Thursday, August 18, 2011

Discover and Use Your Character Strengths for a Happier Life

Recently I attended a life transforming course on "Applied Positive Psychology" at Boston University, taught by Professor Amy Baltzell, author of "The Sweet Spot." My most affirming, and hopefully enduring, take away from this course was exposure to Martin Seligman's (the founder of Positive Psychology), model of signature character strengths, masterfully presented in his, and Christopher Petersen’s: Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.

Since then, I have used my own strengths, which I discovered by taking Seligman's VIA (Values in Action) Signature Character Strength Questionnaire (free at as a road map to a happier and more meaningful a life. Also, these signature strengths and interventions have led me away from the negativity and doomsday scenarios of our aversive age. An occurrence I never imagined possible, even a short time ago.

Integrating the results and interventions from Seligman’s questionnaire into my own life, and passing on this wisdom to my coaching clients and other people close to me, has led to a flourishing of creativity and a personal commitment to happiness and harmony. Moreover, using my strengths in tandem with a daily meditation practice, which is a cornerstone of Positive Psychology’s research and practice, has proven to be a particularly potent combination for me.

I also gained enjoyment and enlightenment related to these principles and practices from an excellent work called “Positive Psychology at the Movies” by Ryan Niemiec and Daniel Wedding. This well researched reference, and theoretical guide book offers hundred of suggestions of films that offer compelling visual representations of Seligman’s strengths. There are many subtle, yet sublime, messages emanating from these movies. They provide positive, engaging, and meaningful experiences, which is the essence and purpose of Positive Psychology.

Another epochal aspect of both Seligman’s signature strengths and Positive Psychology, in general, is that it combines the ancient wisdom of such philosophers as Aristotle (particularly his “Nicomachean Ethics”) and an emphasis on empirically based scientific research. Moreover, the scientifically validated signature strengths are based on virtues espoused by many ancient thinkers, such as wisdom, courage, justice, gratitude, and self regulation.

Now, some may think this is just too abstract and idealistic to make a concrete difference in one’s life. For these skeptics, I first recommend exploring the very accessible strengths based interventions presented in Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.”

In our often cynical, superficial, and terror ridden time, living in concordance with Positive Psychology’s practices and Seligman’s strengths model can lead to a reaffirmation of all that is good, noble and inspirational in the human condition. Perhaps this conciliatory mindset, engendered by Positive Psychology, will lead eventually to a cultural transformation; moving many from greed and gloom to happiness and hope. Finally, for those of you who have the perseverance to progress on the path to positivity, the results will be well worth your effort.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Suggestions for More Successful and Satisfying Communications

In our daily lives, as in life coaching, communications can either solidify or damage important interpersonal relationships. There is an essential connection between our communications styles and strategies, in our personal and professional lives, and life satisfaction and success. A disconnect between what we say and think or feel can prove disastrous, and a reconnection, which is a major intention here, can be exhilarating and empowering. Here, I will present a short list of communications methods, and underlying intentions, that that can build and maintain better relationships and even a better world. It is my opinion to even to be able to use a few of these methods on a regular basis can improve the quality and results of our communications immensely.

DESCRIBE: While descriptions of a person, place, or thing may vary and occasionally fuel conflict, they can also create pathways to understanding and appreciating others perspectives and perceptions. The best descriptions can build and broaden our knowledge of others and ourselves as well. However, descriptive judgments should generally be avoided because they can lead to distancing, or even, invalidation of another. Describing to someone the wonder of a butterfly resting on a flower may be closer to the point.

REFLECT: In some schools life coaching psychology, reflecting back one’s words to another can be a powerful and enlightening tool. However, we can use reflection too. This doesn’t mean acting like a parrot, but rather paraphrasing back key words from the speaker that one is hearing is the most effective strategy. This can be tremendously affirmative in that the speaker both feels he/she is being valued and understood, and in hearing these reflections can facilitate insight, appreciation, and rapport.

OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS: These are the hallmark of certain coaching methods and are very effective in establishing trust, deepening rapport, and allowing significant self disclosure and personal growth. The most effective questions generally begin with what, when, where, who, how because these questions allow the responder time and space to articulate a meaningful response. However, asking why questions, or particularly yes or no questions, could be too intrusive and place a roadblock in the flow of awareness elevating and descriptive.

START WITH “I:” To some this may sound counter-intuitive. Aren’t we trying to build bridges to better communications, rather than being concerned with oneself? Of course, and sometimes using you is appropriate. But at a certain level, all we possibly can know are our own thoughts and feelings. To use “you” can be assumptive, accusatory and boundary busting. Also, in situations relating to conflict resolution and/or assertiveness, using “I” is generally significantly less threatening and more conciliatory

ACKNOWLEDGE: Again, a favorite word of coaches, acknowledgements consist of heartfelt compliments and encouragements. We acknowledge the courage and commitment of another person’s confronting, and overcoming, obstacles that block their path to a better life. If sincere and used is the right context, acknowledgments are a great way to build rapport, respect, confidence, and deepen relationships with a person who may be struggling to make gains in their life. Acknowledgments are, as my coaching client pointed out, superior to superficial “atta-boys.”

GRATITUDE: Taking things for granted is all too common. Thinking someone owes us something or, in particular, feeling they are entitled can be a real put off. However, having an “attitude of gratitude,” and communicating that to a friend, benefactor, or client is important in maintaining authentic relationships. Expressing thanks, affirming abundance, giving back, or extolling the virtues of the selfless generosity of another, breaks down the walls of insincerity and isolation and fortifies the construction of a better self.

SILENCE: How can suspending the speech process assist communications? Being attuned to what one says as much as to what one leaves out can lead to a further understanding of the inner world of another. Allowing “pregnant pauses” to come to term in the temporary suspension of the endless flow of words can enable significant insight, compassion, and closeness. When used sensitively and judiciously, silence can sometimes be the most important communication method of all.

I hope this brief list of communications suggestions and strategies may be helpful to you. Often how we say, or phrase, something is as important as what we say, and being an effective listener is essential. Of course, no-one can make describing, reflecting, open-ended questioning, starting with I, acknowledging, gratitude and silence all part of their day to day communications repertoire; but even using a few can make a big difference. Furthermore, sometimes you need to use “you” in your communications, or even ask a yes or no question or be very direct. Changing long held communications patterns can prove very challenging, but definitely worth the time and the effort. Moreover, feeling understood and appreciated is the bottom-line for achieving and maintaining better relationships and any of these approaches can begin to accomplish that for you.