics recovering from accidents. He explained some of the findings in the following way.

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. 

Great workers sometimes go into flow. Working hard get to a certain point, they then relax. Moving into another dimension, they aim flow, focus and finish. Sometimes this results in them delivering peak performances.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Imagine that you are focusing on pursuing a specific purpose. How can you do your personal best to achieve peak performance?

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

Describe the specific thing you really want to do that would give you a sense of purpose. 

Describe the specific things you can do to do your personal best and aim to achieve peak performance. 

Peace 

Many people want to be loved, happy and successful. Many also want to enjoy a sense of peace. Different people achieve this state in different ways.

One approach is for a person to follow their principles and do their personal best. People who feel they have done their best in life are more likely to have a sense of peace.

Each person will have their own set of principles. Bearing this in mind, however, there are some human principles that are admired across many civilisations. Translating some of these into action can sometimes bring a sense of peace.

Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson explored this topic in their book Character Strengths and Virtues. Working with a team of researchers, they studied the qualities of moral excellence that are admired across different philosophies, religions and cultures. These included looking at virtues in the following fields.

The Buddhist Tradition … The Taoist Tradition … The Hindu Tradition … The Christian Tradition … The Confucian Tradition … The Jewish Tradition … The Muslim Tradition … The Bahá’í Tradition … The Humanistic Tradition … The Altruistic Tradition.

The African Traditions … The Asian Traditions … The European Traditions … The North American Traditions … The South American Traditions … The Pacific Traditions … The Various Philosophical Traditions … The Traditions Embodied in Various Guilds, Professions and Social Movements.

The researchers interviewed over 15,000 people in different cultures. After extensive research, the team settled on six key virtues, though these are obviously interlinked. Martin writes.

When we look we see that there are six virtues, which we find endorsed across cultures, and these break down into 24 strengths.  

The six virtues that we find are non-arbitrary – first, a wisdom and knowledge cluster; second, a courage cluster; third, virtues like love and humanity; fourth, a justice cluster; fifth a temperance, moderation cluster; and sixth a spirituality, transcendence cluster. 

We sent people up to northern Greenland, and down to the Masai, and are involved in a 70-nation study in which we look at the ubiquity of these. Indeed, we’re beginning to have the view that those six virtues are just as much a part of human nature as walking on two feet are.

Below is a summary of their findings. You can discover more via the following link.

Human Virtues

You will have your own principles, but it can be useful to bear in mind these findings about the human qualities that are admired. If you wish, you can then try following some of these in your own way. Sometimes this may lead to feeling a sense of peace.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a potential situation when you may want to do your personal best to find a sense of peace?

You may want to do this when encouraging another person, building on your strengths or pursuing a creative project. You may want to do so when making a tough decision, translating your beliefs into action or doing another activity.

How can you choose your attitude in the situation? How can you focus on a specific purpose and follow your principles? How can you do your personal best, achieve peak performance and maybe gain a sense of peace?

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 pursue certain steps and experience a sense of peace.

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

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

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