Part 2 | Five Reasons Why You Should Care About Developing Your Strengths

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July 29, 2016

Reason #2: It leads us out of denial and self-doubt and into greatness

When making a big decision, we’ve all probably asked ourselves, “Is this a springboard or a trapdoor?”  One reason that we ask this question is because most of us have been instructed to try to be and become people who we are not necessarily meant to be and become.  We, in various ways, are taught to ignore our strengths and focus on our weaknesses.  This creates an inner-climate of self-doubt and denial.  Pretty simple, right?

Donald O. Clifton, the father of strengths-based psychology, said it best: If your senses are numbed with delusion and denial, you will stop looking for these true strengths and wind up living a second-rate version of someone’s life rather than a worldclass version of your own.

Identifying our strengths—that is, identifying the areas that we naturally (and joyously) excel at—gives us an intelligible foundation for personal growth, one upon which we can point to and develop concrete actions.

Without a strengths perspective, we might get caught saying, “I want to help people and make the world a better place,” which is, at best, vague and abstract.  However, once we’ve identified our areas of strengths (our strengths zones) we can say something like this, “I know that I can use my powers of empathy and my love of ideas to connect with people one-on-one and develop personalized strategies and solutions that change the world one person at a time.”

Getting specific about who we are allows us to get specific about what we can offer the world.

When we try to become more like someone else, we become less of who we are and more of someone who we cannot be.  We can, of course, continue to admire, honor, and support others—but, let’s make sure that we, too, are admiring, honoring, and supporting ourselves in the process.

Imagine the inside of a watch.  Some gears are bigger than others.  Some sprockets play a more noticeable role than others.  And, some parts are hidden completely from sight.  However, large or small, none of the mechanisms inside of the watch are “extra”.  They are all important.  This can be proven by removing even the tiniest little spring from deep inside the apparatus and observing that the whole network stops working.

The point is this: Imagine if the little spring was trying only to be like the big gear.  Even if it somehow succeeded in becoming the big gear—the watch still wouldn’t work—that is because the watch didn’t need another big gear…it needed the little spring to, literally, be itself and do what it was designed to do.

Our strengths give us insights into how we can be who and what we were designed to be.  From there, we can take action and do what we are designed to do.  And, do it well.

Action: Write down a few phrases about who you feel you are and what you feel you do best.  Now, ask someone close to you—someone whom you trust and love—who they see you as.  Ask them who they think you and and what they see you doing best in life.  Compare the lists.  Do they add up?  Are you trying to have others see you as who you wish you were and who you want to be?  Or, are you letting others see who you actually are? 

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Zach Bio copy

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 1 | Five Reasons Why You Should Care About Developing Your Strengths

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July 26, 2016

Reason #1: It Starts At Home

Bringing out the best in another person means bringing out the best in our selves.

Take, for example, the oxygen mask on an airplane.  It has more in common with our path of personal development than first meets the eye.

That is, if we’ve been even once on an airplane, we’ve heard the phrase, “Secure your own mask before assisting others.”

And, metaphorically speaking, as it relates to our own growth and vision, we cannot do much good for the development of others until we are fully engaged in our own development.

Our strengths give us a roadmap to where our energy, efforts, and focus are best served.  Research has established over and again that we grow most in our areas of strength.  So, by beginning there, we are likely to save ourselves from the frustrations of a tortoise-paced growth curve that comes with focusing on our weaknesses.

It’s true, as a culture, we’ve been indoctrinated into the world of “finding what’s wrong and then fixing it”, but does that work?

Developing a strengths mindset means asking ourselves, “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people?”  And, how can we grow in that perspective unless we are applying it “at home” in our own lives.  This means learning and practicing this view in all that we do—including, when we look in the mirror—and finding what is right.

Like always, once we’ve identified a thing, we can take action around it.  And, focusing on what is “broken” is like trying to see something that isn’t yet there.

Doesn’t it seem easier to find and develop what is already there, what is naturally occurring, and what speaks for itself?

Action: Name it.  Set the timer on your phone and take 5 minutes to write down a list of 10+ action words that describe what you do best.  It might look something like this: cooking, drawing, public speaking, being a friend, researching, skiing, organizing, parenting, driving, creating solutions, making lists, etc.  Next, take your list and circle the words on it that describe things that you love doing.  These will be actions that come naturally to you and that make you feel alive.  These words point to your strengths.  Choose one and ask yourself, “What basic skills are involved in this action?”  Then, ask yourself, “What is one action that I could take to develop this skill, starting NOW?”

 Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Zach Bio copy

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 6 | Strengths and Meditation

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July 12, 2016

8 Ways To Meditate Without Meditating, Part Two (4-8)

 If sitting quietly in a room and observing a candle is not your thing, remember, we can mediate without “meditating”.  In fact, every action and every moment of our day can be a part of one grand meditation when our intention is to practice being fully present for it all. 

Nature Meditation 

Schedule 10-15 minutes to just sit in nature.  If you live in the city, find a park or a quiet space outside.  Touch the earth, take off your shoes, lie back in the grass, or sit in the sun.  The point is to make time to sit and be and do nothing.  Allow your mind to wander and shift—the idea is to have no “agenda” and to sit and do nothing in a natural setting.  Tune in to how your mood and thoughts might shift from the beginning to the end of the session.  Do you feel like your life would be different if you spent more time outdoors?  Why or why not?

Conversation Meditation 

This is similar to the “listening meditation”, only, this time, you will be with another person.  Sit and talk with someone for a few minutes with the aim of making them the absolute center of your focus.  Really put your personal self aside and point the spotlight of your attention on them.  You don’t need to tell them what you are doing, you only need to hold the intention of being utterly present with the person.  Observe their voice, their body language, and every spoken word.  Hold eye contact and send them thoughts of peace, joy, and love as you converse.  Ask yourself, “How is this different from a ‘normal’ conversation?” and “How would my daily interactions with people be different if I brought this energy with me everyday?”  Do you notice anything different about the direction and tone of the conversation when you practice this?

Eating Meditation

You can do this with a meal or a snack or even a beverage.  Sit quietly and take each bite/sip slowly, try to taste each and every atom of the food.  Be totally present in the sensation of each flavor, texture, and smell.  Eat deliberately.  Don’t take your next bite until you’ve finished the previous one. Think to yourself about what words you would use to describe the quality of each bite.  It’s interesting to try this meditation with different types of food: fast food, earthgrown food, processed food, fresh food, and candy.  (Note: Coffee happens to be a multisensory drink that lends itself well to this practice.) 

People Watching Meditation 

This can be a fun one, and it’s generally stress free.  Sit on your lunch break or after work or on a weekend morning and observe your fellow human beings.  Put aside your phone, your book, and your to-do lists and just do some peaceful people watching.  Listen to your mind as you do so.  What thoughts rise first to the surface?  How, exactly, do you people watch?  What do you notice about others?  Are your first thoughts about their clothing, their gait, or their appearance?  Do you tune into their mood and their energy?  Do you make up stories about who they might be, what they might be thinking, and/or where they might be going?  As you watch others, do you gain insight into your own life?  Are you someone who can learn about yourself by observing others?

Action: Try exploring your specific style of meditation for three days in a row.  Are you someone who can concentrate for long periods of time?  Do you generally operate in short bursts? 

Are you looking to find greater focus, more balance, groundedness, creativity, and/or peace of mind?  Why exactly do you want to meditate?  Do you feel like you “should”?  If so, why?  Are you expecting it to “be” something?  If so, what and why?

So, choose a length of time and a style that feels like it suits your general mode of operation.  Set your timer and experiment.  Keeping an “Meditation Journal” can help with accountability and tracking your thoughts and ideas as they evolve.  Remember to practice an attitude of allowing—challenge yourself to go into each session with an open-mind, one in which you allow the experience to be what it is, without trying to steer or control it.  Practice just being with it.  As it is.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Zach Bio copy

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Transformation Coach.

Part 5 | Strengths and Meditation

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July 8, 2016

Without any effort at all…thoughts arise.  So, what is meditation?

Think of a winding, rushing river.  That is the mind.

It is always in motion, always moving and swirling into itself.  It erodes away the banks and grows bigger.  It gets blocked, rises up over dams, and flows onward.  Things can splash into and out of the river without affecting the grand movement of it.

Now, think of a bucket that has been lowered into the river.  That is you, the conscious self, which contains that mind.

At any given moment countless parts of the river flow into and out of the bucket, which cannot—in any way—contain the totality of the rushing water.

Now, imagine that the bucket is raised out of the river, filled with water.

That is meditation.

Action: Ask yourself: What does this mean?  And: How can I “raise my bucket out of the river”?

 Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Zach Bio copy

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Transformation Coach.

Part 4 | Strengths and Meditation

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July 5, 2016

8 Ways To Meditate Without Meditating, Part One (1-4)

So, if it’s true that meditation can be more than sitting with our eyes closed…what are some real-world possibilities and alternatives?

Walking Meditation

The great thing about walking is that there is a natural rhythm built into the activity itself, which can create a sort of lulling, quiet, and peaceful feeling.  Set aside 10-15 minutes and go for a walk without a destination.  Make the walk itself be the activity.  Allow your natural stride to set the pace and, in the words of Thich Nath Hanh, let your feet “kiss the ground” with each step.  Feel the earth under your feet each time you move.  Count your steps and focus only on the rhythm of your walking.  This is a great way to remain fully present in yourself while also doing something else.

Listening Meditation

Sit with your eyes open and tune into the sounds around you.  Observe that your ears can hone in on specific noises and block out the rest and then shift over to the next sounds.  For example, if you are in a room at home, you might hear nothing at first—then, you might tune into the sound of the refrigerator or A/C unit, behind that is the sound of the traffic outside or the leaves, then perhaps the sound of someone mowing their lawn, and then, suddenly, you might begin to hear the sound of your own pulse in your ears.  It’s called scanning.  And, it’s rare that we are ever in total silence, even if, for a moment, it may seem like we are, we can usually detect some noise from somewhere.

Candle Meditation

Sitting with a candle is a great way to narrow the world down to what is directly in front of us.  Light a candle—any candle will work—and sit quietly as you stare at the flame.  Allow each and every thought to rise in your mind, don’t try to control or add to what is there—just allow it.  When your attention wanders and when you lose your focus, bring it back to the flame and simply observe its flickering.  It can be interesting to note how much the seemingly still air moves the flame from side to side.  It is like the mind: It can appear to be still, but it is always in motion.

Dishes Meditation

Being present with what is—as opposed to what we want, wish, or fear—can be difficult, especially in the face of the mundane.  However, the tasks of daily living can give us regular intervals to practice this skill.  Instead of tuning out during these activities, we can learn to dive in to them with all of our being.  Doing the dishes and being fully present is a concrete way to explore this idea.  Take each dish, one at a time, and wash it with complete care.  Soak it in the soapy water, scrub its surfaces, rinse it completely, and set it gently in the drying rack, or towel it dry.  Repeat.  Practice being totally present for each dish, cup, and piece of silverware.  Take deep and long breaths while you do so.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.

Zach Bio copy

Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at StrengthsLife.com

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Transformation Coach.