If you were given the opportunity to create your dream job, do you know what it would look like? What would you be doing each day that build on your strengths? Who would you be working with? Why would you feel proud when you went home each night?
When people come to me for coaching they're able to easily list off all the things they're not really enjoying about their work, but when I ask them what the job they're longing for looks like I mostly see blank faces. And when they start to actually think about where they're headed, it's usually focused on bigger, faster and stronger. But as John F. Kennedy once said, "Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."
When it comes to creating a job you love, studies suggest it pays to create a vivid image of what your strengths-fuelled future might look like. But why is this approach more science than secret?
A growing body of evidence suggests that positive images pull us forward into positive actions. As Professor David Cooperrider--one of the world's leading researchers in creating positive change--taught me, positive images pull us forward into new possibilities that fuel us with hope and put us on the road to finding solutions, helping us to realize we have the power to make things happen.
How does this work? Just the very idea of having the rewards that come from getting something that we're hoping for is enough to kick-start a cascade of dopamine--our brain's reward drug--through key neural pathways in the brain that have the power to move us from intention to action.
For example, for decades, the four-minute mile was considered a natural limit for runners. It was unthinkable to go faster. Then English athlete Roger Bannister set himself the impossible goal, started training accordingly, and in May 1954, he shattered this barrier on an Oxford track. Within three years, sixteen other runners had also surpassed this "human" limit. There was no fundamental leap in human evolution. What had changed was their ability to imagine what was possible.
Positive images pull us forward into positive action. Perhaps this is why Albert Einstein once famously said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And, it may be why Professor Martin Seligman - the founder of positive psychology - recently proposed that intelligence is not what you know, but how well you simulate the future and act on your predictions.
So just how can you get clear on what your strengths-fuelled future looks like?
Firstly, it helps to understand how you're already using your strengths in ways that are respected and valued in your work. Think back on those times when you've felt really engaged, energized and enjoying what you're doing at work and you'll find one or more of your strengths are present in each of these moments. You can use this play sheet to help you from my new book Your Strengths Blueprint.
Secondly, take a few moments and really consider what you want for your strengths-fuelled future and why. You see studies have found "purpose goals" around growth, connection and contribution, rather than "profit goals" around money, power and popularity, not only leave us feeling more satisfied and confident about ourselves they also improve our wellbeing. So what inspires your work beyond your need to just make money? What gives you a sense of fulfillment or purpose? What will cause you to leap out of bed in the morning?
Finally, sit down somewhere quiet with a pen and paper and selecting a future point in time - it might be six months, one year, three years or more depending on how far you want to stretch - try to capture as vividly as possible what would be happening in your life if everything had gone as well as it possibly could and you were using your strengths each day to create the kind of life that would make your purpose a reality.
• What would you be doing?
• How would you be feeling?
• What would people be saying about the difference you were making?
• How would the world around you look different?
Try to spend at least fifteen to twenty minutes journaling this down as a stream of consciousness exercise. Don't judge, don't edit, just let it flow out. You'll find a play sheet here to guide you through these steps.
Researcher Laura King, who created this exercise, suggests if you can try to repeat this exercise for three days in a row. You'll find on the first day all the obvious ideas you've already been toying with are captured. On the second day you'll start to step outside your comfort zone a little more. And by the third day you'll finding ideas emerge that you've only ever dared whispered in the deepest parts of your heart.
What does your strengths-fuelled future look like?