Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to get the Most of people by understanding and activating their strengths - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 5

Today I am going to share with you an idea that will help you get the most out of people.

So – are  you completely happy with how you interact with everyone in your family and at work?  Is there any scope for improvement?

If so, here’s an  true story  which I still find rather enlightening.

Years ago I worked with someone, let’s call him Tom, who was in most ways a really nice guy -  except for one thing.

It was part of our  office culture to make rounds”of tea  for each other. Now Tom liked   his tea as much as the next person. He was a very willing beneficiary of the  system. Months passed yet Tom had never made tea for anyone else. He was a free rider.  After a while we started to notice and whispers began  about whether we should stop making tea for Tom. He appeared completely  oblivious to this resentment. He wanted to do as much work as he could and would probably have said he was far too busy to make a round of tea

One day this all of this changed when the technical whizz-kid in our team devised an on-line system which recorded tea rounds. You scored a point for every tea you made. You lost a point for every tea that was made for you.  You would be plus or minus depending on how many rounds you made

Obviously, after a day or two, Tom was bottom of the league table, Once his lowly league position was brought to Tom’s attention, a dramatic change took place. Whereas before it had seemed as if Tom knew neither the location of the kitchen or the tea tray, now he and the tray were seldom parted.

Tom made two or three rounds every day and  before long he leapt to the top of the tea-makers table.

A key question. What do you think was Tom’s dominant strength?  You guessed it, Competitiveness.

The moral? If you want to change someone’s behaviour, think about their strengths and how to activate them. Once Tom’s competitiveness strength was activated, his behaviour changed dramatically and in a positive direction

This works  with other strengths too
If his strength had been leadership, we could have put him in charge of finding a fair system for making tea.
If it had been kindness, we could have framed making a cup of tea as a random act of kindness to brighten up his colleagues’ day.

I’m sure you You get the idea. If you want to know more about strengths, have a  look at Chapter 4 of my book Achieve Your Potential With Positive Psychology or  visit the via website at

One final thought. This absolutely is not about manipulating other people for your own benefit, its about finding solutions that work best for you and them.
It’s about finding  what the legendary self-help writer Stephen Covey called win-win solutions.Tom benefited - he enjoyed being top of the table. And we all enjoyed the tea he made. It was a win-win.

So why not when spend a few minutes  now thinking about the strengths of someone you interact. It could be a family member, it could be a work colleague. 
Then spend  a moment or two thinking about their strengths. What are they good at? What are their character strengths? Which strengths energise them?

Finally, reflect on how you can activate their strengths perhaps by redesigning or reframing a task.

We got the most out of Tom by activating his strength. Who can you turn from villain to hero?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How to Create Meaningless Work - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 4

Today’s episode is all about how to create meaningless work

Seriously, what could you do to make  someone’s work utterly pointless?
Think about the worst managers you have had. What did they do to make you dread going into work?
I asked this question to my Positive Psychology students at City University in London this week. I can’t recall a more animated discussion.
I’ll tell you my students’ answers later.  First let’s hear what the research has to say
 Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden researched meaning in work and concluded that there are 7 Deadly Sins to steer clear of.  They  interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations ranging from lawyers to garbage collectors. This is what they found.
The first and gravest sin is to disconnect people from their values. Force them do things they know are wrong.  So imagine that  you are boss trying to promote a product  that  worsens pollution.  To commit this first and worst deadly sin all you have to do is ask a  climate change campaigner  in your team to lie about the benefits of this product
Taking your employees for granted is the second sure way to reduce meaning in the workplace This one’s easy. Just never say good morning to your staff even if you are in the same lift . Also, remember  never  to  thank them even when they’ve worked hard to achieve an important milestone.
Deadly sin number three is to give people pointless work to do. This a no-brainer. All you need to do is arrange long meetings, have agenda items which are pretty irrelevant to most attendees, and  then decide nothing. If you do decide something, make sure you don’t follow it through. A pretty meaningless waste of time, don’t you agree?
The fourth deadly sin is to treat people unfairly. You will get ample opportunity to do this comes to pay-rise season. Give a pay rise to someone who is good at being friendly to management but bad at their job. That should do it.
Overriding people’s better judgement is the fifth way to make work meaningless. Give people targets they can  reach only by cutting corners.
Sin  number 6 is to disconnect people from supportive relationships.  Make sure your staff work on their own, especially if they are inexperienced. Don’t bother to give then any training.
The seventh deadly sin according to Madden and Bailey is to put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Come winter time  turn all the heating off and you can achieve this goal and save some money at the same time!

My students argued convincingly that there are other good ways to prevent work from being meaningful. Find fault in everything, Say no to positive suggestions. Say one thing then  do another. Remove interesting challenges  These are all extra ways tht you can ruin even the most potentially meaningful job.
So who was the worst manager you ever had when it comes to making work meaningless? How many of these deadly  sins did they commit?
Well, That’s all very  interesting, you may be thinking, but is anything I  can you do to make the  workplace better? I’d suggest that sharing this podcast and its associated blog at with some colleagues or, if you  dare  with your manager.

Wishing you happiness, wisdom and meaning -  until next time,

More Resources

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Practical Wisdom for Busy People Podcast. Episode 3 - 3 Good Things

Would you like to hear about a mental exercise you can do that will take less than 5 minutes a day and has been shown to increase happiness and reduce depression for as long as 6 months after you’ve practiced it every day for a week?
If you would, then stay tuned. It’s called 3 good things in Life and its one of the most powerful exercises to have come from Martin Seligman’s new branch of psychology, called Positive Psychology.
This is what you do:- 

Each night for one week, write down three things that went well that day. 
In addition to writing three things that went well, reflect on what you did that contributed to the good thing happening, directly or indirectly.

That’s it. Do that for a week and if you are like most people your happiness will increase and remain elevated for at least 6 months.

The only thing to remember is not to set the bar too high – the good thing doesn’t have to be that you just won the Nobel Prize! Remember to include how you contributed to that good thing happening as its empowering to realise that what you do makes a difference.

Here are some examples
Example 1) I went for a nice walk at lunch instead of snacking at my desk - I made this happen by planning it.
Example 2) I had a nice chat with my friend – at first I was tempted to say I didnt contribute to this, because she called me - then I realised that over the years I have done plenty to build and maintain this friendship 
Example 3 The sun shone today – I noticed it!

In all 3 cases I contributed to the good things happening, even in the case of the sun shining, as there is a version of me that might not have noticed it in which case the good thing wouldn’t have happened for me.

Why is 3 Good Things in Life such a potent exercise? Like any successful recipe, it combines ingredients that enhance each other. It’s a gratitude exercise, it builds optimism and it facilitates positive planning. You can do it on your own or within teams at work or with your family. Why not try it today?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 2: What's your Superpower?

Today’s episode is entitled “What’s your Superpower?”
Would you like to have a superpower?
What superpower would you like to have?
Maybe the power of invisibility like Harry Potter?
Or the ability to  travel in time,  like Dr Who?
Perhaps you would like to fly like Superman?

Next question - what would you say to someone who had a superpower but didn’t know what it was or didn’t use it very much?
What would you say to  a version of Harry Potter who kept getting caught by Professor Snape because he forgot to wear his  cloak of invisibility ?  Or To a  Dr Who who was getting really bored on 21st century earth but didn’t use her Tardis?
I’d say -  “Why don’t you use your superpowe?”

Well the good news is that you do have a superpower and the chances are that you aren’t using it to its full potential.
We each have unique strengths, talents and skills  - and these are your superpower. What’s yours?
Perhaps it is the ability to work really hard?
Or To motivate  people? Or be a very positive person?
Perhaps people talk to you because they value your advice ?
Buy don’t have to guess, because there’s a more scientific way of discovering your strength, your superpower.
Psychologists have identified 24 key character strengths valued  across most cultures.
Taking the questionnaire will enable you to find your top strengths, in other words to identify your superpower. You can take it for free at the VIA website at

I’ve taken the test a number of times, and every time a love of learning comes out as one of my very top strengths. 
Having identified my superpower, the next step is to use it more often and to overcome challenges.
When faced with a challenge I  now ask myself “How can my love of learning help me here?”.
I’ve learnt to listen to audiobooks on my way to work, thereby making sure I get a regular dose of my top strength every day.
I’ve found that the more I use this strength, the more I enjoy life and the more I contribute to others. It really is my superpower.
Of course your top strength -your superpower – might be completely different to mine. It might be perseverance, or kindness or zest or honesty.
So my challenge to you today is to  go to to discover your superpower –and then use it every day
Otherwise you would be  like a version of Harry Potter who  keeps his invisibility cloak in his wardrobe or like a Dr Who  who put her Tardis in storage. And that would be practical folly, not practical wisdom.
Wishing you  more happiness and wisdom today and every day
Until next time

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Stoic Week starts tomorrow

Stoic Week starts tomorrow!

You can enroll at

Yesterday we had a good day at Stoicon.

My Stoic Week 2018 Presentations
           What have we learnt so far from 6 years of Stoic Weeks?
           Stoic Anger Management

Look out on the Modern Stoicism site for other workshops and presentations including Antonia Macaro's excellent talk on Buddhism and Stoicism based on her new book More than Happiness.

Also look out for posts on this site in the next week.


Saturday, September 01, 2018

Courses Sept -Dec 2018 (Stoicon on Anger, City Uni 10 week Pos Psych, 1 Day City Lit Pos Psych)

Here is a  Google Calendar with my courses until the end of 2018.
You can scroll the month to see later months

This link will also take you there ...
Positive Psychology: building happiness and flourishing



Course Information

This Positive Psychology: building happiness and flourishing course in London focuses on the positive, including strengths, positive state and happiness in both your personal and working life.

Course Code


Course Dates

4th October 2018  6th December 2018o

Places Available


Course Fee

Course Description

  1. Positive Psychology and Happiness

        View Full Course Information
      Course Dates: Saturday  24/11/18 (One day course)
    Time: 09:30 - 17:30 Course Code: PG658
    Location: KS - Keeley Street  
    Call our Enrolments line: 020 8023 7740