While Mr. Buckingham’s book has been helpful, The Artist’s Way as well as other books I have read have taken his concept to a whole new level. For example, in Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen, he speaks about a man named Jay O’Callahan who uses the concept of appreciations when giving feedback to people. His entire organization uses this, the idea being that if you share with someone that which you appreciated about what he/she did or said, that person will inevitably focus on those things and over time, that which he/she needed to “fix” tends to go away. This is so different from annual performance reviews which are filled with providing feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Imagine if they were only focused on our strengths!
This concept can apply at the personal level as well. While reading Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, they speak about the concept of bright spots. In the book, they cite several examples of people changing their behaviors for the better by targeting the things that work very well, understanding why they work so well, and capitalizing on them to create change. For instance, a boy had severe behavioral problems in school to the point where he was about to get kicked out. Instead of pushing him off as a “bad one,” a therapist started talking to him about school and which classes or teachers he liked. What was uncovered is that the boy performed well in one class, where a teacher would greet him at the door, make sure he understood his assignments, and sometimes give him different assignments to account for his learning disability. Once this was uncovered, the therapist spoke with each of the boy’s teachers instructing them to do the above. While his behavior did not become perfect, it improved dramatically such that he was able to stay in the school.
In another example, in the early days of Save the Children, one of their leaders, Jerry Sternin, was given six months to change the childhood malnutrition situation in Vietnam or he would be booted out. Important to note is that prior to Mr. Sternin’s start of this assignment, hundreds of research studies were done about how the problem should be fixed and money had already been invested to fix this problem, but failed to do so. He had quite the task ahead of him, and realized that, in order to be successful, he had to change the research from identifying what was wrong to answering the question of “What’s working?” First, he found there were families at the poverty level who had children that were not malnourished. While observing them relative to families whose children were malnourished, he and his team found the difference was how often the children were fed and what was put in their food. By feeding a child the same amount of rice four times a day rather than two, the child was healthier. Additionally, if moms added the shrimp, crab and sweet potato greens (all readily available in the village) to the rice, it gave the children more of the nutrients they so desperately needed. Once this was uncovered, Save the Children put together a plan that had all the mom’s in the village cooking together so they learned the positive ways of cooking and feeding their children. Needless to say, the malnutrition rates went down and Mr. Sternin kept his job.
Over the past few weeks, the books I’ve chosen to read have impacted me about the value in focusing on strengths and that which is working in life. I’ve realized The Artist’s Way has been doing the same thing! Slowly over the past six weeks, I have been eliminating the things that don’t work in my life and adding more of that which does. Between the morning pages, weekly artist’s dates, and weekly activities proposed by Julia Cameron, the initiator of this great program, I simply don’t have time or energy to do things I don’t want to do. For the past few days, my husband has even commented on how happy and relaxed I’ve seemed. He’s right. I feel happy, centered, and relaxed. I am in my element.
I get it now. It’s truly worth it to stop and assess what we are good at, what we love doing, and do more of both. Slowly, our weaknesses and annoyances whither away.