Onward and Upward: Toward a Life Worth Living

A Life Worth Living
What makes life worth living?  It’s one of the Big Questions that has haunted both mankind’s great thinkers and ordinary men and women down through the ages.

But only in the past couple decades has science begun to embrace it as a problem worthy of study.

What gives life meaning?  What promotes happiness, well-being, and thriving?  What motivates us to get out of bed in the morning?  To reach toward our ideals?  To persevere in the face of life’s difficulties and challenges?

How can we, both individually and collectively, learn to live better lives?

Peering through the lens of science (with occasional ventures into additional sources of wisdom, experience and thought), those are the questions this blog has set out to explore.  As we begin a new year, I’ve doubled my dedication to bringing you the clues I find to their answers.

What We Know

Before you can ask how to move your life in a more fulfilling, happier direction, you need to ask a more fundamental question:  Is it possible to change my life?

The resounding answer to that was stated back in the 19th Century by William James, the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States according to Wikipedia, and one most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced.  Here’s his famous proclamation:

 “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Zoom forward to the 21st Century and we find psychologists talking about the neuroplasticity of the brain, and the multitude of ways that we can indeed alter our lives.  Vast waves of studies from psychology , psychobiology and social psychology labs gush into the journals to tell us what works and what doesn’t.  We’re on the brink of wonderful new breakthroughs.  We have much to discover and learn.

But the one fabulous certainty is that change is possible.  Of that there is no doubt.

How to Change Your Life

The second thing we know for sure is that we human beings are messy, often unpredictable critters, living in a fast-paced, ever-changing world.   There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the puzzle of how best to change your life.  We can know what works for many, but it may not work for you.

The only firm ground in the “how to change your life” field is this:  You have to know what it is that you want to change, and you need to want it with great fervor.

What you’ll find here at Positive-Living-Now is a smorgasbord of things you can try, of practices that work for many.

Then, as Kathryn Britton, Associate Editor for Positive Psychology News Daily suggests:

“Try something. Then contemplate what happened. If it worked, great! You’ve got something to practice and make into a habit. If it didn’t, great! You’ve got a chance to learn more about your own particular way of living in the world, something that nobody is going to capture in a book. Just as good science requires being ready to learn from ideas that fail, good living benefits as well.”

Begin at the Beginning

The place to start is to think about the areas of your life that you want to take to greater heights.  What do you want more of in your life?  What do you want to eliminate?  What do you think would bring you the most lasting sense of fulfillment?

Take time to sit down and actually write out a list of your desires.  Then refine it; narrow it down to the two or three things that you want the most, and devote yourself to making these your focus.

Once you know what you want, you can search through the Article Index here for resources.  Or drop me a line and let me know what you’re interested in and I’ll consider it for a future article.

You can contact me, too, for affordable personal coaching  in your area of focus and move forward faster with the encouragement, support, and enhanced insights that personal coaching offers.

And keep checking back here for new ways to move forward.  I post new articles about every ten days.

Onward and Upward

What’s important to remember is that you do have the power to change your life, to live with more zest, health, happiness, achievement, love, and meaning.

All it takes is deciding what you genuinely want and then doing the things that will move you in that direction—one experimental little step at a time.

And I only have one question to ask you:  Why not?

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If you found this article valuable, please remember that “sharing is caring,” and pass it on.

You might also enjoy:

8 Power Questions for Discovering What You Really Want

Finding Meaning in Life

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7 Ways that New Year’s Resolutions Can Sabotage Your Success

Failed ResolutionsThinking about making some resolutions for the New Year?

Unless you’ve been seriously planning and preparing for the change you have in mind, making New Year’s resolution can sabotage your success.

Here’s why, and what to do instead.

1.Hastily formed resolutions tend to be counterfeit goals.  The goals you’re most likely to reach are the ones that come from your heart.   Too often, when we set resolutions just because it’s the New Year, we’re basing them on the “shoulds,” the things we think we ought to do.  We end up choosing the goals that our culture, or that a partner or parent, child or boss thinks we ought to adopt.

2.The timing is faulty.  However fun they may be, the holidays take us away from our comfortable patterns and routines.  They create stress—whether it’s of the positive or negative variety—and burn up a lot of energy.  Trying to jump headlong into a whole new pattern of behavior plunges us into more stress and sets us up for failure.

3.They don’t allow time for thinking things through.  Successful  life change needs to be built on a foundation of thoughtful visualization, preparation and planning.  What will you need in order to make it happen?  What resources? Time? Support?  Information? Where will you start?  Adopting a goal to change a fundamental part of your life without this kind of preparation is like building a sand castle at the ocean’s edge.  It’s sure to wash away the moment the tide turns.

4.They prompt you to take drastic action.  New Year’s resolutions tend to come with a big bag of magical thinking.  We expect that we’ll wake up January 1 with the power to accomplish whatever we set out minds to.  Yesterday you craved chocolate.  Today you can easily let it go.  Yesterday you spent three hours on Facebook.  Today you’ll read a book instead.  You expect to be able to leap from couch potato to exercise fanatic in a single bound.  But real change happens in tiny increments, one small, consistent action at a time.

5.They don’t give you a chance to form a complete picture.  When you pick a resolution out of a hat at the last minute, you don’t have time to think about all the ways your life will be different or how it will effect and involve key relationships in your life.  The ability to hold in your mind a vivid, well-crafted image of what it is you want to be or do is a key success factor in life change.

6.They rely too heavily on will power.  Analysis of thousands of surveys of personal strengths name will power as the strength most likely to come in at the very bottom of the list.  Even people who are gifted with a big helping of it need to apply additional abilities in order to achieve significant personal transformations.

7.They undermine future efforts.  Because, on some level, you know our resolutions aren’t really going to work, making them is a kind of sneaky way to let yourself off the hook for planning real changes that could benefit your life.  “I tried that last January,” you’ll be able to say. “It’s no use; I can’t do it.”

What to Do Instead

The New Year is a wonderful time to review your life and consider what you could do to bring more zest, joy, satisfaction and meaning to it.

The essential question to ask, of course, is “What do I really want?” And while you may not know exactly what that is or what form you would want it to take, chances are you have a general sense its direction.  And that general sense is what you can profitably adopt as your guideline for the new year.

Identify what you aspire to, rather than what, specifically, you will achieve.

How to Set a Direction

In the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with choosing a key word for my year instead of setting goals.  It’s an idea that I’ve noticed is catching on.   It keeps you focused while allowing you a measure of spontaneity.  It lets serendipity enter into the picture.

Personally, last year I decided that I wanted to encourage myself to take more risks, to be more daring.  So I adopted the phrase “Why not!”  And it has served me well.  It’s let me try new things and to push past procrastination, fear and hesitancy when I didn’t know if I could master a challenge.

One increasingly successful man I know shared that he chose the word “Leadership” for his guide word last year.  The year before, he’d chosen “Business Education.”

The word that I’ve chosen for 2014 is “mindful,” and I’m excited to see what new vistas will open for me as I let it remind me how I want to be.

You can use the list below to help you hone in on your own preferred direction, and then come up with your personal guide word from there.

When I reviewed lists of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I discovered that they fell into twelve main categories.  As you read through them, notice which ones set off a spark for you.  Which ones seem to be calling to you most strongly?

  • Adventure/Recreation: Have More Fun; Travel; Explore; Sports; Play
  • Business/Career Development: Leadership, Productivity, Creativity, Career Change
  • Community/Service: Volunteering, Political Action, Participation in Clubs, Organizations
  • Family: Spend More Time With Spouse/Partner/Family
  • Finances: Reduce Debt; Save More; Earn More
  • Happiness: Enjoy Life More, More Down Time
  • Health/Fitness: Better Diet/Exercise/Sleep/Drop Harmful Habits
  • Home: Beautify/Organize
  • Learning: Read More, Take Classes
  • Image: Improve Wardrobe, Grooming
  • Personal Development/Spirituality: Develop self-knowledge, practice self-growth techniques/enhanced spiritual awareness, spiritual/religious practice
  • Social Life/Relationships: Build more, deeper friendships/More Time Enjoying with Others

Narrow your list down to about three, then choose the one that draws you most strongly.  A year from now, how would you feel if you had let that category shape your life, if you had let it be your focus for the entire year?  What word or phrase can you use to represent that idea for you, to set your direction for the year ahead?

Devotion, Not Discipline

“People think I’m disciplined,” said world-famous opera star Luciano Pavarotti.   “It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference.”

Discipline arises from your will.  Devotion comes from your heart.

When you choose a direction because it sings to you, because it shines so brightly in your mind, you can give yourself to it with a sort of consecration, a dedication based in its deep meaning for you. In the face of the inevitable setbacks and deviations from your path, devotion to your chosen direction will call you back to it.

It will bring you joy in your efforts and make your sense of purpose strong.

So if you must make a resolution at all, resolve to identify a direction to follow.  Then carve out the time to discover which path most clearly calls from your heart.  It can make all the difference in the world.

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Would you like some support in finding and following your direction?  Let’s talk!  My specialty is coaching people get to the heart of their dreams and then to make them come true.

If you enjoyed this article, do share!

You may also enjoy: If Wishes Were Horses: How to Make Real Change Happen in Your Life and If You Want to Change Your Life

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8 Powerful Questions for Discovering What You Really Want

Discovering What You Really WantThe key to living a life that’s brimming with satisfaction, happiness and meaning is discovering what you really want.

And yet few of us know how to get to our core desires.  We end up letting life live us instead of living according to our own intentions and designs.

I’m writing this article in December, and every year at this time, I watch people grapple with the New Year’s Resolution dilemma: To resolve or not to resolve?  And if so, what?

Most of us have learned from experience that making resolutions doesn’t change our lives.  If we decide to make one anyway, thinking this year we mean it, we pick something we think we should do to be a better person:  Lose weight, quit smoking, find a better job.  But in the end our resolution turns out to be just so much wishful thinking.

Deciding to enhance your life is a noble act.  But will power burns up quickly.  Temptations and distractions loom large.  And setbacks can send your  whole effort  crashing to the ground.

To create a life that excites you and lets you unfold your true potential, you need to begin with identifying what you really want in your life.

When you know, deep in your heart, what you want to have, and do, and be, you have authentic guidelines for living.  You wake up in the morning with a sense of direction and purpose.  

When you know what truly matters to you, you’re alert for opportunities; you know when to say yes and when to say no to things; you’re not pulled by momentary distractions, temptations, or setbacks. You’re living intentionally, in alignment with your own purposes.  And that’s a powerful way to live.

Ask Yourself These Questions

To get started on discovering what it is that you really want in life, take time to consider the following questions and to answer them for yourself.

You may want to print them out to keep them where you can see them.  Then set aside some regular time for working out your answers – even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day.  Pay attention to the thoughts and signals that come to you during your day that give you clues.  You have all the answers inside you.  And the process of discovering them can be life-changing—and great fun.

1. Which parts of your life interest you the most? What are your priorities?  Rate each of the following areas on a 1-10 scale, where 1 means you don’t really care about that aspect of life very much at all, and 10 means it’s one of the most important parts of your life.  Then decide, if you could focus on only 3 – 4 areas this year, which would you choose?

  • Health
  • Job/Career
  • Finances
  • Significant Other/Romance/Family
  • Friends/Social Life/Community
  • Personal Growth/Spirituality
  • Fun/Recreation/Hobbies
  • Physical Environment

2. How would the key areas of your life look if they were ideal?  How would an ideal day unfold if you were giving this aspect of your life your best?   Take time to imagine it.  Who kinds of things would you be doing? How would you feel?  Who would be with you?  What would people be saying about it?  A clear vision of what you’re aiming for is a dynamite motivator.

3. In what ways do you want to develop more mastery or competence?  What are you curious about learning in each of the priority aspects of your life in order to make it better?  What new behaviors would you like to begin practicing?  How might you go about it?

4. What stops you?  What barriers stop you from being more?  In what ways, or in what activities or environments, do you feel insecure?  How might you begin to practice more courage in this area?  How can you take more risks?  In what new ways can you respond when you feel fear?

5. What resources do you need?  What information, materials, time or support might you need in order to develop priority areas of your life?  Where might you get them?  Who can help you?  What are you willing to trade or give up in order to get them?

6. Do you know  your personal character strengths? (Learn more here.) How might you use them with greater focus and intention in your daily life?  How can you apply them to move you toward your ideals?

7. What tools do you have for reducing the stress in your life?  How regularly do your practice them?  Would it benefit you to add a favorite or two to your daily routine?  Would you like to learn new techniques?  How might you go about it?

8. How can add more happiness into your day?  What pleasurable activities might you do more often?  Happiness comes in different flavors.  Which of the following positive emotions most mean “happiness” to you?  How might you choose to experience them more often during your day?

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest/Engagement
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love

Set aside time during the next two weeks or so to play with these questions and see the new sense of direction that develops.   Then work out a plan for applying the ideas you generate into your real life.

Yes, it takes some concentrated attention.  We’re not used to doing the kind of digging-for-inner-gold that these questions require.  But the reward is living a rich, satisfying, self-directed life and worth every second that you spend on it. Why not get started today?

If it feels like it’s more than you can do alone, shoot me an email and I’ll give you a call. We can talk about what you want to achieve and the ways that personal coaching might offer you the clarity, confidence and support to move ahead.

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How to Power Up Your Self-Control

Boost Self ControlAlmost all of us want to change some part of our lives.  Yet less than half of us who want to make a change actually succeed.  And the number one thing we blame for our failure is our own lack of willpower.

If a study of rankings on the VIA Character Strengths Survey is any indication, most people rank low in the self-control department.   If you’re short on willpower, you’ll be happy to know that recent research has revealed a host of strategies on how to power up your self-control.

Advice on boosting willpower falls into three basic categories.  First, it addresses the best ways to structure your goals.  Secondly, it deals with good strategies for building your self-control.  And third, it provides counsel on how to cope with temptation.

Willpower-Friendly Goals

When a goal is well-structured, it takes less willpower to reach it.  What makes a willpower-friendly goal?  Three things:

  • First, it’s short range rather than far off into the future.  If the change you’re hoping to make is a big one, or one that will involve many steps over a long period of time, break it down into smaller parts.  This is kaizen, or the baby-step method, put into practice.  It helps build your willpower by requiring less of it at a time, and the little successes that you achieve along the way bolster your confidence in your ability to stick with your plan.
  • Secondly, willpower-friendly goals are more about learning or getting better at something than about achieving an end.   As you change your patterns, you are actually building new neural pathways in your brain.  It’s learning how to be the change you’re working to make.  Understanding this helps you stick with the process rather than thinking that you’re making a do or die effort.   And it lets you view your setbacks as valuable learning experiences.
  •  And finally, willpower-friendly goals are about something you’re working to add to your life instead of something you’re working to eliminate.

That doesn’t mean you can’t set a goal to stop smoking or to lose weight.  It just means that you’ll find it easier if you think about those desired results a little differently.   Instead of saying “I’m going to stop smoking,” for example, try thinking about your desired result as learning to live smoke-free.   Instead of losing weight, what you’re aiming for is to learn to live a more active, healthier lifestyle.

Strategies for Stronger Self-Control

Know Your Whys.  Once your goal is set, take some time to explore the reasons why you want to achieve it.  Why does it matter to you?  How is it going to make your life easier or happier or more meaningful?  How will you feel once you have achieved it?   When you’re in touch with the real reasons for wanting it, you can review them in moments when your self-control is at a low point to give yourself a boost.

Create Realistic Optimism. Expect to achieve your goal; be optimistic about it.  But be realistic, too.  Look ahead at the possible obstacles you’ll face and imagine yourself toughing it out as you overcome them.   People who are aware that challenges await them are more likely to overcome them than people who expect smooth sailing.  So know in advance that you will face some rough patches on your path and make up your mind that you will make it through them.

Rest and Rebuild. We know now that willpower comes in limited daily quantities.   It’s sort of like drawing water from a well.  After you have used what’s available, you need to rest and let it replenish.   That’s important to know so that you can plan for low periods as your day goes on or when you have used a lot of energy accomplishing tasks that required mental or physical exertion.

Mind Your Glucose Levels.  We also know that you can extend the amount of willpower available to you by maintaining good levels of glucose in your body.   Glucose fuels your brain and is used up by acts of self-control.    Nibbling on protein and complex carbs throughout the day will help keep your glucose levels stabile.  But in a pinch, you can give yourself an emergency boost by drinking a few ounces of fruit juice.

 Cheat.  You “cheat” a little simply by refusing to believe that you have used up your day’s supply!  Some research shows that people who didn’t believe that willpower comes in limited daily quantities were able to keep going toward a goal longer than people who did believe it.

Practice.  Like a muscle, self-control is strengthened through exercise.  Studies show that “if you do anything that requires self-regulation, then that makes it easier for you to have self-regulation in everything.”

Dealing with Temptation

Nobody succeeds in resisting temptation all the time, but you can increase your odds of success in a lot of ways.   If you do give in, try to accept that you’re still mastering your goal.   Acknowledging your temporary weakness and accepting it is much kinder – and helpful – than beating yourself up about it.  When you put yourself down, you increase your stress levels, further undermining the self-control that you’re trying to build.  Instead, comfort yourself by remembering times that you have been successful at things in the past.  Look at your strengths and skills and talents and remind yourself that you have a lot going for you.

Plan in Advance

The best way to deal with temptation is by avoiding it in the first place.  Do what you can to clear your environment of anything that might trigger it.  If you want to learn to eat healthier, rid your cupboards of sugary, fatty snacks and replace them with healthy nibbles.  If you want to be smoke-free, get rid of your ashtrays.

Create positive reminders of what you want to accomplish.  Develop affirmations.  Keep a book of inspirational quotes handy.  Make a vision board.  Set out pictures that remind you of your goal.

Come up with some rewards you can give yourself when you succeed in resisting temptation – and give them when you do.  Do the same with little punishments you can give yourself when you fail.  Sometimes realizing that you’ll have to do a dreaded household chore, for example, is enough to get you to stand strong.

Try the “Wanting What I Want to Want” method.  Ask yourself how you can make yourself want what you want even more, and then follow your own ideas.  For example, if you want to exercise more, maybe you would find it more attractive if you could recruit a friend to go to the gym with you or accompany you on a walk.

Prepare yourself for inevitable temptations by developing an “if-then” plan. “If I’m tempted to . . . then I will . . .”   When you have some strategies prepared for meeting temptation, you’ll already know what to do.  You won’t have to use energy thinking something up while temptation is staring you in the face.

Emergency Strategies

Here are some of the things you might put on your “then” list:

  • Remind yourself giving in now will only make giving in easier next time.   On the other hand, overcoming the temptation will be easier next time if you can overcome it now.
  • Replace the temptation with something that will provide you with similar satisfaction.  Have a piece of fruit instead of ice cream.  Go for a brisk, oxygenating walk instead of reaching for a smoke.
  • Distance yourself from the temptation.  Remove yourself from the environment, or discard the tempting item.  Or remove yourself from it in time by telling yourself that you can have or do the tempting thing in 10 minutes if you still want it then – and in that 10 minutes do your if-then process.  ( Telling yourself that you can have it in the future if you still want it is a sneaky way of calming your cravings down.  They feel heard, so to speak, so they stop shouting so loudly.)
  • Drink a couple ounces of fruit juice.  The glucose it provides will give your self-control a boost.
  • Remind yourself of your reasons for wanting your goal.  Studies show that thinking more abstractly is a powerful way to boost your self-control.  Thinking about your “why” is a great way to do that.   If your reasons escape you, try solving a few simple math problems instead.
  • Affirm yourself.  Remind yourself about the things that please you about yourself, such as a skill or talent,  or about the things that you value.  That might be a close friendship or the way you enjoy your family or a pet, or anything that you hold dear.
  • Take a nap, or meditate.  Both will help replenish your day’s supply of willpower.

Above all, keep trying.  You can succeed.  And every effort makes you stronger.

If you want support as you work toward making the changes that you would like to see in your life, let’s talk.  As a life enhancement coach, I can provide you with motivating encouragement, clarity, helpful strategies, and the power of accountability to help you reach your goals.  Sign up for a complementary session today and let’s get you on the road to new possibilities.

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If you enjoyed this article please pass it on.  This is one in a continuing series of articles on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You might also enjoy:

What You Don’t Know About Self-Control

How to Make Your Optimism Soar

Perseverance: Power Key to Success

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The Power of Positive Leadership

power of positive leadershipPicture someone who’s a leader and chances are you’ll think of a corporate president, a military officer or political figure.  But the mom who is managing a household, or a coworker who’s in charge of a team, or the neighbor who shepherds a troop of Cub Scouts is a leader, too.

If leadership is one of your top personal strengths, the VIA Strengths Survey would tell you that you enjoy “encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.”

From time to time, most of us end up in leadership positions of one kind or another.  And all of us can learn to lead well, and to exert the power of positive leadership.

In fact, it’s positivity that gives leadership its real power.   Read through lists of the qualities that good leaders possess and you’ll  find  characteristics such as:

  • Integrity, Honesty
  • Flexibity
  • Respectful
  • Quiet Confidence, Humility
  • Enthusiastic
  • Open-Minded
  • Open to Change
  • Trustworthy
  • Compassionate
  • Empowers Others, Supportive
  • Risk Taking
  • Sense of Humor

Good Leadership is Service

Len Petrancosta, from Pittsburgh’s Sandler Training by Peak Performance Management, Inc., told me that the primary benefit of leadership is “the satisfaction of helping people reach their full potential.”    And  helping people reach their full potential is exactly what a positive leader does.

Petrancosta and his colleagues train sales people, executives and managers to achieve their potential using a beautiful model called The Leadership Challenge® based on the best-selling book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.  The model teaches the five practices of good leaders, the ones that all of us can use to lead well, regardless of how humble our leadership roles may be.

  • First, good leaders identify the values that will guide their work and do their best to embody them.
  • Second, they hold a clear, high vision of what they want to achieve, of the best possibilities, and they communicate their vision to others.
  • Then comes the challenge of looking for opportunities and means to achieve their vision.  They experiment and take risks; they try new avenues.  They evaluate the outcomes and make adjustments, building on small wins.
  • Fourth, good leaders build relationships within and between their teams.  They promote cooperation, build trust, and encourage self-determination and competence in their people.
  • And finally, they lead from the heart.  They recognize the efforts of others and express their appreciation.  They celebrate achievements and wins; they applaud excellence and adherence to values.  They acknowledge the cooperative efforts of everybody involved.

By following these practices, leaders serve both their purpose and their people.  They keep focused on what they want to achieve and about how they want to achieve it.  They understand the essential ‘Why’ behind all that they are doing.

Knowing Your Why

To be a great leader, knowing your ‘Why’ is essential.    Here’s how author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action explains it:

Knowing your ‘Why’ is working from the inside out.  It starts with your core values, what you care about most deeply.   And it moves right through the five leadership principles, serving as the foundation for them, and ending in celebration as your purpose is advanced and achieved.

That’s the place to begin.   When you’re leading your kids to cleaning their rooms, let them know it’s because you value beauty, cleanliness and order.  When you’re leading your sales force to achieve new records, remind them of the way your product serves its users and contributes to their lives.

That’s where the power of positive leadership resides: in serving your values and in helping others reach more of their own potential by joining in the effort.

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If you enjoyed this article please pass it on.  This is one in a continuing series of articles on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You might also enjoy:

The Excellence of Effort

Perseverance: Power Key to Success

 

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