A Coaching Power Tool Created by Līga Leimane
(Strengths & Career Coach, LATVIA)
How often do you feel like being true to yourself? How often do you feel strong and confident just as you are? I bet many of our clients and ourselves included hesitated (some more, some less) to answer both of the questions with “All the time”. Most would say “Some of the time”, some – “Most of the time”. When things don’t turn out as expected or hoped, many people tend to put their focus on what’s wrong with them, they spotlight their weaknesses and blame themselves for not being good enough. Keeping this in mind, I want to support my coaching clients and everyone reading this written work to find ways of learning realistic optimism and to shift their perspective from what’s wrong to what’s strong.
There are times when relationships don’t work out. We might be dating someone and falling in love, yet for some reason, the other person walks away. We might get married and feel happy in our relationships, yet we seem not to be accepted by a new family member. We may try initiating a conversation on a deeper level, yet get rejected. We might be applying for a new job and all we keep receiving is impersonal rejection letters. In situations like these, we might start getting thoughts like –“I will never fall in love again,” or “No one will ever like me,” or “Someone like me does not deserve to have a job they like.”Sometimes we simply have what Martin Seligman (2007) calls “bad weather inside” when we are “attracted to the catastrophic interpretations of things”. It’s amazing how frustrated, depressed, angry, scared, and sad at times we can become over our experiences, even small things.
Also, many of us seek perfection and tend to compare ourselves with others and let the positive about us go unrecognized. We tend to admire others for who they are, for the goals they have accomplished, and the challenges they have overcome. Even being in the same circumstances, in the light of others, we forget about our successes and how valuable we are. Often we take our positive experiences for granted or let them go unnoticed and have the feeling that there is something wrong with us.
At this point, I’m inviting you to support your clients in shifting their perspective by seeing the good about themselves and the possible about the situation or simply be more optimistic. Some may say, “I’m not an optimist, I’m a realist so that positive thinking won’t work for me.” You might be right if you believe optimism is about wishful thinking, blind faith, persistence, or phrases like “Every cloud has a silver lining” or “The glass is half full, not half empty”. According to Laura Delizzona and Ted Anstedt (2016), “optimism is not about unrealistic expectations, it’s about finding the positives, seeing the opportunities, and creating realistic problem solutions when confronted with challenges and adversity”.
According to Martin Seligman,
the basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes
(2018) or how we explain what happens in the situations we experience. We lose our optimism and the ability to see what’s strong with us when we forget about our strengths and values, the positive along with the negative and believe the causes of the specific situation are permanent, pervasive, and personal.
Most of the time the causes of bad events are not permanent, they’re temporary. For whatever reasons we were let down or our job application rejected, it does not mean we will experience the same outcome for the same reasons. Yet, many tend to think the situation is stable and unchangeable and use words like always and never to describe it. When we believe a cause for failure is pervasive, we project the same will happen in many other situations of our lives. It’s like having an all or nothing mentality and believing the causes are global rather than specific to the particular situation. If we get rejected by one potential employer, it does not mean every application weever send will be rejected. Plus, we tend to decide who is at fault for the failure, and most of the time, we consider the causes as our inherent limitations, our lack of abilities, or even our worthlessness. Of course, there are situations that we can’t influence, yet it does not cancel taking personal responsibility for the things we can control. It’s about taking a more flexible way of thinking. Instead of being frustrated and letting the “bad weather inside us” take over, we can shift our perspective on our strengths, learnings, and positive aspects of the experience.
When coaching clients describe their situations as permanent, pervasive, or personal and say there is something wrong with them, we can start by applying the principles of optimism and ask about the permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization of the situation. This will support clients in shifting their perspective, see the situation from a more rational standpoint, create a more positive outlook, come up with doable steps or even a plan, and increase their self-efficacy and confidence. So, let’s ask optimistic questions which will lead to more optimistic perspectives! Here are some examples:
- What makes the obstacles you’re experiencing seem permanent, stable, or unchangeable?
- What makes the cause of the situation seem pervasive or global rather than specific to this particular situation?
- What makes you think that the situation you’re experiencing is caused by your inherent limitations, weaknesses, or personality traits?
- What limiting beliefs are holding you back in this situation?
- What beliefs could support you in this situation?
- What can you do to resolve the situation?
- What are some hidden opportunities that you could find or create?
- What is a small step that you can take today?
- What would you need to make this happen?
According to Laura Delizonna and Ted Anstedt (2016), “Finding the positive in negative circumstances is more than making lemonade out of lemons, it is finding the positive aspects that may co-exist along with negatives.” Thus, in coaching aside from supporting our clients in being more accurate in their appraisal of their experiences, we can support them in leaning on their strengths more and seeing the positive despite the negative. Here are some examples of questions that could be asked:
- What went well in this situation?
- What was your role in creating it?
- What do you want to go well next time?
- What could you do to create this outcome?
Another shift in perspective is possible when we recognize our strengths, motivations, and values. The fact that someone turns their back on us or we are rejected by a potential employer may hurt but does not disqualify us or diminish our strengths. It’s when we know our true selves and turns to our strengths, we grow strong despite the challenges we face. Here are some questions to support coaching clients in discovering their strengths and shifting their perspective from what’s wrong to what’s strong:
- What are your strengths? What are you good at, love doing, and feel energized by doing?
- What kinds of experience energize you? What do others admire you for?
- What can you do better than any 10,000 people?
- What strengths can you use in this particular situation?
- What are other ways you can use your strengths?
- What was the impact on the situation when you used your strengths?
- What do you value? In what ways can you put your values in action?
- What keeps you from putting your strengths (or values) in action?
- What will change once you start acting upon your true self?
Realizing and paying attention to the things we have succeeded in will create more positive emotions. Moreover, putting our strengths and values into action will reflect our true selves. By being optimistically realistic, seeing the positive in our experiences, and acting on our strengths, we will become more resilient and confident. Thus, when someone turns their back on us or we get rejected, we will be able to see the situations in a different light. It might turn out that the person who left us was never the person we wanted to be with, or the employer we wanted to work for did not treat its people right, or the people we compared ourselves with had different values and goals in life. An unknown author has once said: “If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it is time to water your lawn” (Delizonna&Anstedt, 2016). It is time to shift our perspective from what’s wrong with us to what makes us strong and learn some realistic optimism. It may not be an obvious or easy choice, sometimes it may require courage, yet our response to what we experience has the power to shift our perspective from what’s wrong to what’s strong.
The truth is we all face setbacks and personal challenges. The question is what do we put our focus on?
- What limiting beliefs are holding you back in this situation?
- What positive aspects co-exist with the negative ones in this situation?
- What are your realized and unrealized strengths?
- What strengths can you build on and bring to a particular situation?
- What makes you feel strong?
Delizonna, Laura, &Anstedt, Ted. THRIVE. Self-Coaching for Happiness and Success. Laura Delizonna& Ted Anstedt. USA, 2014.
Doman, Fatima. Authentic Strengths. Next Century Publishing. USA, 2016.
Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Great Britain, 2017.
Seligman, Martin. The Optimistic Child. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Great Britain, 2018.