Today’s guest post comes courtesy of my wife Dr. Lisa
Lewis who, later this summer, will be one of the
presenters taking part in the Soul Sista Summit here in Boston the
weekend of June 22nd.
For more information go HERE.
/ 123RF Stock Photo
Leverage Your Strengths to Pursue Your Goals
As a psychologist, a performance consultant, and a lover of
personal evolution and enhancement, I often talk to clients,
trainers, coaches, and students about their dreams and their
Whether they are personal, professional, or
fitness-related…goals shape habits, require focus, motivation,
and regulate how we execute all kinds of behavior. Typically, I
hear people focus on their “weaknesses” – the barriers to
behavior change, the “bad habits” that get in the way of
change, the disappointments they feel toward themselves.
This negativity bias is natural.
We are inclined to focus on the negative, and for negative
experiences and emotions to weigh more heavily on us than positive
ones. Research on negativity bias demonstrates that a significantly
higher ratio of positive emotions are required to counter balance
negative ones – in other words, we need many,
many more compliments than we do criticisms.
We need more pats on the back, and less kicks in the
My clients will naturally beat themselves up, tear themselves
down, and be hard on themselves, and have been working hard on
those interventions prior to meeting with me. In my years of
clinical and performance-enhancement work, I have come to see
clearly that I will not add value or help to facilitate change by
doubling-down on negative thoughts and feelings, or by centering
goals around “weakness.”
Instead, I utilize a strengths-based approach – creating
goal-directed action plans around what the client excels at,
enjoys, and executes easily.
Because negativity will always creep into our thoughts and color
our evaluations in a more intense way than positivity, focusing on
strengths and capitalizing on what you do well will correct this
imbalance, and allow for a clear, more efficient, and more
productive approach to making change and facilitating growth.
Here is an example:
Jeff is 34-year-old investment banker who, when I met him,
worked 90+ hours per week, lived alone in his city apartment, and
spent Friday night through Sunday morning drinking to excess and
When he first came to see me he had “tried everything” to
curtail his drinking and stop his cocaine use.
This included working longer hours, avoiding hard liquor and
“only drinking beer” when he would go out out on the weekends,
avoiding friends that used cocaine, and carrying around a mountain
of guilt and shame wherever he went, because he “deserved
Jeff’s opinion of himself was highly negative, and he
explained that he was often “on edge,” irritable and agitated
easily, and anxious most of the time. He told me he wanted to
“cut the shit” and “grow up.” His approach to addressing
the problem had been punitive, and his feelings toward himself and
his approach to “fixing” himself were negative.
I proposed a different approach – one that utilized his
strengths and would promote feeling good about himself.
As you can imagine, this Type-A, high-achieving client was
skeptical. He rolled his eyes at the idea of “positivity” and
let me know he had nothing to gain from “going easy on”
But, my persistent, insistent, and consistent collaborative
approach focused on negotiating for positivity and
In weekly sessions with Jeff, I encouraged adding and then
increasing physical activity – something this collegiate athlete
had been missing in his professional life. Despite his tendency to
focus on negativity, I was persuasive, and eventually, he
remembered being strong.
I wanted to capitalize on those positive qualities.
First he added two cycling classes on mornings before work, and
soon that increased to five days a week. Next, he added boxing a
few afternoons, then added in some strength training, and finally a
yoga class on the weekend.
The more physically active Jeff was, the better all other
aspects of his life.
By adding something he loved (and was good at), other behaviors
He was so exhausted in the evenings that he chose going to bed
or watching a movie with a lady-friend over going out to drink and
using cocaine. He was so drained from all that physical activity
that he felt motivated to improve his nutrition, which also
increased his motivation to limit his alcohol use.
He enjoyed improved attention and mental acuity at work, which
was noticed by his colleagues, and most importantly, he felt proud,
engaged, and “on his game”.
Today, Jeff works a bit less, drinks a lot
less, and abstains from cocaine.
He enjoys an even temper, low anxiety, and feelings of
confidence and pride.
He is planning to play on a community soccer team this summer,
to train for his first boxing match in the fall, and to try the
“Whole 30” diet during the upcoming month.
These are goals that Jeff has identified as interesting,
meaningful, or just plain fun.
Although they may not look like treatment for substance abuse or
anxiety at first glance, pursuing goals that result in positive
feelings, behaviors, and self-appraisals led to a decrease in
self-destructive behaviors and eradicated a self-reinforcing cycle
My advice to you is to adopt a similar approach in pursuit of
Even though we may not know each other, I assume that, if you
are reading this, you are goal-directed, driven, and probably tough
on yourself. You have most likely exhausted all possible benefit
there may have been from beating yourself up over your
What Do You Have to Lose by Trying a Different Approach?
Identify your goal.
Be as specific as possible.
Then, name the strengths and skills that you bring to the
They may not seem directly connected in the moment, so think
broadly, and then weave those strengths into your action plan. If
you love to bake, transfer those skills into preparation for your
upcoming triathlon by baking some delicious protein bars.
If you were a dancer or a gymnast as a child, and you miss it,
choose a dance-based exercise class to help you get back to regular
exercise – don’t stress out about finding the “best” or the
Thank you for reading!
And best of luck in pursuit of your goals. Always remember that
you have all of the ingredients you need, they’re inside of you,
to make the change you want for yourself. If you want to read more
from or about me, please visit my website: drlewisconsulting.com.
Soul Sista Summit
If you are interested in hearing me speak, and learning more
about personal growth and a strengths-based approach, register here
for the Soul Sista
This two day women’s only experience is designed for personal
growth, and is hosted by Athena Concannon and Lauren Bradley. The
summit consists of workshops and workouts, and an exploration into
approaches to lifestyle, fitness, and nutrition that facilitate
At the summit, I provide a 2-hour presentation on using mental
skills to enhance motivation, persist in health- and goal-directed
goals, and to stop and reframe negative thinking patterns that keep
you from your goals. Learn to leverage your strengths and your
passion in pursuit of your goals. The Soul Sista
Summit is Saturday, June 22nd, and Sunday, June
If you are a woman and can make it to Boston this summer, I hope
to see you there.
Read more: tonygentilcore.com