“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

Walt Disney


Every Single Day 

To borrow the words of Sonja Lyubomirsky, if you “want to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings” and fiercely build a strengths-based life, it will be helpful to create goals, habits, and grit.  There are very wise thinkers, such as Charles Duhigg and Caroline Adams Miller who have articulated clear pathways to do so.

Is a strengths-based life just happy wishful thinking?

A strengths-based perspective is not the art of inventing something that doesn’t exist.  It is about seeing what we frequently overlook, creating a fuller picture of the world that sees both the challenges (which we “over-see”) and the possibilities.  In fact, it is a highly practical way to look at life.  When we activate the best in ourselves and others we are simply more likely to be able do the things we want and to enjoy the experience.

There is an important second part of this answer.  A strengths-based life doesn’t mean you don’t have negative thoughts.  It just means you acknowledge them and then choose something else. Louisa Jewell, author of Wire Your Brain for Confidence says it beautifully.

“The only thing more exhausting than having negative thoughts, is pretending that you don’t.”  Louisa Jewell

Below are some very simple key concepts that will keep you fierce about creating a strengths-based life – one that increases your own performance and engagement, encourages others to do the same, and makes a positive contribution to our shared future.   The trick is you have to do them every single day.



Ask the Question

When we work with leaders to create strengths-based cultures in schools, organizations and neighborhoods, we engage in a process to build their capacity to know, see and apply strengths.  The first step is to adapt tools and practices from the workshops into each participants’ unique environment.  As capacity continues to develop, the aim is for the work to become less explicit and move towards “just the way we do things.”

Crossing this bridge can be as simple as asking the question, “What would a strengths-based approach look like in this situation?”  The question might precede a difficult conversation, an onboarding process, strategic planning, performance review, or other routine organization activities. This is how one city leader described the experience.

Before heading into a tough partner conversation, I asked myself what a strengths-based approach might look like.  I thing I realized I could do is to consider the strengths participants were bringing to the table.  It was amazing how differently I felt and how different the conversation was.  I felt like I was truly able to hear them in a way I hadn’t before.


Mix It Up

While our work is grounded in science, there is no one application that fits every person or every situation exactly.  A strategy or approach that feels natural to me, given my signature strengths, may feel completely inauthentic for someone else.  Caroline Adams Miller’s ideas on Getting Grit wonderfully describe what is also true for developing a fiercely strengths-based life.

(it requires) experimenting with these ideas. Practicing them over and over. Learning what works through trial and error. And evolving from a cook who masters one behavior at a time, to a master chef who blends them all together repeatedly with hard work and for the right reasons.


Get a Posse

Researchers have repeatedly validated the importance of being part of a group or team when it comes to creating change.   Survey responses from 1,026 US workers found that successful efforts to create change were related to opportunities for meaningful conversations.  Creating a strengths-based culture is no different.  Having at least one other person to share the journey with can make all the difference in your experiences and the outcomes.  Below is story of one of our partners, reflecting on her experience.

Having the time to be engaged with one another at the Institute made it possible for us to rely on each other when we were back at work.  We each were leading different divisions to integrate the strengths work but we needed each other to help answer questions and also just for support.


Smell the Roses

Creating big change makes for many moving parts.  While you’re looking for the ultimate outcome of change, it’s easy to overlook progress along the way.  Don’t!  It’s invaluable to stop and smell the roses as you go to help encourage and reinforce colleagues who are directly involved in the effort.  Those moments of reveling in smaller successes can also sway the cynics who might not yet be convinced of the value of the change.  Consider the story below.

We started small.  There are 30 department/divisions directors and 5 participated in the first session.  Other groups have already started to hear about the changes we are making and the success we are beginning to see.  It has been exciting for our staff. They feel like positive pioneers. Some of the early cynics and nay-sayers are now curious!

I hope the conclusion of this series marks the beginning of a deeply rewarding and strengths-based transformation for you, your organization, school and/or community.  Whatever steps you decide to take to reach for the best in yourself and inspire others to do the same, you will make a positive difference in the world for all of us.