Circle of strengths

Would you like to start your Monday morning with a surge of excitement and a bit of bliss? Would you like to feel energized and motivated, while improving your concentration and deepening your ability to relax?

No problem, begin the day by exercising your strengths.

Are you curious, creative, wise, kind? Do you love learning, have a deep appreciation for beauty, a rich capacity to love and be loved, to express gratitude and to forgive and offer mercy? Are you brave, honest, genuine and authentic? Do you persevere or have a deep sense of spirituality? Are you a leader, loyal, and fair? Do you proceed with caution and show great self-control? Are you playful and full of optimism and hope? Are you modest or do you have strong social intelligence?

The combination of positive psychology’s 24 character strengths are varied and personal. Each of us has our own set of strengths, and exercising them is one of the fastest ways to feel good about ourselves and the world. All of the strengths are equally valuable, and every combination offers something special, which makes each of us special, too.

Immersing ourselves in activities that use our strengths can create a sense of flow, which allows us to focus our abilities and can relax us by transporting us beyond ourselves and the world around us. Flow can lead to fulfillment, which will leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world around us. It’s the sweet little circle of strengths.

Exercising one of your strengths is a great way to start your day, a super way to create the life you want, and it’s free and doesn’t require breaking a sweat.

If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, an easy way to discover them is to take the Value In Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths (I think I mentioned all 24 above.), which you can find at

If you would like to receive a copy of the Wishful Thinking Works one page Circle of Strengths, which will help you identify ways to apply your top six signature strengths, just complete the form below.

Knowing and using our signature strengths doesn’t guarantee a perfect or challenge-free life, but it can create a life filled with fun, flow and fulfillment, which may lead to accomplishments and can help us deepen our relationships with others. Oh, and did I mention it’s free, and it feels good?

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Annual words of wisdom



I love listening to commencement speeches, but quickly forget about them and how much I enjoy hearing them – a year between speeches is just too long!

Thankfully, my friend Dao reminded me. She sent me Conan’s recent speech at Dartmouth last week, which led me to Stephen Colbert’s at Northwestern and then to Amy Poehler’s at Harvard. ( I listened to Amy’s again and again as I was writing this post.)

Here are my favorite quotes from each:

Conan . . . (I agree with Dao’s favorite quotes)

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention…no specific job or career goal defines me and it should not define you…in 2000 I told graduates to not be afraid to fail and I still believe that, but today I tell you that whether you fear or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that.  But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come.  The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

 Colbert . . .

“you are not the most important person in the scene [improv], everybody else is, and if everybody else is more important than you are, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is, you’re in the scene too, so hopefully to them you’re the most important person and they will serve you. No one is leading, you are all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win  improv.  And, life is an improvisation.” 

” . . . service is love made visible.” If you love your friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve community. If you love money, you will serve your money, and if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself, and you will have only yourself . . . Try to love others and serve others, and hopefully find those who will love and serve yu in return.”

Amy . . . 

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” 

And, about improv, “If you’re scared, look into your partner’s eyes, you’ll feel better.” (I don’t think we look into each other’s eyes enough.)

Want more? Here are David Schepp’s Top 12 “of  All Time” commencement speeches. Schepp is a long time business journalist with a funny bone as evidence by some of his choices. I really enjoyed Bono’s, JK Rowlings and Churchill’s. If these aren’t for you, keep searching – there are tons of choices on the web.

A year ago, I wrote about another commencement speech and shared what I would tell a graduating class, “What would you tell them? 

Have a great weekend and live your life as though you’re writing the commencement speech you would like to share with the “next generation”.

Mirror, mirror in our brains

I really enjoyed writing this post. I truly can’t resist learning about our interesting little brains. I’m a sucker for a good psychological or neuroscience article on the brain. Here’s what I read this weekend.

Mirror neurons

In the 1980’s Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team of researchers from the University of Parma, Italy, discovered mirror neurons in the brains of monkeys. The mirror neurons fired to help the monkeys mimic what other monkeys were doing. In 2010, Rizzolatti was credited with proving that humans had and used mirror neurons, as well.

This June, at the annual American Psychological Science convention, Rizzolatti shared his updated research and new applications for the research. Shannon Polly and Genevieve Douglass (both graduates of the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania) summarized his presentation in a recent online article. (Source, 1)

“If you see someone kick a ball or if you read the word ‘kick’ the same neurons fire in your brain as if you were the one kicking the ball. Rizzolatti first discovered this phenomenon with monkeys and then began to study it in humans.”

This is big news, we don’t have to actually kick the ball, for our brains to record it, we just have to observe it being done and our brains code it, which may explain why men love watching football, but here’s the real kicker (pun intended):

“He [Rizzolatti] presented new data that motor neurons do not just code any act of movement. The motor act that is coded for monkeys is one that has a goal. In fact, in the brain it is the goal that is coded, not the movement itself.”

The “why” not the “what”

The process goes something like this:

  • we see;
  • we review – “Is there a goal/is there not a goal?” “Is there intention present, if so what is it?”;
  • we code – if we perceive a goal or intention is present, neurons fire, chemicals release and the goal, not the movement is recorded.

Our brains are hard-wired to help us understand what other people are thinking – their intentions – and then to code their intentions in our brains! We mirror the “why”, not the “what” of their actions. That’s how we empathize, how we know what others are feeling.

It might explain how humans encode culture. A New York Times article notes that Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at U.C.L.A. explained it this way, “Until now, scholars have treated culture as fundamentally separate from biology . . . But now we see that mirror neurons absorb culture directly, with each generation teaching the next by social sharing, imitation and observation.”

Possible autism application

Polly and Douglass also noted that Rizzolatii’s latest research involves autistic children, he explained at the convention that children with autism may code only the “what” – the action. Their neurons don’t fire the same as ours; they see an action, but they don’t know “why” it takes place. This discovery is leading to new ways of treating autism. (Source, 1)

Possible visualization connection

Another online article noted that mirror neurons may also be one of the reasons creative visualization shows positive results. We “see” ourselves doing what we want to be able to do, and our brains register it as being “done.”

“In the 1980 Olympics the Russians (Soviet) team did the following scientific experiment to boost the skills of their athletes:

I)     Group one did 100% of physical training.
II)   Group two did 75% physical training and 25% mental training (visualization).
III) Group three did 50% physical and 50% mental training.
IV)  Group four did 75% mental and 25% physical training.

Result: The fourth group showed the greatest improvement in performance. The Russian Olympic coaches concluded that mental training (creative visualizing) produced the following: a) Increase in personal motivation. b) Boosted athletic confidence because they visualized themselves winning their events. c) Improved Attention-Span by eliminating distractions from intruding on their training sessions.” (Source, 2)

Isn’t that amazing? The group that did 75% mental and 25% physical training showed the greatest improvement in performance. Lot’s of other studies have shown similar results.

Wishful Thinking

Why not start your week off with some Wishful Thinking? Spend five minutes predicting better, it truly can’t hurt and may help. Visualize yourself doing what you want to be doing. Predict how your week will go. Be specific. Fire-up those neurons! Who knows, you may see your way to a whole new future.

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Anne’s Birthday

I cannot believe I did it again, I forgot to post about Anne Frank before her birthday, June 12. Anne was a wonderfully confused and caring girl, born in 1929 in Frankfort, Germany, who on her 13th birthday received a diary from her father. Her family emigrated to the Amsterdam in 1933, where they later became an important part of world history.

Had she lived, Anne would be 82 this year. If circumstances had been dramatically different, Anne might still be with us, enjoying life, visiting family and friends, traveling, and maybe writing and lecturing. In today’s world, she would not seem that old. Her very short life – she died at 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as the result of simply being Jewish  – was not lived that long ago. The style of her red and white plaid diary is not really out-of-date, and thankfully, because of the words she placed on the pages of that journal, Anne and her story are still with us.

Anne’s youthful, simple, heartfelt thoughts have touched millions of people. Words can do that – the spoken ones, for better or for worst, the written ones  for generations to see. They help writers understand their lives, explore their thoughts, the situations surrounding them, and the world.

What I meant to say on June 12, was I really think the value of words, including those of young children, can never be underestimated.

Perhaps this year, you can buy a journal for your daughter, son, niece, nephew, granddaughter, grandson, or the kid next door. Perhaps you can sit with them and tell them you value who they are and what they have to say. Perhaps, you can tell them about Anne, and the gift her father gave her.

The process of writing may change their lives, and the generations that exist with and follow them.

If you would like to read more about Anne, I’ve listed some links I found interesting:

The only film of Anne.

Miep Gies, Mr. Frank’s office assistant and one of the brave people, who helped hide Anne’s family, died last January, she was 100.  I really did not know much about Ms. Gies, this link shares a bit about her: I loved it.

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, if, somehow, you’ve missed it.

Happy Belated Birthday, Anne, and thank you. Because of your words our world is richer, and I hope wiser.

PS. I shared a version of this post last year on my blog. My goal is to post about Anne every year around her birthday to honor her words, to share the practice of journaling and to encourage you to motivate children – of all ages – to begin putting their thoughts, desires and dreams on paper.

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Parties, picnics and pyrotechnics

July 1 at 12:00 noon marks the halfway point of this year. At noon on the 1st, there will be exactly 182 1/2 days left before the 2012 New Year!

Besides beginning to think about what I will wear for New Year’s 2012, I thought we might use the next few weeks to plan how to celebrate your 2011 triumphs to date.

  • What have you accomplished that just six months ago seemed impossible, or at least a distant possibility?
  • What new trails have you blazed?
  • Promises kept?
  • Steps taken?

Since folks are already planning parties, picnics and pyrotechnics for the Fourth of  July, perhaps it might be a good time to combine our patriotic and personal triumphs and celebrate everything that is special in our lives.

Don’t be shy, this is the perfect time of year to celebrate your success. Even if you don’t tell your friends and family what you are up to, when those booms and bright lights fill the sky you can look-up and know that they are there for freedom and for you!

Start planning now to make this Fourth of July your personal independence day. Count your successes, free yourself from what’s bothering you or get started on something you want to change. If our forefathers did it, we can too.

If you are standing at a crossroads, I’ve listed questions from Debbie Ford’s book, The Right Questions,  which I have used in the past to make decisions big and small:

The Right Questions

1. Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future or will it keep me stuck in the past?

2. Will this choice bring me long-term fulfillment or will it bring me short-term gratification?

3. Am I standing in my power or am I trying to please another?

4. Am I looking for what’s right or am I looking for what’s wrong?

5. Will this choice add to my life force or will it rob me of my energy?

6. Will I use this situation as a catalyst to grow and evolve or will I use it to beat myself up?

7. Does this choice empower me or does it dis-empower me?

8. Is this an act of self-love or is it an act of self-sabotage?

9. Is this an act of faith or is it an act of fear?

10. Am I choosing from my divinity or am I choosing from my humanity? (Soul vs self)

It’s never too soon or too late to create the life you really want. If you don’t like these questions, create your own! And, remember celebrating your success is always the right thing to do.

Your life begins when you do


Last night I spent a wonderful evening doing some Wishful Thinking with an interesting group of women, who are exploring their hopes and dreams, and are living their lives as Mary Anne Radmacher invites us to in her inspirational little book Life Begins When You Do: 

Nearly everyone postpones one grand thing or a collection of mighty hopes and dreams.

Between the quote marks of our lives are phrases like these: “When things slow down…when I finish my degree…when I get certified…as I acquire a deeper knowledge base…when I have kids…when the kids are grown…when I get well…when I marry…when I divorce…when I retire…when I get that promotion, that raise, that job, that house, that whatever the fill-in-the blank is for your specific postponing of life…”

Your Life Begins When You Do.

You may think you are postponing the longing of your soul until life aligns itself with your vision, until elements conspire to be more favorable…but as it happens, life just lolls along at the same remarkable consistent and disinterested cadence. Life is impartial. YOUR personal, subjective life (dreams, satisfactions, contentment, achievements, vision, fullness, passion, aspirations) begins when you begin.

From my teens into adulthood, I said, “I want to be an artist.” One day I changed the sentence to, “I am an artist.” My view changed. Life began. I looked behind me and saw that I had been accidentally living as an artist. I had been laying down a path that was only now visible to eyes that had begun to see. Beginning my life as an artist made my heart’s longing and the small, tentative labors of my hands – visible and tangible. I began by opening the door and simply believing that I could live my dream. I began living that dream by seeing that I could.

Your purpose, that thing that among the many to-dos of your days, is what you must do. Embrace the truth of your purpose each minute of your precious life…for how very true it is that life begins when you do.

If you would dream it . . . BEGIN it.

If you have an idea . . . OPEN it.

If there is longing . . . ACKNOWLEDGE it.

If there is mission . . . COMMIT it.

If there is daring . . . DO it.

If there is love  . . . SPEAK it.

If there is resource  . . . USE it.

Don’t delay living the life of your dreams. You can begin this weekend. Check my Resource section, this post and Mary Anne’s book to get started. 

A long and heartfelt PS: I would like to give a special shout-out to Fran, Jan, Joan, Linda, Nellie, Pam, and Sheryl who were great and more than willing to have some fun last night, I like that! Thank you for being there guys, you inspire me!  

And, I’m still smiling about my warm and generous piece of feta cheese covered in thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, with a bit of black olive pesto, tiny tangy yellow peppers and olive oil that our great hostess and host Anita and Denis made for us. They opened their wonderful Coffee Haus after hours for us and made us feel warm and, oh so welcome. Thank you!

Art, love and more

I love this post. Well, let me rephrase that. I love the information in this post, because it is so awe-inspiring and well, lovely.

There’s new scientific research that reveals viewing art and being in love may have a lot in common. Here are the details from an artdaily article about a leading neuroscientist, Semir Zeki at the University College London:

“Zeki concluded that viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.”

Zeki goes on to explain:

“There have been very significant new advances in our understanding of what happens in our brains when we look at works of art,” said Zeki. ‘We have recently found that when we look at things we consider to be beautiful, there is increased activity in the pleasure reward centres of the brain. Essentially, the feel-good centres are stimulated, similar to the states of love and desire.”

I knew that! You see, I’ve been in many situations in my life where the color, style, texture or combination of  those or other artistic aspects of a painting, building or dress has sent me reeling. I couldn’t quite put my feelings into words, but I knew they went far beyond everyday viewing pleasure – I was falling in love!

There is a tiny road in Dihovo, Macedonia, that slopes gently downward as it winds between the tan, golden and faded orange stone walls of homes that look centuries old. There is a certain spot on the road and each time I come upon it, I have all the giddy feelings of a school girl in love. 

I can still see the odd looks on folks’ faces when I tried to explain why I was transported by that teeny rural village, or the colors in the Albricht Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York or just about any room in the Louvre; they thought I was nuts, not for liking those things, but for loving them. But, now we have proof that beauty and love are in the eye of the beholder. I love that!

So, as always, surround yourself with things and people you love. If you can’t travel to the places or visit the galleries you love, keep photos visible, coffee table books and magazines nearby. Step outside, soak up blue skies, deep waters or forest paths. Bring the things you love to you.   

PS. I am beginning to wonder if this new research might explain the female fascination with shoes . . .

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