Now discover your strengths (and what to do with them)

Have you ever experienced looking for an answer and having just the right book or person cross your path? I’ve had this happen so many times in my life that I no longer believe in coincidences

Lately, I was reflecting on what motivates me. Every expert and coach (myself included) will tell you that, in order to achieve any goal, you need to be clear on what fuels you.

There are many different ways to find your fuel. You can journal and envision what you desire for your life and career. You can take inventory of your values. You can think about your hobbies and how you would spend your days if money were no object.

I did it all, but somehow these techniques were falling flat with me. And then I realized that when we are in the flow, we feel incredibly focused and motivated to achieve a certain result.

What does being in the flow mean?

According to positive psychologist  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow describes the mental state of  “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

So the question becomes, how can you achieve this flow?

I believe that we get this sense of being in the zone when we are tackling a challenge and feel competent enough to succeed.

Flow is found at the intersection between our core strengths and our will to overcome some obstacle or reach an inspiring goal.

Enters in the equation a book by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton called Now, Discover Your Strengths.

I first heard about this book through one of my mentors, Marie Forleo. Then, I saw a friend of mine – who’s an HR person at Shell – carry it around as part of some work that he was doing.

I took this double cue and got a copy of my own. I just finished reading it and was not disappointed.

Buckingham and Clifton contend that we should all discover and build on our strengths. That is the secret to unleashing our brilliance.

Most people and organizations spend a ton of time and effort trying to overcome their weaknesses. That is a waste of energy and money, the authors say.

We can certainly learn different skills and increase our competences in areas in which we’re not naturally endowed. But becoming outstanding at something takes more: it requires talent. And talent is innate.

Each of us has a unique set of thought patterns. It has to do with the way our brains are wired. If you want to get spiritual about it: it’s related to your higher purpose.

Your true talents don’t change much over a lifetime. The best you can do for yourself, your loved ones you and the world is figure-out where your genius lies and leverage it! This will inform your career choices, and help you create a more prosperous and fulfilling life.

Here is a 3-step plan to get you started.

Step 1: Discover Your Strengths

Pick-up your own copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths. Each book comes with a unique code on the back cover. You can use that code to access the StrengthsFinder® test online.

The test takes only about 20 minutes to complete and, by the end of it, you will know what your five top signature themes (a.k.a. strengths) are. This will give you great insight on what motivates you and what types of roles are a good fit for you.

For example, my top themes are: Competition, Achiever, Futuristic, Strategic and Activator. This means that I thrive in competitive environments, am strong on big picture view, and always have a vision for the future. Arguably, I could make an equally good investment banker, strategist, consultant, or coach.

What the StrengthsFinder® test won’t tell you is what your exact vocation is and which industry you should be working in. That’s why I recommend taking step 2.

Step 2: Identify Your Interests

Notice what you’re interested in and passionate about. What do you always read about? What are your hobbies? What fields excite you most?

Beauty, Fitness, Luxury, Love and Personal Development are things that make me tick. What are five industries or topics that make you sparkle?

Compare them to your strengths, and you’ll start drawing the portrait of the exact roles that you would most enjoy and be awesome at.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Values

Know what’s most important to you. This will define your desired lifestyle.

If you’re not yet clear on your life prioritiesread this article that I wrote about the real reason why successful women quit great jobs.

Once you know your priorities, cross-check them with the career options you identified in steps 1 and 2.

In my case, Love, Family, Health and Career are among my top values. This means, that while I could make a great management consultant, the hectic schedule with weekly travels is not a good fit for me. Coaching, on the other hand, is a better match for my interests and strengths, especially if I can infuse the fun elements of beauty, fitness, luxury and romance in my brand.

What French women know about being irresistibly charming

French women seem to enjoy a global reputation of being stylish, gracious and seductive. And that is not unwarranted.

A few years ago, I met-up with a French friend of mine for tea in Kensington. A couple of gentlemen were sitting at the table next to ours and struck up a conversation. They heard us speak in French and were curious about where we were from and what we were doing in London.

I couldn’t help notice the calm confidence exuded by my friend. She answered their questions kindly while remaining elegantly reserved. Her manners were both charming and mysterious in a natural, unaffected way.

Very feminine and refined!

So what is the secret of French women’s irresistible charm?

Having attended a French school since kindergarten and later lived in France, I became acquainted with the concept of being bien dans sa peau  from an early age. This literally means ‘feeling good in your own skin’.

I believe that this is the number one factor that makes French women so alluring. They feel comfortable in who they are, and they fearlessly express their uniqueness through their opinions and personal style.

They truly are their own brand. And this serves them well both in business and in life.

If you did not have a French upbringing, can you still cultivate this power of feeling bien dans sa peau?

Mais bien sûr! Here are three simple practices to get you started.

1) Express yourself

The first step is to understand who you really are.

What are your values, likes and dislikes? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you most desire to achieve in your life and career? Don’t be afraid to share these with others en passant.

Read extensively about different topics and form your own opinions. Then, practice expressing them in appropriate social settings.

You’ll become a far more interesting woman. And don’t be surprised if people start calling you an expert conversationalist!

2) Cultivate your style

Whether you like it or not, first impressions count. The way we present ourselves makes a statement about who we are.

As women, we tend to be judged even more than men based on our appearance. So it is worth curating how you show-up in the world.

Now that you are clear on who you are and what you stand for, think about the image that you want to convey and choose your look accordingly. Is classic Chanel your vibe or do you prefer a more playful & practical DVF style?

Be consistent.

3) Exercise gently

Draping yourself with beautiful clothes that express your personality is all fine. But what is even more important is to take care of what’s underneath, a.k.a. your body & mind.

Exercise is a fabulous way to boost your mood and self-esteem while giving you a nice booty. Not only will you get a great body that will help you feel good in your own skin, you will also produce uplifting hormones called ‘endorphins’ at the same time.

In general, French women don’t care too much about spending hours in a gym. They prefer to walk everywhere, and that helps them keep fit.

Follow their example and include a gentle form of exercise in your everyday life. I’d suggest adding yoga and Pilates to your repertoire if you would like to tone-up.

The 4 pillars of a balanced, beautiful life

I had called him on his mobile a couple of days before and announced my intention to resign.

As we stepped into the glass walled team room, I glanced at my colleagues on the other side – busy updating spreadsheets, listening to conf calls and talking with investors on the phone. This was my day-to-day as an equity research analyst in London.

While my career in investment banking looked pretty glamorous (and it was!), my personal life as a single woman in the City felt far from healthy and fulfilling. My desire was to have a family of my own. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I wasn’t seeing that happening any time soon unless I made some major shifts.

Mr. D. and I discussed again my reasons for quitting, and I think I’ll remember his words for a long time:

“I should probably not be telling you this as your manager. But if you were my daughter, I would say it’s the right thing for you to resign. You’re not happy and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.”

Within a month, I shipped most of my belongings to be stored in my parent’s basement in Portugal, and moved to France for the second time in my life with just two suitcases.

I needed to get my personal act together, and resuming my studies sounded like a good option to buy myself some time. Doing a PhD was on the table, so when my former boss at the EMBL in Grenoble offered me a temporary position in his team, I jumped at the opportunity to test whether I really wanted to go back to Science or not.

In the end, I decided not to do the PhD. But the time that I spent in France, and later in Portugal with my parents, felt like a doctorate in personal growth.

During that period, I read lot, reflected a lot, and eventually trained as a Life Coach.

From studying my own path, that of my fellow friends and clients, I have come to believe that true, sustainable happiness stems from enjoying a balanced life and feeling bien dans sa peau (comfortable in your own skin).

For this, you much have four strong pillars in place:

  • Good health & fitness
  • Supportive relationships
  • Stable & fulfilling work
  • Time & space for yourself

When one or more of these pillars is wobbly, the whole foundation starts shaking. And that’s what was happening to me when working in banking. This was not by fault of my firm or the industry, but because I did not have all the self-mastery tools to set solid anchors for myself.

I want to shortcut your path to a more balanced & beautiful life, so I have prepared a simple exercise to help you get you back on track (without necessarily changing jobs or going through a dramatic revolution like I did).

Step 1: Check for imbalances

On a scale 1-10, how satisfied are you in each of the four pillars of work-life balance: (1) Health & Fitness, (2) Supportive Relationships, (3) Career, (4) Space for Self?

Step 2: Address the weakest link

While I’m all for building on your strengths, where it comes to creating a balanced and beautiful life for yourself, I believe that you need to address your weakest link first, otherwise it can start jeopardizing all other areas.

Pick your weakest pillar as identified in step 1 and brainstorm what your dream scenario would be in that area of your life. Don’t censure yourself, thinking of what’s possible and what’s not. Just write down your greatest desires for that specific area of your life.

Step 3: Plan your next step

Now that you know what you want to achieve, ask yourself:

What is the very first step that I can take to move towards my dream?

Choose an action that depends only on you and that you can perform today.

Step 4: Take action

Go and do it! (Or at least schedule it).

Step 5: Social accountability

Even if you consider yourself an introvert, the truth is that we are sociable beings and that peer pressure gets us moving, whether we like to admit it or not.

Leverage your unconscious mind and set-up some social accountability. Share your commitment to improving the weakest pillar of your life with a close friend or loved one. Ask them to keep you accountable for making progress toward your dreams

How to double your IQ in seven hours

“I’m going to get some sleep!”

I thought this was bizarre at first. After all, I remember trying to negotiate my bedtime schedule with my mum when I was little (and I’m sure I’m not alone).

Isn’t ironic that, as adults, sleeping becomes an activity that we eagerly look forward to?

A few months into the job and I understood exactly what my colleagues meant. Being able to function on little sleep was worn almost like a badge of honor.

I recall this particular session that I attended in New York many years ago, as part of my training as a new Business Analyst at the firm. Behind closed doors, with no senior people present, we were given the opportunity, as junior analysts, to ask any questions to a couple of more senior BAs.

When someone inquired about work-life balance and how to manage the long working hours, the response was short and clear: ‘Sleep less! Your body will get used to it.’

That is true to an extent. We are incredibly adaptable creatures. But it all comes at a price…

For a long time, I got used to surviving on only 4 hours a night. Needless to say that this wasn’t a very good strategy for my well-being and personal effectiveness.

Constantly fatigued and with my emotions in roller-coaster mode, I got into a cycle of over-eating carbs and then over-exercising to compensate for it. Moody and confused, my romantic life was also on the rocks.

Eventually, I took a stand for myself and decided to increase my sleeping time to 6 hours a night, no matter what! It may still not sound like much, but it was a massive improvement for me.

I suddenly realized how much smarter I am when well rested. I felt like my IQ had doubled! Without noticing it, my cognitive functions had been deteriorating due to sleep deprivation. And this had been affecting my ability to make good decisions – in business, love and life.

Just by adding a couple of extra snooze hours to my day, I felt like a new woman – more balanced, centered and bien dans ma peau!

Nobody knows exactly why we need to sleep, but neuroscientists have identified at least three key benefits:

1) Restoration

During sleep, your anabolic functions are increased, enabling healing. Conversely, sleep deprivation impairs your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.

It has also been shown that sleep acts as a brain detox, as the waste-draining glymphatic system (which clears away toxins  linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) is ten times more active during sleep.

2) Memory Processing

Short-term memory – essential for decision-making and reasoning – is affected by sleep deprivation.

Harvard scientists Saper and Stickgold have suggested that memories and knowledge are organized during sleep. When no external information is presented to the brain, the latter is finally free to form new neuronal connections based on the information already acquired.

3) Dreaming

Sigmund Freud proposed that dreams are the expression of our unconscious desires and frustrations. They help us process shadow emotions in our unconscious mind for the sake of our psychological health.

Finally, getting a little metaphysical about it, I would add…

4) Connecting with Spirit

Whether you call it God, the Universe or Spirit, chances are that you believe in some sort of Higher Power or Creative Consciousness that put us on this Earth.

Spiritual teachers tell us that during sleep and meditation we access a consciousness gap that enables us to connect with that Higher Mind and tap into our intuition. Another good reason to get some additional quality sleep!

That said, what can you do if you’re feeling sleep deprived? Here are 5 steps that you can mix & match to help you get back on track.

Step 1: Up your sleep intake

Research shows that people who consistently sleep at least 7 hours tend to live the longest.

Note that some of us need as much as 8 or 9 hours a night, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are just averages.

Step 2: Mind your circadian rhythm

Your daily activity and energy cycles (a.k.a. circadian rhythm) are regulated by your individual body clock.

You may think that you’re in control of your life, but in fact it is your biological circadian rhythm that defines the time of the day at which your physical and cognitive functions are active and to what extent.

Some people, commonly referred to as ‘larks’, like waking-up early and feel very energetic in the first part of the day. Other people, known as ‘owls’, prefer waking-up late and are more active in the evening.

Whether you’re a lark or an owl is genetically determined. Therefore, there’s no point in fighting your body. It’s better to respect your natural rhythm!

Step 3: Pay-off your sleep debt

Sleep debt results from consistently lacking sleep. It leads to physical, mental and emotional fatigue.

To pay-off your sleep debt this coming weekend, close your blinds, go to bed earlier and do not set your alarm clock. Just sleep undisturbed for as long as you like.

Step 4: Wind down

Create a consistent bedtime routine that helps you relax.

Choose 1-3 activities that help you unwind and combine them in a routine that you’ll repeat every day. For example, you can take a warm bath, practice some gentle yoga moves, listen to soothing music, etc.

Whatever you do, avoid bright lights, caffeine, technology use (computers, smart phones, tablets) and vigorous exercise at least 1 hour before going to bed.

Step 5: Herbal indulgence

Herbal teas are great for insomnia. Chamomile tea is a great option. If you would like something stronger, you can try Valerian tea in moderation (as it causes drowsiness).

Take your tea about 20 minutes before heading to bed to avoid a trip to the ladies’ in the middle of the night.

Now if you’re a mum and your little one constantly challenges your beauty sleep, you may be thinking: “This won’t work for me!” I know so because I’m a mum too!

For now, turn the question around and ask yourself: “How can this work for me?” Then stay tuned to an upcoming article just for mums where I will walk you through my tried & tested tips to help you restore your beauty sleep.

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Bonne nuit,