What predicts higher engagement at work'' is the answer to the question: ‘how often do I get to use my strengths at work?’” Adam Grant
Using your strengths has an impact on your well-being, higher engagement, positive emotions and positive future images. Just to name a few. Here you can find more research on the benefits of using your strengths in different areas of your life. Also, feel free to dig into everything positive psychology-related by Martin Seligman.
How to find out what your strengths are? You can start with a simple assessment test, for example VIA Character Strengths test or Donald Clifton Strengths. You can also do a more fun exercise. Interview 10-20 friends, colleagues or family members. Ask each of them: “Tell me about a time in which I was at my best” Ask them for a specific story, an example. Make notes and when reviewing them look for patterns, code the text using strengths. Are there any strengths that you see coming back in the stories you have heard?
Another reason why it is important to know your strengths is to make sure you don't overuse them or misapply them. For example, you might be kind, but too much of this quality might turn you into a nag or a pushover. A great exercise to identify those possible scenarios of misapplying your strengths is a Core Qualities and Core Quadrant exercise.
Your strengths need attention and nourishment and sometimes need to be activated. One small exercise, which can help you with it, is to pick one strength and think of small ways to practise it daily for a week or when you are going into a specific situation, for example, a big event at work, meeting with a colleague. If you would like to play with your strengths to boost your well-being, choose one strength and try to use it in a new way every day for a week. For example, my top strength is kindness, and a new way of using it would be being kind to myself and doing something for myself instead of always thinking of being kind to others.
Let me know how it goes. And enjoy.
Pandemic has made mindfulness and planning holidays difficult, but what else can boost our happiness, according to research?
The current pandemic challenges mindfulness, daydreaming and planning holidays. “Mindfulness is useless in a pandemic,” we read in Catherine Nixey’s article in The Economist. Focusing on “here and now” is difficult these days, because “here and now” is not necessarily the best “now” we have envisioned for ourselves.
According to Catherine Nixey, what is more important than mindfulness is focusing more on daydreaming and planning, which is not easy these days. “The pandemic has reminded us that the joy we take in planning is as valid as the event itself”, she says.
True. Daydreaming, visualizing the future and planning holidays have a positive effect on our levels of happiness. More than you think.
The study published in the Journal of Applied Research on the Quality of Life demonstrates that we are the happiest before the holidays, not during holidays. What is even more striking is that there has almost been no difference shown in the happiness levels of vacationers and non-vacationers after they took holidays. It is the anticipation, daydreaming, imagining the almost-perfect holiday scenarios that boost our happiness, and it is waiting in line to museums or recreation parks during holidays and the dread of returning to work that decreases that.
Jeroen Nawijn, the study lead, has suggested the ways of maximizing this state of mind by fully indulging in planning the holidays, sharing it with friends and family and talking about it. Makes sense, as savouring also boosts our mood.
OK, so we need to plan and dream, but we also need mindfulness. It is not redundant, as Catherine Nixey states in her opinion article, but it is not the only way to increase our well-being.
Next to mindfulness, creating a personal vision and daydreaming, stroking animals/pets, walking in nature, expressing gratitude, physical fitness, playfulness and humour can awaken our Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA). PEA is a positive state of “distinct emotional, psychological, physiological, and neurological characteristics that create ‘a force around one’s thinking, feeling, and behaviours’, and activates a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is linked to happiness, joy and hope.
Performing a little bit of all activities mentioned above, or as much as it is possible in current circumstances, and thinking of concrete ways of how to do it daily might boost our happiness. One day it can be a walk in a park and daydreaming, the other a short meditation session and watching a good stand-up comedy that will make us laugh.
We might see the positive effects of that only when we ensure the ratio of positive emotional state to negative is 5:1 or 3:1, as various studies suggest, so let’s be a little bit patient and compassionate with ourselves even when we are already doing our best. Also, share your experiences with caring and trusted people around you, as the relationship with them plays a central role in our efforts to feel better.
I like the concept of sharing. Swapping. Goods, services.
We are all familiar with "sharing economy". What we know today as sharing economy though is closer to the concept of access economy, as some claim. There are intermediaries between the ones that want to share, intermediaries who profit from the exchange. I believe the idea behind sharing economy is more naive or utopian than what is has actually become. We wanted to do better, be there for one another, use and waste less. It was less about the profit.
But what does it have to do with coaching?
I coach because I want to empower people and make them feel lighter. At the beginning of Covid lockdown I offered a few free session since I believe everyone could or should have access to coaching or therapy no matter what their financial situation is. Many people struggle now more than usually. Some coachees though struggled with the fact that they were not being able to give back. The reciprocity piece was there, as gratitude is more than enough, but it was not obvious. That is why I want to give the strangers the chance to give back and maybe more agency?
I remember years ago I met a woman, who worked in fashion, if I remember correctly, but next to her job she was baking bread. Yes. Bread. Her name is Malin Elmlid. She was (still is?) baking sourdough bread to exchange it for something else. Whatever a stranger could offer: art, other delicacies, cooking courses.
I found the concept so beautiful.
Recently I was scanning a Dutch magazine Jan and I came across a sentence there that brought me back to the "baking-bread-lady" from 10 years ago. The sentence from an interview with Annemieke van Beek read: "I decided not to sell my paintings, but to swap them" (translated from Dutch). And then I thought: this is brilliant and I want to be a part of it. SO. Get your homemade jams, pickles, kombuchas ready. Maybe you have art skills that I lack or a book that you think I would like. If you have a smile to give, that is already more than enough. In any case, if you need a listening friend or a coaching ear, I am here for you.
Recently an acquaintance of mine has reached out to me with the following “you are a coach, right? I need your advice“. I said I could try giving them advice as a friend, not a coach, but even that would be less beneficial than asking the right questions.
We are tempted to give advice because it is easier than coaching. Coaching is not consulting though. In coaching, you believe an individual is resourceful and already has answers in them. You dig for gold. What they need is a thinking partner that can help them to see through the fog.
You want the other to feel empowered, so they can make a decision themselves. You want them to start a process of self-discovery and learning.
Giving advice in the coaching process doesn’t usually bring desired outcomes. When you give advice, you are not helping and encouraging the other’s independent thinking. You are helping on a short-term basis, possibly creating dependence and what you say might be quickly forgotten.
When you give advice, you tap into the cognitive brain of your coachee. “When we tell people what to do, we access short-term memory in their cognitive brain where learning is less effective” (Marcia Reynolds) .
There are few instances when the other person can benefit from advice-giving.
This checklist below (adapted from “Coaching skill: the definitive guide to being a coach”)  can serve as a great starting point:
1) There are clear right/wrong answers to a question the person is asking (regarding legal, financial or medical matters).
2) It is a crisis and needs a rapid action.
3) An individual’s physical, financial or mental well-being is in danger.
4) You are offering facts, not opinions.
5) Providing this advice is unlikely to create dependency.
So next time you want to give a piece of advice, stop, think why you are doing it and if the other would benefit from it.
 Marcia, R. (2020). Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
 Rogers, J. (2016). Coaching skills: The definitive guide to being a coach. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Last week I wrote about the growth mindset and provided tip #1 on how to develop it on a daily basis.
Tip #2 Learn more about the plasticity of your brain.
It will help you grow your mindset on a rational level and believe that you can change.
Neuroplasticity is our brain’s capacity to learn. Our brains have the remarkable ability to make new connections and reorganize pathways or even create new neurons.
We used to believe that the brain is fixed after a certain age, but that is not the case. Research shows that our brain never stops changing as a result of learning.
Some examples of neuroplasticity:
Research from 2006 shows that London cab drivers have a larger hippocampus than London bus drivers. Why? Predetermined routes don’t require complex spatial reasoning.
Researchers in Germany taught adults how to juggle, caught the images of these adults’ brain by MRI scanner before they started learning to juggle and when they became more proficient. Already after 7 days there was an increase in grey matter in the area critical for visual motion recognition. This research suggests that learning a new skill is more critical than honing what you know already – our brain wants to be challenged.
Learning a new language causes the grey matter to grow in the left inferior frontal gyrus – an area that is active in language processing as well as other parts of your brain.
Check out this Interactive Brain Model. It will help you visualize the possibilities for your growth. Change is just around the corner.
A young man worked as a runner in an advertising firm. One day he said to his manager, "I'm leaving. I'm going to be a drummer." The manager said, "I didn't know you played the drums." He replied, "I don't, but I'm going to." A few years later that young man played in a band with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, and it was called Cream, and the young man's name was Ginger Baker. He became what he wanted to become before he knew he could do it. He had a goal. -Paul Arden
Mindsets are beliefs. When you believe that you can cultivate your skills and qualities through the right amount of effort, learning and work, sustainable change is possible.
That is what a Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, coined as a "growth mindset" over 30 years ago. Research in neurology has shown that our brain is malleable and we can actually teach and learn a growth mindset.
Growth mindset can change your life. It changed Ginger Baker's life.
Psychology Today provides us with some tips and some suggestions are provided in “Growth Mindset” book.
I am interested in concrete ways, however, how to develop a growth mindset on a daily basis.
Once every few weeks I will share with you one tip that I believe will help you to grow your mindset.
#1 Thank your mind
One of the core processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a cognitive diffusion. Your thoughts are not facts. We get hooked on them though and the challenge is to detach yourself from the voices coming from your head. Like the ones, for example, that tell you that you “cannot do something”.
Step 1. When you have a thought that you cannot do something, ask yourself: is it a fact? Just recognising the moment of having it is a first step.
Step 2. “Thank you mind”. Say it to yourself. This will help you recognise your thought as a separate entity, since your thoughts are not you. You might also say out loud: “I am having a thought that I cannot do x YET”.
YET is crucial here. Since you recognise the possibility for growth.
For the bold ones: try saying your thought in a silly voice or sing it out loud to a tune ("Happy Birthday", "Rocky", whatever works for you). It is another defusion technique that will help you detach yourself from the thoughts that are holding you back.
What makes an effective coach? According to Inc., the most effective coach holds you accountable and has a vast experience, among other characteristics. You will also read that best coaches use proven interventions, models and techniques.
True, but interestingly, research suggests there is no major difference in the effectiveness of various coaching techniques. What is important is the coach's ability to employ many of them well and at the right time.
What predicts the helpfulness of coaching is not the technique your coach uses. It is the quality of the coach-coachee relationship, the support system of the coachee, the personality of the coach, and coachee’s expectations that will determine a positive result in coaching .
A systematic review of coaching psychology has identified 5 characteristics of a coach that can enhance the coaching process :
1) ability to build trust
By being respectful, open, and non-judgmental, a coach can build a trustworthy relationship.
2) understanding and managing coachee’s emotional difficulties
Is your coach empathetic?
3) two-way communication
Think about excellent listening skills, providing appropriate feedback, asking the right questions.
4) facilitating coachee’s learning and development
Again, think: listening skills, but also assigning homework and holding the coachee accountable. Prior to that, understanding coachee’s needs, goals, and values are of importance.
5) a clear contract and transparent process
A coach should explain the process and theories supporting the interventions and ensure confidentiality as well as an ethical coaching process.
So if you are looking for a coach for yourself or your organisation, it might be worth keeping the above checklist at hand. A “chemistry”/intake coaching session is a good starting point to explore these characteristics. Think about who will support you in the coaching process (your boyfriend, best friend, family, manager etc.) and what you expect from your coaching trajectory.
 de Haan, E., Culpin V., & Curd, J. (2011). Executive coaching in practice: what determines helpfulness for clients of coaching? Personnel Review(1), 24.
 Yi-Ling, L., & McDowall, A. (2014). A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: Focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 9(2), 118-134.
To me, there are a few important characteristics that make coaching coaching:
International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”, which nicely encompasses its most crucial elements.
Coaching, unfortunately, is still a bit of a “wild west” field with no centralized body that controls who can call herself/himself a coach. You have probably seen plenty of ads of life, relationship, wellness or executive coaches. So how do you look for a perfect match?
How to find a (great, solid, good,...) coach?
Research has proven that it is mainly a trustworthy relationship between the coach and client that makes it a successful coaching trajectory. Some of you may have the resources and time to do some “coaches speed dating”. However, it can be a draining process to explain yourself AGAIN and AGAIN to a new person, so it might be a good idea to do some research in advance. What is essential to look out for prior to booking a coaching session?
Remember that the first coaching meeting should always be free anyway. It is usually called a “chemistry”/ “look-see” session. Don't be tricked by coaches making it their selling point.
*ICF accreditation indicates a high quality of coaching. However, interestingly, there is no empirical evidence that the coach’s competencies approved by ICF actually work.
 Lai, Y-L. & McDowall, A. (2014). A systematic review (SR) of coaching psychology: Focusing on the attributes of effective coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review. 9. 120-136.
 Boyatzis, R., Smith, M. L. & Van Oosten, E. (2019). Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth. Boston: Harvard Press Review.