In Chapter 33 of the Tao te Ching Lao Tzu taught: “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” Translator Stephen Mitchell describes true wisdom as” “When I know myself, I know others; when I master myself, I don’t have to master others” (1). This is mindfulness.
Unfortunately, we are very quick to identify and label our faults and weaknesses. We are much less likely to identify, label and appreciate our strengths and the good things we do. This is self-talk – the inner critic who always has something negative to say about what we are doing or thinking. This running commentary includes all those “shoulda, woulda, coulda, oughta”, things we tell ourselves. “I should have worn the blue blouse instead of the red. I ought to speak up more in meetings.”
A wise, anonymous person said, “If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?” Most people would not put up with it and yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Mindfulness can help us stop “shoulding” all over ourselves. The question is, how do we learn to stop focusing on our faults and appreciate our strengths.
Believe it or not, organizational development research found a way for work groups to identify and build on their strengths to improve performance, productivity, profitability and employee and customer satisfaction. It is called appreciative inquiry (AI). It was developed by David Cooperrider, PhD, at Case Western Reserve University, in 1980.
Cooperrider and his associate, Diana Whitney, developed the following definition of AI
Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.
In-quire’ (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY.
This is an element of mindfulness – discovering, studying, valuing, and honoring the best in ourselves and the world around us. Appreciative inquiry is not about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, or the “power of positive thinking.” AI operates on the assumption that in every situation, there is something that works and by identifying and focusing on what works, you can build on it. In addition, change is easier if you can carry forward parts of your past that worked. Generally, it is done in a group, but it works very well as an individual process, particular if you do it as a written exercise, such as a personal journal.
Practice AI for Mindfulness
Think about a recent experience and answer the following AI questions:
- What strengths or talents did I bring to the situation?
- What was challenging for me in this situation and did it change how I see myself?
- Who helped me in this situation and how did it make me feel?
- What did I learn about myself?
- What did I learn about others?
- What did I learn in this situation and how can I apply it in my daily work?
Select one thing you learned about yourself and/or your strengths in the above exercise. Now, identify one thing you can do this week to use and build on that strength. Set up an alert n your smart phone, electronic pad or computer to remind you to apply your AI insight in your daily life.
A Final Thought
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult; we just need to remember to do it.” ~ Sharon Salzberg, (2010) Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
Lao Tsu, Tao te Ching, Pocket Edition, Stephen Mitchell, Translator, New York Harper Perennial, 1990.
Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D, A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005
Read About Another Mindfulness Tool