Some of you know I’m a big fan of The Tim Ferriss Show – a podcast/blog about the most interesting things you never knew you needed to know. Each episode is full of fascinating, thought-provoking ideas and guests, replete with tons of usable motivation. One of my favorite books of his is Tribe of Mentors – check it out. You will not be disappointed.
Right now, however, I want to highlight an idea mentioned by a December 2019 podcast guest of his: Adam Grant. Mr. Grant is a psychologist and author who specializes in organizational psychology. He currently teaches at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, having received his tenure ten years ago at the age of 28 (28!) In the aforementioned podcast, he shares a tool developed by some of his colleagues from The University of Michigan, which he employs with all his students and his clients. It’s called The Reflected Best-Self Exercise.
Stay with me now.
The exercise is simple. Write to between 15 and 20 people who know you well; friends, family, colleagues - people in every area of your life. Ask them to tell you a story about a time when you were at your best, and then wait for the revelations to follow. See? Simple. But that doesn't mean you should take it lightly. It takes courage to send out such an email, and even more courage to absorb and then utilize the responses you'll get. Here's why:
In our quest for self-improvement, we often focus on what we did wrong and what we need to do better; that is, we focus on our mistakes. We've grown accustomed to hearing what's wrong with us and how we need to improve. Of course all of us do make mistakes, and I am a big fan of learning from them and turning them into wins. But in this exercise, we are showered with (our own) real-life examples of what we did right when we were at our best.
I recognize the exercise could be a bit overwhelming. I'm feeling a little reluctant, myself, truth be told. But I can't think of a more empowering exercise to help us understand the gifts we already possess; those already at work in us that have made a profound impression on others. This exercise is more than just a confidence builder. I’ll bet it will reveal a fresh way of looking at our lives, our goals, and our future. Think about that for a moment. Could it be that such a simple exercise might give you new eyes with which to behold your life and the possibilities that lie ahead? This is a game-changer, I think. But you've got to apply what you discover in order to bring about the change. Mr. Grant says this of doing the exercise himself:
You have to analyze the stories, and find the common themes, and figure out, “Okay, what is the portrait of me when I’m at my best? And what is it that activates those strengths?” I first did this my first year of grad school. And I learned that apparently (I didn’t realize this) one of my strengths is actually recognizing other people’s strengths. It showed up in almost every story. I was at my best when I was helping someone else be at their best. And so I said, “I’ve got to make that part of my job. I have to figure a way to do that because I love it and people are telling me that I’m good at it, or at least that they like it.” And I never would’ve thought of that. It just did not cross my mind.
Because my greatest desire is to help you know your gifts and your worth (voiceover advice comes in a distant second) I am hereby challenging you to do this exercise. I’ve not yet done it myself, so I will join you. If you’re reluctant because you don’t know what to say or how to ask, let me reassure you it doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be verbose. Feel free to use the following template:
Subject Line: Request: Tell me a story about a time I was at my best
Body of Email:
I know this might seem like a strange request, but I'm doing an exercise designed to help me discover my core strengths, and I’d be grateful if you’d tell me a story about a time you saw or experienced me at my best.
You can respond in whatever format is easiest for you: email, voice recording, video recording, whatever. I’d love to hear back by (date) if at all possible.
With love and gratitude,
Use this template in full, or use it as a starter and make it your own.
Since I’m writing to a lot of self-flagellating artists, I’ll take a guess that the thought of making such a request leaves you feeling… uncomfortable. Well, you go ahead and feel uncomfortable. And do it anyway. You'll survive, I promise. Some of you may think this sounds like asking for praise or a pat on the back, and maybe you find that embarrassing. I'd like to suggest you not allow yourself to be derailed by such a thought. You won't be asking strangers or acquaintances. You'll be asking people who know you well, with whom you have a relationship such that you know they'd encourage the inquiry and would be happy to participate. Allow those who know you well to give you a dose of insight into your gifts and talents. Not only will it benefit you, it’ll benefit them. Doesn't it genuinely feel wonderful to give someone a gift? What a lovely opportunity you are providing them to experience that very same wonderful feeling.
Once you do the exercise and get your responses, process them a bit. Then I’d love to hear about your experience. Email me at [email protected]. I’ll follow up on my own experience in a later blog post.
Trust and Be Brave – and do the challenge :-)