The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Being Your Positive Self

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“Be true to yourself,” is the advice sometimes given to people who may be facing a decision.

This view is reinforced by many people who have written about the regrets of people who are dying. Looking back on their lives, a theme that is often repeated by individuals is:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.

You can discover more about this theme in the following interview given by Bronnie Ware.


Being true to yourself is sound advice, but there can be complications. Some people may feel that they have multiple selves.

How to tackle this challenge? One approach is to encourage a person to be their positive self, rather than their negative self.

Many individuals know how to be their positive self. They know it is important to plan ahead, take care of their health, do things they enjoy, spend time with encouraging people and do satisfying work. They know the rewards of developing such healthy habits.

Many individuals also know how to be their negative self. They know how to let things drift, feel sorry for themselves and hope things will change. They know the consequences of developing such unhealthy habits.

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

Describe the specific things you can do to be your positive self and to be your negative self.

Describe the specific consequences of taking each of these routes.

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“This sounds simple, but you don’t always have a choice in these matters,” somebody may say.

People do not always choose what happens to them. They can, however, choose their attitude to how they respond to such events.

One approach is for them to build on their positive self and find ways to manage their negative self.

During the past 50 years I have worked with many people who have overcome setbacks successfully. Such people often take the following steps to shape their future lives.

They start by getting support. They move on to creating a structure in their lives. They then do things that are stimulating, satisfying and give them a sense of success. Let’s explore these steps.


Different people find different ways to get support. Some find ways to encourage themselves. Some spend time with encouraging people. Some find other ways to build a support network.

People who suffer a setback, for example, often need to spend time in their chosen sanctuary. They may rest, sleep, write, listen to music, see a counsellor or whatever. They begin to heal and regain their strength.

Sanctuaries are great, but there comes a time to move on, otherwise the muscles atrophy. Some people move forward by aiming to control the controllables. They clarify:

The things they can control in their life and work.

The things they can’t control in their life and work.

The things they can do to build on what they can control and manage what they can’t.

They may then set short-term goals, work hard and get a success. Feeling more confident, they take the next step in their life or work.


People like to feel in control. Different people do this in different ways. One approach is to create a structure they can follow to achieve their goals.

Some people take control by looking ahead, organising their time and making a plan they can follow each day. They aim to make things happen, rather than wait for things to happen.

Similar advice is given on many programmes that help people to deal with depression. People are advised to create a plan to sleep properly, eat good food, exercise and do things they enjoy.

Following such a plan provides a sense of purpose and often produces positive results. People then feel more in charge of shaping their futures.

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People then do things that give them positive energy. They may choose to do exercise, play music, play sports, care for their garden, write, do enjoyable projects, spend time with encouraging people or whatever.

They aim to pursue activities that are stimulating and give them a sense of satisfaction. They put themselves into positive cycles, rather than negative cycles. They often find that doing these things gives them strength to tackle other challenges.


People often develop by doing things they enjoy and also encouraging other people. They can set stimulating goals, become absorbed in the activity and do superb work.

They do their best, keep developing and achieve a feeling of success. This helps them to keep developing as people and professionals.

Building on the positive self
and managing the negative self

“That sounds okay,” somebody may say, “but how do you manage the negative emotions? Do you just ignore them?”

The answer is to find ways to keep building on the positive self. It is also to recognise and act on the warning signs regarding the negative self.

Different people have different warning signs. These may include feeling out of control, having negative self talk, suffering recurring illnesses, experiencing long periods of lethargy or whatever.

Some people become numb to the warning signs or sink into negative cycles. Some people become aware of the warning signs, however, and do something to put themselves into positive cycles.

A person may choose to be their positive self by planning ahead, doing something positive and getting a success. They then keep following these habits to maintain the positive cycle.

You can discover more about this approach to, for example, dealing with depression via the following links.

Let’s return to your own life and work. How can you continue to be your positive self?

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

Describe the specific things you can do to aim to be your positive self in the future.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of you aiming to be your positive self.

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    L is for Leaving A Positive Legacy

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    People often want to leave a legacy. They often want to encourage their loved ones and help other people to be happy. They also want to pass on the fruits of their labours and provide wisdom that helps future generations.

    Different people do this in in different ways. Some aim to build loving relationships. Some aim to appreciate life and create positive memories. Some aim to build on their strengths and do satisfying work that helps people and the planet.

    Human beings throughout history have aimed to leave a legacy. Some bequeathed money, some built monuments, some created works of art that would last beyond their lifetime.

    Today there are many articles written about people wanting to pass on something meaningful. This was also a common theme on many personal development courses during the 1960s and 70s.

    People were sometimes invited to do exercises that involved them writing their headstone, writing their obituary or describing what they wanted to pass on to other people. This sounds challenging, but many found it helped them to clarify their lifetime picture of success.

    Stephen Covey popularised a similar approach when highlighting the habits followed by highly effective people. He encouraged people to: “Live, love, laugh and leave a legacy.”

    Today many people are aiming to improve the world by doing meaningful work. Liepollo Pheko, a leader in South Africa, believes many women innovators can leave a positive legacy.

    Below is a short extract from one of her speeches. You can discover more via the following link.

    When we talk about women in business in South Africa and leaving a legacy, we first need to understand what we mean by creating sustainable economies, sustainable growth and empowerment.

    Leaving a legacy means having something to show for the time we have spent in our areas of expertise and areas of endeavour.

    It meant leaving inspiring footprints that will drive the people that we leave behind, the people that we work with and inspiring others with our ideas even after we are long gone.

    It is about making a tangible impact and giving birth to ideas that can change communities today and in the future.

    Clayton Christensen focused on similar themes when co-writing the book How Will You Measure Your Life? A professor at Harvard Business School, he looked at his own life and asked the following questions.

    Is there something that I can leave the world that is something bigger than me? Something that will help other people become better people? How will I measure whether I am achieving that goal?

    In the video below he describes how he encourages people to explore these questions. Many people found that going through this process had a profound impact on their lives.

    You may have your own framework for focusing on what you want to pass on to people. If you wish, however, you can explore the following themes.

    Positive Relationships

    How can you continue to encourage people and build positive relationships? As Maya Angelou kept reminding us:

    People will never forget how you made them feel.

    Looking at your own life, how do you want to be remembered as a parent, partner, friend or colleague? What are the actual words you would like to hear people saying about the way you helped them in their lives? One person said the following about what they wanted their children to feel.

    I want my partner and I to have given our children the opportunity to enjoy a happy childhood. For example, I want them to say things like:

    ’Our parents were always there for us. They encouraged us, helped us to develop our talents and also helped us to learn how to make decisions.’

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

    Describe the specific things you want to do to encourage people and build positive relationships.

    Describe the actual words you would like to hear people say about the way you encouraged them and built positive relationships.

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    Positive Contributions

    People often talk about wanting to help to build a better world. There are many approaches to making this happen.

    Some people aim to do positive things each day. They try to be encouraging and help other people. They express the Dalai Lama’s view that: “My religion is kindness.”

    Some people build on their strengths and do satisfying work. They use their talents to help others through teaching, coaching, designing, creating, building, problem solving or whatever. They aim to do things that help people or the planet.

    Some people follow their vocation. Their vocation is their calling, it is what they are here to do. Their vocation remains constant throughout their life, but they may express it through various vehicles on the way towards doing valuable work.

    Some people focus on following their purpose. They follow their passion, translate this into a clear purpose and achieve peak performance. They pass on their knowledge to other people and sometimes find a sense of peace.

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

    Describe the specific things you want to do to make positive contributions to people or the planet.

    Describe the actual words you would like to hear people say about the positive contributions you made.

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    Positive Memories

    People want to enjoy life, pursue experiences and have no regrets. Looking back in later years, they want to feel they have appreciated and made the most of life.

    When you ask parents what they want for their children, they often say: “We want them to be happy.” So the question is: “How do people achieve happiness?”

    During the past 40 years Positive Psychology has researched the topic of happiness. It has asked:

    What kinds of people are happy? What are the principles such people follow to be happy? Is it possible for other people to follow these principles in their own ways to maintain or improve their happiness?

    Here is an overview of some of the principles that have emerged. You will, of course, have your own views on themes that could be added.

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    When people look back on their lives, they often recall the positive memories they have created for themselves and others. These are the things that have warmed their souls or made others happy.

    If you wish, try tackling this final exercise on the theme of creating a positive legacy. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific things you want to do to enjoy life and create positive memories for yourself and other people.

    Describe the actual words you would like to say about the positive memories you created for yourself and other people during your time on the planet.

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