Daria Williamson

Navigating change: The Four Doors of Change

Navigating change: The Four Doors of Change

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Navigating change can be tricky – it brings up a lot of emotions, worries, and decisions, and we’re not always sure where we stand. One of our primary needs when facing change is to be able to understand what it will mean for us.

It’s easy to get focused on negative aspects and neglect the potential positives. This is due to the way our brains are wired. But, we don’t have to be victim to their default wiring – the Four Doors of Change tool will help us explore multiple perspectives on the change, and to decide what actions we will take.

"Change is the only constant in life" - Heraclitus

Around 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus wrote that change is the only constant in life. So change is nothing new to the human species. And yet for some reason, we experience unpleasant feelings of surprise or shock when we experience it.

Why? It’s thanks to something I call “lazy-brain”.

Lazy-brain

While our brains are wired to enjoy novelty (think: fashion industry, travel, restaurants, music) they’re also wired to be lazy. That is, when we experience the same thing multiple times, certain connections in our brain get stronger so that we expend less energy when we experience that thing again. This is why the first time you learn someone’s name, you have to put in some effort to remember it, but the fifth or tenth time you meet them, it floats right up as soon as you see their face. Imagine how tiring it would be if you always had to put in the same amount of effort to think of your parents’, partner’s or children’s names as you do for someone you’ve met only once! Lazy-brain frees up mental resources to focus on other things (like what we want to have for dinner!).

Lazy-brain is in operation for the vast majority of our day. Think of your work context: your brain is wired to expect certain conditions (e.g. sitting at the same desk, drinking the same coffee, talking to the same people about the same things, getting the same result from a standard process). So when something disrupts those expectations, our brain suddenly has to deal with a new pathway and make new connections. Lazy-brain has to go on high alert, and it signals to our nervous system that we’re not dealing with the usual scenario. This can put us into fight-flight-freeze mode (I’ve written about how our nervous system operates in this post).

What does fight-flight-freeze mean for navigating change?

When we’re in fight-flight-freeze mode, we’re experiencing negative emotions, which tend to narrow our focus and attention. We can become conservative in our thinking, and less likely to generate creative ideas.

We need an approach to work with the negative emotions and narrowed thinking that we’re experiencing, and branch out into positive emotions and creative thinking. A great tool for helping us do this is the Four Doors of Change.

The Four Doors of Change tool

I first came across this tool in a ‘Leading Change’ workshop run by the fabulous team at Blacksmith. I’ve subsequently discovered that they sourced it from Jason Clarke’s excellent TEDxPerth talk, posted way back in 2010.

I highly recommend that you set aside 20 minutes, make yourself a cuppa and enjoy the talk. Actually, it took me a lot longer than 20 minutes to watch it, because I had to keep pausing it to take notes!

The Four Doors tool is covered from 7:46 to 9:15.

Working with the Four Doors of Change tool

Define the change you're working with

To work with the Four Doors of Change tool, start by defining the situation that you’ll be focusing on. It could be a personal change that you’re facing, or an organisational change.

Get really clear on the parameters – what is in-scope and out-of-scope?

Define who is affected – even for personal change, others will be affected. For organsiational change, think about who will be affected directly or indirectly.

It can be helpful to do an ‘is/is not’ analysis – what is involved in the change? What is not? In terms of Jason Clarke’s presentation, this should help you distinguish phoney change from real change. If it looks like it might be phoney change, it’s probably time to stop and reassess!

Going it alone vs working it with others

For a personal change, you can work through the tool on your own, or with a coach or trusted friend. Having another person join you gives you an extra set of eyes – sometimes we’re so close to the situation that we can’t, to quote an old saying, see the wood for the trees.

For an organisational change, you might work through the tool alone at first to get your head around the change you’re contemplating. But it really comes into its own when you use it with the people who will be navigating the change with you. So, you might run through it on your own first, then with leaders involved with the change, then with the teams involved in the change. Each layer will give you a new perspective and ideas for how to make the most of the change opportunity.

Introducing the Four Doors

The tool gives us a way of analysing the change in terms of what we can and can’t do, before and after the change. The ‘Four Doors” are:

  1. What we could do before the change and still can do after the change
  2. What we couldn’t do before and still can’t do after
  3. What we could do before and can’t do after
  4. What we couldn’t do before and can do after
Table showing Four Doors of Change
The Four Doors of Change, adapted from Jason Clarke's talk at TEDxPerth

The Four Doors explained

We’ll work through each of the four doors, using the example of shifting house to one that gives you a spare bedroom, but is further away from work.

Door One: what we could do or did have before the change that we still can do or have after the change

This is everything that the change will not affect. We’re not thinking about whether we like or dislike these things, just what doesn’t alter with the change. This is the first door of “status quo”.

Things that you were able to do while living in your old home and you can still do living in your new home include:

  • Sleep
  • Cook meals
  • Clean the house
  • Entertain friends and family
  • Take a nap
  • Watch TV
  • Make the bed
  • Go out for the evening
  • Do the washing
  • Relax

Door Two: what we couldn't do or didn't have before that we still can't do or have after the change

We’re still working with things that the change will not affect. Again, it’s not whether we like or dislike these things, it’s simply what will remain the same. This is the second door of “status quo”.

This could include:

  • Avoid paying tax (I’m assumping you’re a law-abiding citizen!)
  • Cheat death
  • Get rid of all your possessions
  • Rob a bank (again with the law-abiding citizen thing)
  • Get younger
  • Live for free
  • Avoid housework
  • Become a nomad
  • Quit your job
  • Say anything you want to anyone at any time

Door Three: what we could do or had before but we can't do or won't have after the change

This is what we lose through making the change. This can be things you like or dislike. So you might feel grief at losing what you like, and joy at losing what you dislike. Either way, this is the door of “let it go”.

Some aspects could be:

  • Get to work quickly (you’ve shifted further away)
  • Refuse to have guests stay (the “no spare room” excuse has gone)
  • Go to your “local” pub/restaurant/cafe on your way to/from work (you might have shifted too far from it and need to find a new local)
  • Save/spend money (the larger house might cost more in rent/mortgage, and you’ll probably spend more on commuting)

Door Four: what we couldn't do or have before the change and we can do or have after the change

This is what we gain from making the change. Again, it can be things you like or dislike, but the balance will usually tip towards things that you like and value. If it doesn’t, you might need to reasses the change! This is the door of opportunity, the “go for it” door.

Some of the new things you get or can now do could be:

  • A longer commute
  • Time and space to yourself on the commute
  • The opportunity to host overnight guests
  • Potential additional income from the spare room
  • Open your home to an exchange student or foster child
  • A space to work from home or spread out your hobbies
  • See your surroundings from a new perspective
  • Try a new pub/restaurant/cafe that’s on your new commute

The Four Doors in action

New Zealand just went back into snap lockdown. It’s not the kind of change anyone wants to face, and we know that imposed change is much harder to navigate than when we have a choice in the change. I, like so many others, woke on the first day of new lockdown feeling unsettled and a touch of ‘coronavirus fatigue‘.

So I sat down and wrote up a Four Doors of Change sheet to help me navigate the next few weeks of disruption. I’ve blurred the writing, because the specifics of what I wrote isn’t important, but the proportions in the columns is. I have them in a slightly different order than above (the coffee hadn’t kicked in when I sat down to write!). My columns are in the order of Doors 1, 3, 2, 4.

An example of the Four Doors of Change
My Four Doors of Change for navigating the current snap lockdown

The proportion pattern

This Four Doors sheet fits a pretty common pattern – the “status quo” doors (which are columns 1 and 3 on my sheet) have much more content than the “let it go” or “go for it” doors (columns 2 and 4 on my sheet). That is, what stays the same after the change is much, much greater than what will be different. We often don’t notice this, because our heads fill up with what we are losing and the new things we will have to deal with.

My "status quo" items

I thought of nearly 50 things that I could do before lockdown, and can still do during lockdown. And I thought of 11 things I couldn’t do before lockdown and still can’t do now. So that’s around 60 things that aren’t changing.

My "let it go" items

I thought of five things I could do before lockdown but can’t do during it. I had realised three days ago, well before the lockdown was announced, that I didn’t want to do one of those, so it doesn’t feel like a loss. Of the others, I’ve identified alternative ways to achieve two of them. The remaining two will have to wait, and so I know I need to make my peace with those things.

My "go for it" items

When it came to identifying things I can do now that I couldn’t before, I initially struggled – lockdown really does feel like options are being taken away rather than added. Then I realised there are things about the lockdown experience that are within my control. When we aren’t in lockdown, those things don’t exist, so I couldn’t do them before the lockdown. But now that lockdown is here, I can choose how to navigate those aspects. I wrote down three things here, so adding that to the five things I could do before and can’t do now, that’s 8 changes to deal with.

The proportion

So all up, 8 differences and 60 things that stay the same. That means that for every 2 changes I have to navigate, I’ve got 15 things that remain constant. Thinking about it in those terms started to reduce the anxiety around the change, and gave me a good idea of several areas I can focus on while lockdown unfolds.

In conclusion

Change is hard, especially when it’s imposed on us. But whether we choose the change or not, we still have to navigate through loss, gain and some things that stay the same.

Writing up a Four Doors sheet and seeing it all laid out in front of us can help us to reality-check our thinking, especially if we’re in a tailspin about the change.

Just seeing how much will stay the same kick-starts the soothing of our nervous system, as we recognise that not everything is shifting, and there’s lots we can still rely on.

It can also provide us with insight into areas that we can take action to make the most of the opportunities presented by the change.

I’ve created a template for the Four Doors of Change model. Get instant access to your copy by filling out the form on the right. I’d love to hear how you get on with the exercise – feel free to share in the comments, or reply to the email you receive with the template. I read every email.

Sign up to download your copy of the Four Doors of Change template and you'll also get access to my newsletter, which is full of information that makes the "human stuff" a little easier to get right.

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Sources

Posted by Daria Williamson in Change Management, How-to, Leadership, 0 comments
Why do we struggle to have great ideas?

Why do we struggle to have great ideas?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As leaders and managers, we’re often expected to have the brilliant insight and action plans that will help our people and organisations turn over a new leaf. But in the midst of all the busy-ness of business, it’s easy to get stuck in a “same old, same old” thinking rut.

Why we struggle to have great ideas

I’ve been playing in the continuous improvement space for many years now. I work with teams and organisations that want to build a culture of ongoing development and improvement. One barrier that comes up frequently is that teams and individuals struggle to identify areas that could be improved. We get stuck, unable to generate more than a couple of timid options, which will make almost no difference to the challenge we’re trying to tackle.

There can be a number of reasons for this:

The first issue is simply a matter of skill-building, and in this series, I’m going to provide you with a series of techniques and approaches that will help you and your team re-build your idea-generating muscles. The remaining issues are structural and cultural. While they can be addressed, they’ll take some more time, energy and leadership commitment than the first. I’ll tackle them in a future series.

Introducing: the “How to have great ideas” series

This post is the first in the series titled “How to have great ideas”. In the coming weeks, I’ll share nine proven strategies for developing awesome ideas.

Anyone can use these strategies to tackle any challenge, no matter how big or small. Most of them can be put in place right away, without anything more than time, effort and a willingness to try a different approach.

"Ideas are nice, but I need results!"

I get it – there’s no time to waste in thinking, you need results, and you need them fast. You’ve had an idea and you want to get started right away.

But there’s nothing worse that busying yourself with activties that won’t deliver the results you want, or worse, actually prevent you from achieving your desired results!

I’m currently writing a follow-up series where you’ll learn how to select the right ideas and turn them into effective actions that deliver superb results. But in the meantime, let’s get our thinking in order, so that we’ve got great ideas to work with when it’s time for action.

Getting out of the pressure cooker

Being a leader or manager is a busy job. There are so many different demands competing for your time and attention. You’ve got a to-do list that’s a mile long, reports to write, staffing issues to sort and KPIs to achieve. And now your boss expects you to come up with a brilliant idea that will make everything better? Eek – it feels like being locked inside a pressure cooker with the heat turned all the way up!

Sadly, the stress and pressure that are so common in our business culture are all but guaranteed to prevent you from being able to think creatively, right when you need it most.

But, I’m here with some good news – finding great ideas doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or stressful. The simple strategies I share in this series will help you get out of that pressure cooker so you can wield your wisdom, harvest from the hive-mind, and springboard into success.

You can use these strategies to tackle any challenge that you’re facing, large or small. It helps if you have some “fellow travellers” who will go on the journey with you – that could be your work team, your family or friends, a club you’re involved with – any group of people who are committed to a shared cause and open to learning.

A request from me before we begin

I will make one firm request of you before we begin: if any of your ideas sails close to the wind of what is legal, ethical or moral, please kill that idea immediately. If it could risk your reputation or land you with a fine or conviction, it’s not a great idea!

Reputations take years to build but can be crushed in seconds, especially in our hyper-connected world. Don’t sell out your future for the sake of a short-term target.

Strategy #1 – coming soon!

Over the next nine weeks, I’ll share each strategy for generating great ideas here, with links on my socials (Facebook and LinkedIn). I’d love for you to join me on the journey of exploring proven, practical strategies that will turn you into an idea powerhouse!

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Posted by Daria Williamson, 1 comment
Kindness: a better business strategy

Kindness: a better business strategy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Kindness. It’s a scorned, if not outright rejected concept in business – it’s too soft, too weak. We can’t be kind, because to be in business is to be tough, competitive, strong. Logic and rationality rule the roost. We don’t do feelings or soft, fluffy stuff. We’re here to do the serious stuff of business; please leave your kindness at the door.

Kindness isn't weakness

But kindness isn’t a soft, fluffy feeling – it’s a philosophy that holds individual human dignity as the ultimate value. It sees that dignity as more important than power games, point-scoring, and numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s much, much harder than the usual “hard-headed” business approach. And it is actually a solid business strategy for getting the best out of your people, making sure you have the right people on your team, and serving your customers well.

And it isn’t weakness, not by any means. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do, in business and life, is to have courageous conversations that put everything on the line. Whether that’s with an under-performing employee, a high-potential team member, or someone who just isn’t fitting in, kindness can help individuals and organisations to flourish. Brené Brown has written excellently on the subject of “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I highly recommend her book Dare to Lead; it’s on regular rotation in my reading list.

Kind honesty

Being kindly honest with someone is really, really hard. It can feel like we’re being downright cruel when we are in the middle of that conversation and see the pain and disappointment in the other person’s eyes. Of course, we need to give the feedback with empathy and compassion, but we can’t just avoid having the conversation because we don’t like how it will make us feel.

Allowing someone to fail by not giving clear feedback on expectations and performance is a deep unkindness. No one wants to realise that other people think we are incompetent, a burden, or dragging others down, but no one had the guts to tell us we weren’t meeting the mark. This is the Golden Rule at work: how we want to be treated is how we should treat others.

Kind challenges

Unkindness isn’t just about avoiding tough conversations with underperformers; it’s also unkind not to challenge your star employees. We might worry that if we let them spread their wings, they’ll fly away from us, or that other employees will act up out of jealousy (requiring their own courageous conversations).

But bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator is unkind to those who want to excel and it’s unkind to your customers and industry too. Who knows what great improvements a high-potential employee could create, if you allowed them to follow their instincts, supported them with a budget, permission to experiment, make mistakes and discover new approaches, and surrounded them with people who will challenge, coach, and inspire them?

Kind exits

Sometimes, kindness is allowing, even encouraging, someone to leave a role or organisation that doesn’t “fit” them. If you can’t provide them with conditions to flourish, why not allow them to look for a place that can? Why would you want to keep someone around who isn’t enjoying working in your team or organisation? Trying to stay below an arbitrary turnover target or avoid hard questions about why you let a good employee leave aren’t good reasons to try to hold someone back in a place where they’re miserable.

Who knows what could happen if you give someone your blessing to find a new home for their talents? It’s a very small world: you might encounter them again in the future, as an employee, boss, or customer. Wouldn’t it be great to know you left things on good terms? Or maybe they’ll go on to revolutionise the industry, or they’ll remember the good boss who helped them find a path that better suited them, and will do the same for others? That’s how kindness multiplies.

Kindness to self

And while we’re talking about kindness, let’s be kind to ourselves too. Most of us feel like we’re making things up as we go – and we regularly face new situations (remember Alert Level 4 lockdown, anyone?!). It’s OK not to know the answers. And it’s even more OK to admit that to your team, your colleagues and your boss – people usually appreciate honesty. (And if you’re working with people who aren’t OK with you not knowing the all the answers, every time, then you might want to find a kinder place to work!)

How will you apply kindness today?

It’s all well and good to read about how kindness can help us. But words on a screen don’t change the world – taking action does!

Commit to a single act of kindness today. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering – when a sculptor wants to break off a section of rock, they don’t aim one mighty blow, but deliver a series of gentle taps in just the right place. The same goes for kindness – many, small acts of deliberate kindness will nudge your team, your organisation and the world in the desired direction. All you have to do is start.

Posted by Daria Williamson in Leadership, Organisational Culture, Workplace, 0 comments
Now’s the time to identify your strengths

Now’s the time to identify your strengths

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Timing is everything

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second-best time is now” Chinese proverb

If you’re asking yourself when you should start your strengths journey, the answer is “right now”. And to help you get started, check out the two free offers below. Firstly, get your Strengths Profile, then learn how to interpret and apply it to get more ‘zing’ in your life and work.

Free Strengths Profiles: available to everyone

The generous team behind Strengths Profile are offering free Introductory Profiles to anyone who wants one, until 31st January 2021.

All you have to do is follow the link below, create a free account (if you don’t already have one), and take the online assessment.

Free mini-debrief: only 10 bookings available

Normally, the debrief session for an Introductory Strengths Profile is valued at several hundred dollars. But in light of the generosity of the team at Strengths Profile, I am offering a free, 15-minute mini-debrief to the first 10 people who book with me.

This session will introduce you to the main principles of the Strength Profile, and kick-start the process of unlocking the unique and powerful insights that your profile provides.

Make your booking

It’s quick and easy to book with me using the widget below. Just be sure to select “Strengths Profile mini-debrief” to access your free consultation.

I recommend booking as soon as you can, because these offers get snapped up quickly! You can book with me before doing the online assessment – just be sure to complete it at least 24 hours before our session. I’ll be in touch once you’ve booked your session to let you know how to share your report with me.

What's my expertise?

I am an accredited Strengths Profile practitioner, and an experienced leader, manager and coach. I have plenty of experience in working with human “stuff”; none of us is perfect, and from time to time, we all need support, ranging from compassionate listening to a gentle nudge to full accountability.

I use my knowledge, experience and intuition to guide my work. My clients regularly use words like “inspirational”, “insightful” and “big picture thinker” to describe how I operate.

I love nothing more than seeing people playing to their strengths, seizing their opportunities and unleashing their potential.

The coaching session was a wonderful experience; Daria created a safe space for me to understand myself better and help me gain greater self-awareness and insight. It was well-paced - it didn’t feel rushed, nor did it feel drawn out. I felt like I had plenty of time to consider Daria’s questions and respond in my own way. Her rephrasing and observations made me feel that she was really listening and seeking to understand with curiosity.  Daria is well-equipped to help her clients develop and grow to be a better form of themselves.
Carley Nicholson
General Manager

What else should I know about strengths?

I am fully committed to sharing my knowledge about and experience of the power of the strengths-based approach. Below are several articles I have written about working with strengths and dealing with weaknesses.

Bookmark my Posts page or follow my social media accounts to keep up to date with what I’m sharing.

Posted by Daria Williamson in How-to, Strengths, 0 comments
Unrealised strengths: how to ignite your every endeavour

Unrealised strengths: how to ignite your every endeavour

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The world is slowing waking up to the idea that working with our strengths is a far more enjoyable, interesting and productive approach than focusing on fixing our weaknesses. For the same amount of time and energy, we get far greater results when working with our strengths than trying to drag our weaknesses up to a slightly higher level.

Strengths-based systems and practitioners abound – they’ll help you work out which strengths you’re already using, so you can do more of those things. But what many systems and practitioners miss is the massive opportunity that lives in our unrealised strengths.

What is an unrealised strength?

In the Strengths Profile, an unrealised strength is defined as something that you are good at, that energises you, but you don’t do or use frequently.

Contrast this with a realised strength, which is something you are good at, that energises you, and that you do or use on a regular basis.

Why am I so excited about unrealised strengths?

I was introduced to the concept of unrealised strengths via the fantastic tool that is the Strengths Profile. It is such a powerful concept – being able to apply it in my own life is making a significant and extremely positive difference to the way I live and work. Because of the positive impact it is having on me, I’m keen to share it with the world!

First, a word on realised strengths

Realised strengths are great – they give us a sense of energy, engagement and accomplishment, and because we use them regularly, we get to feel those things frequently. You’re already getting goodness from your realised strengths. And you might not even realise they are strengths, because they feel so natural and normal, it’s hard to believe that not everyone has the same strengths.

Now, about those unrealised strengths

Unrealised strengths, on the other hand, have so much potential to add even more energy, engagement and accomplishment to our lives. How? Well, we don’t use them frequently, so we don’t often get to experience the energy and goodness that they bring. And the beauty of them being unrealised strengths is that we are already good at these things, and they energise us – they are a giant pot of gold, a reservoir of opportunity just waiting for us to dig in! 

When we start to use our unrealised strengths, it’s like reaching through a portal to another dimension, with vastly more energy, engagement and accomplishment available to us. Without any significant effort, we can draw on our unrealised strengths and ignite our every endeavour by using what we are already good at.

How do I work out what my unrealised strengths are?

This is a tricky one. Working out our realised strengths is usually pretty easy – we can look at how we work and live, where we get our greatest results, and what makes us “zing”. We can also ask people around us what they see.

But unrealised strengths can fly under the radar – because we aren’t regularly using them, we don’t have many opportunities to identify them. So it can take a long time to uncover them, and it can be really hit-and-miss, particularly if your daily activities don’t naturally lend themselves to expressing your unrealised strengths.

The best way I know how to tease them out is via the Strengths Profile online assessment. The assessment identifies your realised and unrealised strengths, along with your weaknesses and learned behaviours. The greatest value comes when you understand what falls into each category, and how you can work with each category to maximise your energy, engagement and accomplishment.

I’m an accredited Strengths Profile practitioner, and would love to help you out with this. You can reach me by phone, email, or via my contact page.

What do I do once I know what my unrealised strengths are?

First things first: you don’t try to use all of them in one go!

When we’re cooking, we don’t use every single herb and spice in the pantry – we select the right combination that suits the dish we’re making. The same thing goes with strengths – we unleash magic when we select the right combination of realised and unrealised strengths, based on the outcomes we seek.

So, we look at an area of our lives or work where we want some positive change. Then, we review our realised and unrealised strengths, and look for the ones we think are most likely to help us along the way. A great place to start is to pair up an unrealised strength with a realised strength – for example, if you add an unrealised strength of Narrator to a realised strength of Writer, you might practice writing stories where you otherwise might concentrate only on factual, technical reporting.

As with everything in life, this is partly data-driven, partly intuitive, and 100% an experiment. That means that if we don’t get the results we seek from the first combination we try, we go back to our lists, select a new combination, and try again.

Going back to the cooking analogy – when you first start cooking, you can either try out every combination of herbs and spices until you hit on the right combination, or you can seek guidance from experienced chefs, who have already tried the combinations and learned what’s more likely to work well together, and in what proportions.

The same goes with strengths – the mere fact of having a “menu” of strengths to choose from doesn’t automatically guarantee results. Working with a coach who knows and understands the variety of strengths, which ones tend to work well together, and what proportion to use them in gives you a much greater chance of getting the energy, engagement and accomplishment you’re seeking, to ignite your endeavours and achieve your goals.

The 90 second video below has a range of suggestions for how you can use your unrealised strengths more.

Getting your (free, for a short time!) Strengths Profile

If you’re ready to start your strengths journey to more energy, engagement and accomplishment, let’s talk! There are several options tailored for wherever you’re starting from. And for a short time, you can access an introductory Strengths Profile for free, thanks to the generosity of the team at Cappfinity!

Click here to get your Strengths Profile assessment (and feel free to share the link with others who you think might benefit!). Then get in touch with me by phone, email, or via my contact page – I’m offering the first 10 people who book with me a free 15 minute mini-consult to help you interpret the report and apply it to your life.

I know that once you start on the strengths journey, you’ll never look at yourself (or other people) the same way again! It really is a transformative tool and I’m excited to share it with you, so that you can experience the results for yourself.

Posted by Daria Williamson in How-to, Strengths, 0 comments
How to use your strengths to pursue your dreams

How to use your strengths to pursue your dreams

Reading Time: 8 minutes

It's that time again: everyone is talking about New Year's Resolutions

It’s traditional at this time of year to think about what has been, and look to the New Year as an opportunity for a fresh start (perhaps even more so than usual, given what 2020 was like for so many people). And this reflection and desire to start afresh often manifests as a set of “New Year’s Resolutions”. They are aspirational goals of who we want to be and what we want to achieve in the fresh and shiny new year.

Are you giving up, measuring up or levelling up?

New Year’s Resolutions often take the form of “giving up” or “measuring up”. In “giving up”, we try to reduce/stop something. It could be something we eat or drink (e.g. coffee, sugar, alcohol) or something we do (watching TV, gossiping, complaining). In “measuring up”, we try to achieve something that can be measured externally. That could be losing weight, changing jobs, achieving a sporting goal, completing a project etc.

Setting goals can be a great way to focus our efforts and behaviour on what matters to us. But goals can distract us from what’s going on inside, or morph into monsters that drive us away from joy and connection. They also tend to have a pass/fail format. You either achieve the goal, or you have “failed”. There is no room for progression, development and setbacks on the way to mastery.

Levelling up

I believe that focusing our energy and attention on what is happening inside ourselves (mind, heart, soul, spirit or whatever other term you are comfortable with) can be a powerful way of aligning our time, efforts, money and passions. This leads to us “levelling up” as we pursue our dreams.

A new take on New Year's Resolutions

I’m not saying that the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions is bad. Although, judging by the nubmer of people who quit their resolutions by February, I don’t think the process has a great track record!

It’s fair to say that a number of our traditions and “normal” approaches have been challenged in 2020. So, in that spirit, I encourage you to take a new approach to this new year. I’d like to invite you to consider how you can apply your strengths in pursuit of your dreams.

What you need to know about strengths

A strength is defined by Cappfinity (the owners of Strengths Profile) in three parts: performance (you are good at it), energy (you enjoy using it) and frequency (how often you use it). If you are good at something but it doesn’t energise you, it’s not a true strength.

When you find something you are good at AND it energises you AND you use it all the time, it’s a “realised” strength (you’ve made it “real” by using it). If you don’t often use it, it’s an “unrealised” strength.

Unrealised strengths are like a personal pot of gold. They’re things you are good at and love doing, but don’t do frequently. So, increasing the frequency of their use has the potential to add more “spark” and energy to your life.

I’ve written an article covering some easy ways to identify your strengths.

The most effective approach that I have found for identifying strengths and learning how to apply them effectively is the Strengths Profile. This approach helps you uncover your realised and unrealised strengths, along with learned behaviours and weaknesses. It teaches you how to weave your realised and unrealised strengths together in pursuit of your dreams, by developing an action plan to maximise your strengths in energising and beneficial ways, while ensuring your learned behaviours and weaknesses can’t trip you up along the way.

I am an accredited Strengths Profile practitioner – contact me to find out more, and get started on your strengths journey.

A bit more about strengths

Everyone has a range of different strengths. And they come in all manner of types and combinations.
 

Our unique combination of strengths changes, and is changed by our life experiences and the situations we encounter.

You’ll usually find that different strengths come out in different contexts. For example, you might love (and be really good at) at following detailed and precise procedures at work. But when cooking a meal, you prefer to be guided by intuition and taste. So, in one context you are demonstrating adherence, and in the other, creativity. Neither strength is “better” than the other, but if you decided to apply your creativity at work and make up a completely new way of doing things, you could create more problems than you think you are going to solve!
 
Some common types of strengths include: 
  • people (interpersonal) skills
  • knowing and managing yourself
  • how you relate to ideas
  • the way you process information
  • how you navigate challenges

Identifying your strengths

It can be tricky to identify your strengths, because they feel so natural and normal. It’s hard to believe that something so “easy” is unique to you.

And because they come easily, we sometimes don’t value them very highly. Our culture often emphasises hard work and “no pain, no gain”. The idea of being effortlessly good at something we enjoy doing goes against the grain.

But taking a strengths-based approach is an amazing way to work and live. It offers you opportunity to be at your best on a regular basis.

Click on the “How can I identify my strengths?” heading in the box to the left, and you’ll find a link to an article where I explain some easy ways to identify your strengths.

It’s worth re-visiting your strengths on a regular basis, as they can change over time, based on the ones you play with, and your context. I like to check in a couple of times a year, although a different frequency might work better for you.

Which strength(s) will you play with this year?

After you’ve identified your key strengths, you can select one or two to play with this year.

I use the term “play with” because we can get way too serious if we’re always “working on” things. I like the idea of being playful, of using our creativity to come up with new approaches. In play, we shift from a focus on rules to a focus on possibilities. We can learn to hold things lightly, rather than clutching tightly to the unhelpful success/failure binary. And the best bit is that the more we play, the more we develop our capability, leading to mastery.

Think about your dreams, then look at your strengths, and see if any of them jump off the page at you. These are the ones to focus on! If nothing jumps out, try a quick thought experiment. Ask yourself “What would my life be like this time next year if I spend 12 months learning how to apply this strength in new ways?” If you like any of the answers, consider selecting those strengths to play with.

Now comes the fun part – playing with those strengths! I encourage you to get in touch with your inner child, and embrace the learning process. It won’t always be easy or turn out the way you expect, but that’s OK. Perfection isn’t attainable, so we may as well have fun along the way.

Your Strengths Playbook

Just as any good sporting coach has a comprehensive playbook to help their teams face a variety of situations, you can create your own Strengths Playbook to help you develop your capability and mastery of each strength. You will fill it with ideas for how to play to your strengths and apply them in new ways.

Get brainstorming - old and new ways to play

Take each strength in turn. List all the ways you currently use that strength – at work, at home, with friends, in your hobbies. Now write list new ways you could apply the strength. You might apply it in a new situation. For example, pick something you do really well at home, and think of how you can apply it at work (or vice versa).

Or you could find ways to use your strength to help you with an area of weakness. For example, you aren’t great at having to check your work to fix mistakes and you have a real strength for making improvements to systems and processes. How can you improve your process so you make fewer errors, or increase the speed and accuracy of the checking process?

Overcoming barriers

Think about situations which might make it tricky for you to use the strength. What could you do to overcome the barriers? What other strengths could you use to help you out?

Who can you learn from?

And consider how you might learn more about the strength, and ways to apply it. Who do you have around you that is really good in that strength? Ask them about their experiences, and what they wish their younger self had known. Observe how they approach their life and that area of strength.

Or maybe there’s someone who is an amazing demonstration of the strength, but you don’t know them personally. You can still use them as a kind of mentor. Read about them (or, even better, read what they have written/said about themselves and their approach). What can you learn from them?

Build your Strengths Playbook

As you write down your answers to each question and prompt, you are creating your very own Strengths Playbook. Each time you choose a new strength to focus on, you can re-do this exercise. Over time, you’ll start to see links between different strengths. Some of your strengths will help you apply other strengths, creating a “shortcut” for completing your new Strengths Playbook – you won’t have to start from scratch.
 
And you’ll always be able to re-visit your earlier Strength Playbooks, to expand them further, based on the other strengths you’ve been playing with and mastering.

But what about goal-setting?

So far, I haven’t mentioned goal-setting in the context of strengths. That’s because it can be tricky to set an a measurable goal when it comes to many strengths.

For example, there is no externally-calibrated way to measure how strong your “relationship deepener” or “love” or “hope” strengths are. So, you need to create an internally-calibrated measurement system to check-in on your progress from time to time.

Internally-calibrated strengths measurements

Only you can know how much and how often you apply your strengths – they won’t always be obvious to others. And only you can create a personally-meaningful measurement to capture your progress.

You might give yourself a rating out of ten for how frequently you are using your strength, or how effectively you are deploying it. You could use a traffic light system where green means you’re using it wisely and well, amber means you are under- or over-using it, and red means you’ve strayed from the strength.

Once you’ve established your unique form of measurement, you can set yourself a goal based on that measurement system, and decide how frequently to check in. At the start, it’s probably worth checking in weekly (or daily if that makes more sense for you). Over time, as you establish the habit of working with the strength, you can push out the check-ins to monthly (or further apart if that seems like a better fit).

The main thing is to use the goal as a reference point for your progress, not as a judgement on your self-worth. If you show me someone who has never failed on their path to mastery, I’ll show you someone who either hasn’t been honest with themselves, or who set their sights way too low and hasn’t yet reached their potential!

Using strengths wisely

A final note before I finish up – getting really good at playing with your strengths also includes resting them from time to time, so that they stay “fresh”. Even elite athletes need time away from training and competing – in fact, failing to get proper rest is often a cause of failure.

It’s the same with your strengths – overuse of a strength can lead to burnout. So in your Strengths Playbook, you might like to add a section that defines situations when you’ll allow a strength to rest. For example, if you are always organising everything for everyone, you might ask a friend to organise your next catch-up – time, place and activity. Then you can show up with your other strengths to the fore, because you’ve given yourself some “time off” from your organiser strength.

Wishing you a strength-filled 2021

It’s still a strange old world out there – simply flipping the calendar over hasn’t changed many of the challenges that we face, as individuals, communities and as human beings. I am convinced that in every crisis lies opportunity, and that there is a solution to every problem, if we are bold enough to try new ways of doing things.

My wish for you, as we launch into this new year, is that you uncover some strengths you didn’t know you have, dust off some strengths that have helped you in the past, and “go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” (Henry David Thoreau).

Posted by Daria Williamson in How-to, Strengths, 0 comments
You’ve got just enough time to do one less thing

You’ve got just enough time to do one less thing

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Time. How often do you hear yourself or others say that you don’t have enough of it, or you’re running out of it, or you wish you had more of it? Yet everyone has the same amount of it. And we all get a new stash of it every day.

So why do we feel like that there’s never enough, and we could always use more? I reckon that many of us have an unconscious belief that we’re not quite doing enough, causing us to add activities without considering their value.

Time is abundant…

Time is a renewable resource, totally unaffected by anything that has come before. As the clock strikes midnight, whether you are awake or asleep (existential matters notwithstanding!), you are issued with another 24 hours, to do with as you will. Nothing you can do today will “steal” time from tomorrow – you’ll get another 24 hours to play with at midnight tonight.

And yet, time is also precious

While we get a new allotment of time at midnight every night, there is only so much that we can get done. There are aspects of “life infrastructure” that we must attend to – eating, drinking, sleeping, exercise, self-care, personal relationships and caring responsibilities etc. We can skip or skimp one or more areas for a short period, but if we do it for too long, or across too many areas, things come crashing down rather quickly.

So, once we’ve taken care of our life infrastructure, we’ve got a few hours left in which to work, play, and chase our dreams.

To optimise or not, that is the question!

For most of us, time optimisation (filling our days and hours to the brim with activities) doesn’t come naturally and isn’t a fulfilling and joyful way to live. If you are one of that very exclusive group that absolutely love doing so and find yourself energised by it, then go ahead and optimise to your heart’s content, because this is your path to flourishing!

If, however, like most people, you feel stressed when you think about all of the things you think you need to get done, I’m going to suggest something that feels a bit subversive: take something off your to-do list!

This isn’t something that you should delay doing – the best time to take something off your to-do list was as soon as you realised you didn’t want to do it; the second best time is now!

That’s right – you have just enough time right now to look at your to-do list, and discard an item!

Doing less is paradoxically a way to achieve more. When we relieve ourselves of the pressure to cram in more than we have the capacity for, we are able to be more creative, imaginative and productive. And we also have more capacity to appreciate the good things in our lives, enhancing our sense of wellbeing.

Do you need a sign?

If you’ve been wanting to do a little less, but were waiting for a sign it was OK to do so, this post can be your sign.

Pick up your pen, and cross that thing off your list. You know the one. It’s the one that feels like a black hole, sucking all your energy and enthusiasm, for no apparent benefit to you.

Go ahead and do it now; this post will be right here when you come back! If you want to go to the “extra for experts” level, strike two items off your list!

Note: if the thing you want to cross off your list is something you are legally or morally obliged to do, I can’t recommend that you ditch it; that would be unwise. If that’s your situation, how can you re-frame it to be more palatable or energising? How will you reward yourself for completing it promptly? The sooner you get it done, the sooner you will be released from the dread, and free to play at things you want to do!

A woman holding a sign saying "If you were waiting for a sign, this is it"
It's time to pay attention to the signs! Image credit: Pexels

How did that feel?

Did that feel a little scary? Like maybe you’re going onto Santa’s naughty list? That’s probably an indicator that you aren’t fully in-charge of your to-do list. (And, by the way, you won’t ever go on Santa’s naughty list for looking after yourself and implementing healthy boundaries!)

Who is in charge of your to-do list?

While we like to imagine ourselves as strong, independent and unswayed by the opinions of others, social expectations play a huge part in the choices we make. That’s the nature of being human. We (consciously or unconsciously) consider what others might think about us if we say “No”, especially if we’ve previously said “Yes” and are now withdrawing that agreement. And we sometimes value the opinion of others more highly than our own needs, so we drag ourselves through tasks that exhaust us for no personal benefit.

So, it’s time to take charge of your to-do list, so that you can be more present, energised and emotionally-available for yourself and your loved ones. I’ve written elsewhere about how to turn your “to-do” list into an “achieved” list – check out that post over here – but first, make sure you’ve got the right items to work with.

What goes on your to-do list?

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of ensuring that what you have on your to-do list is there for the right reasons. How do you do that? Go through your list and ask yourself:

  • Who benefits if I do this item? Am I OK with doing things that don’t benefit me?
  • Do the items on my list reflect my goals, values and priorities?
  • What are the consequences for me and others of not doing each item?
  • Which ones can I delegate?
  • Which ones will bring me a sense of joy, contribution, excitement, enjoyment, satisfaction etc and/or contribute to my sense of flourishing and wellbeing? I’d suggest you prioritise these items, and make sure they stay on your list unless absolutely necessary. And if they need to move off, try to make this a temporary “hold” rather than a permanent “delete”
  • How much time and energy does each item require, and how much time and energy do I have available? What needs to shift to balance what is required with what I have available?
What stays on your list will be uniquely personal to you. You might even find yourself adding items to your to-do list so that it better reflects your goals, values and priorities. It doesn’t matter if other people would choose different items for their list; your list is your list, there to serve you.

It’s time!

It’s time to step up and take charge of your time and energy, take control of your to-do list, and do one less thing (even if that scares you!) You are the most important person you can look after; as the saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. By eliminating one item from your to-do list, you’ll be offering yourself more time, space and opportunity to be fully present and engaged in what you choose to do.

Posted by Daria Williamson, 0 comments
“What you heard isn’t what I said!” How to prevent miscommunication and get your message across

“What you heard isn’t what I said!” How to prevent miscommunication and get your message across

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A large part of modern work and life centres on communication. But how often have you been surprised when someone misinterprets something you’ve said? When it happens, we shake our heads at the other person’s inability to understand us, assuming that the error lies at their end. After all, what we were saying was really clear (to us, anyway).

This scenario happens to us over and over again, in all areas of our lives. Sometimes we are the person who is misunderstood, and sometimes we’re the one who misunderstands. No one is immune. So, how does it happen, and what can we do to get our message across with greater clarity?

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Posted by Daria Williamson in Communication, How-to, 0 comments
Leadership toolbox: how to use change stories to transform your reality

Leadership toolbox: how to use change stories to transform your reality

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Our change stories can make or break us as we navigate change. I’ve written before about how we humans are sense-making machines – essentially, we need to have a story that explains what we are experiencing. And if what is happening doesn’t come with a story that makes sense to us, we’ll make up one that does.

I think it’s fair to say that 2020 is the year of navigating change, whether or not we are willing participants in those changes! Which makes now a great time to think about the stories we are hearing, telling ourselves, and sharing with others.

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Posted by Daria Williamson in How-to, Leadership, 0 comments
How-to: be a great leader during a crisis

How-to: be a great leader during a crisis

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Leadership is a challenging endeavour at the best of times. You’re juggling multiple streams of information, competing goals, shifting targets, and the glorious messiness that comes from being a human working with other humans. Then throw a crisis situation into the mix – that’s a tough day at the office!

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Posted by Daria Williamson in How-to, 0 comments