A Coaching Power Tool Created by Audrey Mark
(Strengths Coach, CZECH REPUBLIC)
I defined this power tool before I started my strengths coaching journey and it has only been reinforced by it. Our differences are a thing to be celebrated, and only through the awareness of these differences can we learn to accept them and appreciate them. Each individual is just that – unique – and by definition impossible to imitate. Why do we spend so much time and energy trying to be like others? Why is it so hard to embrace our uniqueness and celebrate it? It is human nature to compare, but it seems to be against human nature to be ok with what we find when we do.
If we can turn this instinct around we can release ourselves from the chains of self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. We can apply this in all life’s contexts: work, life partners, parenting, etc.
To compare is to examine or look for the differences between persons or things; it is a measurement against something. We are continually taking stock of what we have, who we are, and forming an opinion, and this opinion is based on a comparison to some standards we have erected in our minds about our very core self.
This constant evaluation of our worth as measured against others is but a part of our quest for belonging within society and is entirely natural. Brené Brown posits in The Gifts of Imperfection that:
“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which is not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Too often this opinion results in a judgment of ourselves that lands in a negative space – “our authentic, imperfect selves” [my emphasis]. We find ourselves wanting in comparison to others around us, as we selectively compare ourselves to those that have “more”, are “better”, “smarter”, “cooler”, and this extends far beyond the adolescent years where many aspire to leave such unproductive longings behind. In comparing ourselves to others we open the door to:
- Resentment and envy
- Devaluation of your worth
- Focus on your weakness and ignoring your strengths
- Deterioration of trust
- Relinquishment of control over your behavior (when trying to be someone you are not)
- Empowering insecurities
- Need for approval of others
Carl Jung said it perfectly: “Criticism can be effective when there is something that must be destroyed or dissolved, but it is capable only of harm when there is something to be built.” Turned inwards this criticism of the self can be very destructive. It can initiate an endless cycle of never being satisfied with who you are and what you have.
So, to compare in this context leads to feelings of doubt and unworthiness. It is an unproductive exercise that does not foster growth. It is a dwelling on perceived weaknesses that distract us from focusing on the positive in each individual. A distraction that prevents the forward movement towards improving quality of life and reaching one’s true potential is a basic tenant of the positive psychology approach in coaching.
Comparisons sometimes make us feel better and more powerful: I am better than that person, luckier, more talented, more skilled. But how long does this feeling last? It is a true motivator for becoming your best self? Are we falling into the same comparison traps that lead to the same outcomes when you can no longer make this claim (as life changes, and so will the person you are comparing yourself to)? Defining our worth by someone else’s measure is almost always going to leave us feeling wanting.
The study of our differences can also be a positive tool for awareness that leads to their appreciation and acceptance. Over time many people build up a shield of self-protection that keeps us from being hurt but at the same time prevents us from being able to embrace our differences. As Brené Brown says“practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness”, but this is hard and takes a concerted effort because it goes against standard patterns of thinking, feeling, and behavior commonly taught before the positive psychology movement turned the focus 180 degrees.
From the Strengths coaching perspective, understanding our differences is a necessary and positive thing because it allows us to gain awareness. This awareness can then be used proactively to appreciate our differences and as a tool to form teams that complement each other and make us stronger as a whole.
When we turn this criticism, born from comparison to others, around, we allow ourselves to embrace our differences. This allows us to:
- Accept that it is ok that we are all different and imperfect
- Appreciate diversity in our personal and professional lives
- Learn from the experiences and beliefs of others
- Open the door to new opportunities, experiences, and friendships
- Release judgments that are holding us back
- Stop negative thought patterns
- Rid yourself of irrational fears and guilt
- Increase your tolerance of yourself and others
- Build resilience and gratitude
Embracing one’s authentic self is not an easy journey. Brené Brown has spent countless years researching this transformational process and defining a path to achieving this. Through this research, she has concluded that:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”4
The negative comparisons we make between people center on underlying beliefs that tell us that someone is wanting if they don’t have a certain characteristic. The definition of a belief is something we choose, consciously or unconsciously, shaped throughout our lives, but as it is a choice it is highly subjective, and not of an exact nature – everyone’s can be, and often are, different and not wrongly so. They can be positive or negative and are our most intimate judgments about ourselves and society as a whole. Judith Beck, an American psychologist, and practitioner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy define three categories of negative beliefs about the self as helplessness, unlovability, and worthlessness.
In a CliftonStrengths approach, this is tackled from the initial discovery session that takes a deep dive into a person’s top talent themes versus non-patterns (when using the Clifton 34). A client will see on paper, in black and white, what their top talent themes are. The danger lies in a client’s not understanding what these talents mean and how they interact and support one another, as each talent is really a grouping with variations that come in many nuances and flavors. There can also be a desire to view lower themes as weaknesses that need to be fixed. Herein lies the opportunity to uncover any negative underlying beliefs through this process of awareness. The introduction to your own strengths requires an honest look at yourself, as well as those around you.
With or without any initial assessments or tools, the ICF core competency of powerful questioning can be employed to help clients if there seem to be negative or sabotaging underlying beliefs working against their personal goals and aspirations, such as:
- What do you believe about this situation you want to change?
- What are the repeated thoughts coming up for you around this?
- What do you believe makes you feel that way?
- Where did those beliefs come from?
- How is this impacting other areas of your life?
- What do you believe about other people? The world?
- What’s underneath that belief? And what’s underneath that one?
- What would you rather believe? What would that feel like?
- What would change for you if you embrace your strengths?
Awareness is also merely the beginning of the journey. Client must decide for themselves to embrace their strengths and learn to harness their power, and the coach must use all of the competencies to support them. It requires vulnerability and determination. Not every strength is easy to understand or appreciate. Some clients might not like to see certain strengths appear as non-patterns. For example, take someone who ended up in a job requiring them to speak in public and their communication talents fall at the end of the spectrum. Or they could feel guilty about strength or envy another that they feel is somehow better than the lot they’ve been dealt. They must understand that all skills acquired in life are real and valuable, earned through hard work and determination, and be commended, but that they might not be aligned with the natural talents that they were born with.
The coaching journey should accompany the client to where they would like to take their awareness and support the embrace of their uniqueness and importance.
Dictionary.cambridge.org. (2020). COMPARE | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/compare[Accessed 9 Sep. 2020].
the gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, 2010
Carl Jung. (n.d.). AZQuotes.com. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from AZQuotes.com Web site: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/591265
ExcerptFrom: Brown, Brene. “TheGifts of Imperfection: LetGo of WhoYouThinkYou’reSupposed to Be and Embrace WhoYou Are”. Apple Books.
Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/core-beliefs-worksheets/
Lion Goodman, PCC, July 12, 2019, Retrieved February 03, 2021, from Web site: https://coachingfederation.org/blog/how-to-find-and-clear-core-beliefs