Episode 81 | Fatima Doman | Harness Your Strengths to Enable Flow

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The search for happiness might seem like a never-ending pursuit. You can change houses, cars, jobs— even relationships. You can also buy the latest gadgets and cutest outfits and still be miles away from happiness. And because your inner strength suffuses happiness, it can either make you… or break you.
But you already have all the skills needed to train your brain for success in the pursuit of happiness and it’s through discovering our personal strengths we can begin to reshape our perspective. Sometimes you just need to drag things to the surface! You can start by recognizing the inner strengths you already have. 
Train Your Brain to Focus on Your Strengths

Focusing on these strengths (once you figure out what they are) can help create a path toward better confidence and help you find more value in yourself and others. Of course, most of us know that happiness starts with a positive mindset, but we also know that it’s easier said than done. However, a few simple shifts can go a long way toward positive discipline. So here are a few suggestions to help you retrain your brain to be happy, healthy, and STRONG.

Today’s podcast guest, Fatima Doman, is one of the most influential voices in positive change…in other words, how to focus on what’s going strong instead of what’s going wrong in your life. She’s a bestselling author, speaker, and executive coach, and has motivated audiences across six continents to leverage their authentic strengths for personal transformation.
In today’s episode, we discuss her incredible system that will help you achieve your goals and stay motivated… especially when life gets busy, chaotic, and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

She has a method called “The 3 R’s” *to help reach your goals, and set goals that make you feel happy, energized, and full of zest.

In today’s episode, you’ll discover…

– Tips to *build resilience in the midst of challenges
– Techniques for *discovering what your authentic strengths *are, and how to use your strengths as a way to pursue meaningful goals
– Strategies for *staying motivated with a weight loss goal *when you feel like walking away from your commitment
– Blueprint for *continually being in a flow state *and have it be second nature to use your strengths to feel energized

Connect With Fatima Doman

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Follow Along With The Transcript

Kathy Smith: Fatima, welcome to the show.

Fatima Doman: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Kathy Smith: I have to tell you. What an incredible person and journey you’ve been on. Can we just start out– I did a lot of reading and doing background for this interview. I understand that part of your journey started when you had to flee your country at birth in the wake of a war. And throughout the course of your books and everything, you talk about how your journey has informed your work and help you build this resilience in the midst of all these challenges.

So before we dive in, can we just go back and do you mind telling us a bit about your story?

Fatima Doman: Of course. I was very small. I was only three years old when I came to this country. But my family was fleeing a war in Angola, Africa. It was a very stressful time as it would be for anyone in those types of circumstances. We came to this country, and my mom had been a school teacher in Angola. She went to work in a turkey plant. She also worked in California in canneries. And my father had owned a ranch, and he went to work milking cows on a dairy in California.

So our lives changed dramatically. And my parents worked very long and exhausting hours at manual labor. We kind of had to fend for ourselves as kids. I remember learning to cook and doing a lot of the cooking for the family as young as 12 years old and finding little side jobs and things like that at a very young age at 12 as well.

So it gives you a different perspective on life, and I just knew that I wanted something better. And my parents, of course, made a huge sacrifice, bringing us to a new country, and I just wanted to continue in that trajectory of working to improve our condition. And that’s what led me to positive psychology. I wanted to learn how to flourish, and so I was very interested in discovering tools that would help me do that.

Kathy Smith: I’d love to hear this story, because I know you got connected to Stephen Covey. I started following Stephen Covey back in the 80s and had the opportunity to interview him for a project I was working on. In his iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, was a big influence in my life. It’s a book that I refer to quite frequently, especially the one habit in there which was called– I use it on stage all the time– it’s called Sharpen Your Saw.

It’s all about striving for really a sustainable lifestyle that affords you time to recuperate and recharge and be effective long term. Since you had the privilege of working with Stephen’s organization, did you meet him personally by the way? Did you know Stephen at all?

Fatima Doman: I did. He was such a wonderful man and a great mentor. I worked for the Covey Leadership Center, and then it changed into the Franklin Covey Organization, for over 20 years. He was an incredible role model in my life, and I worked with him on projects. What an inspiring leader he was.

Kathy Smith: Oh, my god. I agree. I just get chills thinking about it. Could you give us maybe just one or two examples of being around him or working in that organization? But maybe with him specifically, what were some of the life-changing lessons you learned during that time?

Fatima Doman: There are so many great stories I have about Stephen Covey, but the things that really probably exemplify the type of human being he was is that he remembered people. He remembered people’s names, people’s faces, and he always treated people equally. It didn’t matter what position you held in the company or what position you held in life. He was genuinely interested in other human beings.

I think everyone felt valued around him. I noticed many times that he would talk to– for example, we would be at conference centers and the people sitting up the conference room – and the food service staff – he would want to know their names and he thank them personally for their work and helping create the event. He just really treated people with respect and kindness. He was a genuinely kind, decent human being.

Kathy Smith: Yeah. I noticed that about him too. And just those things about some of his other secrets or his habits were just that, such as how do you put first things first and how do you put people first instead of perhaps the end game, and how do you enjoy the process along the way?

Let’s switch over then. You got to have this incredible experience. Do you feel like that experience with Stephen and with Franklin Covey has influenced and impacted the book that you wrote – Authentic Strengths?

Fatima Doman: Well of course. I think that learning all of those effectiveness principles and just being mentored by him and being under his [inaudible 00:07:14] so to speak for so many years through teaching his workshops around the world, I really learned coaching principles. And then about midway through, I went to Columbia University and went through their Advanced Coach Certification program. And I enhanced those coaching principles with positive psychology tools that are rooted in hundreds of research studies.

So I kind of took what I had learned, built upon that, and incorporated a lot of the latest research that is truly groundbreaking. Positive psychology is a relatively new field that is shifting the world in a very positive way.

Kathy Smith: So let’s dive into the book. Authentic Strengths. I know you talk about understanding your authentic strengths will help bring you to the highest peak, your greatest potential through transformation. But let’s get back to basics. Explain what are authentic strengths.

Fatima Doman: They are character strengths. I call them authentic, because your character is what you truly value the most about yourself. If you stop and think about it, the character strengths are things like love, perseverance, leadership, teamwork, creativity, curiosity, kindness. There are twenty-four character strengths that scientists have catalogued. By the way, 50 of the world’s most elite psychologists and sociologists came together around 2004, and they spent three years and $1 million in funding to create this classification of human character strengths and virtues.

So these are the highest and best aspects of humanity of what truly makes us human. So these are things that you really value about yourself. And everyone has a very unique character strengths profile since there are 24 possible human character strengths. And then they’re measures with an index of one to five. Actually, there are over one sextillion possible combinations of how we express our character strengths.

So scientists discovered that our character strengths are as unique to us perhaps as a fingerprint. So we often call them our fingerprint or our signature. Each of us has these unique strengths combinations. We use them differently, and that’s what we call our unique strengths profile. And that’s why I attached the word “authentic” because when you’re thinking about what really enlivens you and elevates all that you do, it’s your character strengths.

For example, there’s strengths finder, which is really valuable. But their strengths are more about scales, and character strengths are what elevate those scales. It’s what provides the passion for your work or your expression in your skills. So I’m very excited to share some insights around these strengths that I call authentic.

Kathy Smith: You mentioned that people who used their strengths every single day are six times more likely to be engaged in their life and their work and have a better, positive attitude and can move the ball forward. But how do we discover what our strengths are? I know you have this list. I can read off a few of them, but there are twenty-four strengths. There’s curiosity, creativity, social intelligence, bravery, kindness, teamwork – are just some of the examples you have here. How do we find out what our strengths are and if there is a category that, let’s say, is not our strong suit, how do we do something to perhaps grow into that strength?

Fatima Doman: Absolutely. And that’s one of the key things that I do with people that I coach is I help them to learn how to build strengths that they have targeted, that they have chosen to express more fully in their lives. I have lots of stories of people who I’ve worked with who have built strengths.

By the way, bravery is one of my lower strengths and I dedicated this past year to building my bravery. I worked, for example, with one individual who wanted to build their strength of perseverance, and this was a person who curiosity was their number one strength, and perseverance was dead last. Why? Because they would start so many new projects. They were curious about everything. But then when it came to actually seeing those projects through to completion, they would fizzle out because perseverance was not as valued as curiosity.

But this person got to a point in her life where she said, “Do you know what? I’m 60 years old, and I want to start completing more tasks that I begin. I want to see things through to the end.” And she chose to work on that strength. She did a lot of things. I encouraged her to pair other high strengths that she really enjoyed using with the strength of perseverance. Because usually the strengths that are lesser strengths, that are lower on our list, they tend to not energize us as much. And we can feel exhausted after using them for long periods of time. So it’s wise to pair them with a strength that energizes to keep us engaged in really building that new strength.

Kathy Smith: It sounds like what you’re saying, in a way, is what turns you on. If you do something that turns you on, like we all know, we get excited about it. And if you don’t enjoy doing the dishes, then they might get stacked up in the sink. So it sounds like we all have this powerful set of tools, and it’s known as our strength of character. It seems like if we start to use our strengths in a way that serves us, then we can achieve our goals.

What I want to switch over to now is goals, because in the fitness and health industry, there are so many people who are constantly setting goals, whether it’s to lose weight, get healthier, get in shape, have more energy. And at the end of the day, they end up setting the goals but then lacking the motivation or whatever it needs to stick to their commitments. So can we just kind of walk through an example of how would you use your strengths – and let’s refer to any one of the things on the list that I just mentioned (maybe weight loss) – and how do we stick to it so that two weeks from now, we haven’t given up on our goal?

Fatima Doman: That’s an excellent question, because I actually created a goal-setting tool that’s called Strong Goals. Why? Because in my 20 years of working with Franklin Covey and teaching leadership principles all over the world, I used a lot of goal attainment tools. And I discovered that none of them was rooted in strengths, and it actually floored me.

So I thought, “Someone needs to take the best thinking from all these goal-setting tools and combine that best thinking with starting from the point of your character strengths.”

So this Strong Goals tool, there are six letters for the word strong. So S correlates with your strengths. First, you identify which of your character strengths you enjoy using that you think is most suited to accomplishing the goal. Then of course, there’s a timed aspect. Because all goals that are achievable tend to have a timed aspect in terms of milestones and being aware of what your accomplishing as you go along.

Then relevance. I think this one’s very important as well. Does your goal contribute to a sense of meaning and purpose for you? Is it relevant for you?

Then options. Have you explored all options, rewards, and costs associated with accomplishing this goal?

Then there’s the N in strong, which relates to network. Have you assembled the network of people who are going to help you achieve this goal? All of this is very relevant to fitness that you mentioned earlier.

The final element of strong is the G for growth. Does the goal stretch you or inspire you? Because it’s wonderful to set achievable goals, but they should also stretch and inspire you. They shouldn’t be so easy that we’re not trying and using our skills in our capacity to become more and accomplish more than we currently are. So those are the six elements of Strong Goals.

Kathy Smith: Do you know how much I love that? First of all, I love the acronym. I love strong as a word, but even the thing where you said relevance, like when I get them going on a program, I ask them the why. Why are you doing it?

And when they start with, “I’m trying to lose weight,” to a couple of your points there, it’s not enough to keep you going.

So then I ask them, “Why else?”

And they start to say, “My blood pressure has gotten high, and my doctor said I have Type 2 diabetes. My sex life isn’t great anymore.”

I say, “Why else?” And pretty soon, I have sometimes 30 on a list of reasons why you want to start doing this. And to your point of making it relevant and making it relevant to your life right now, all of sudden, that becomes a very strong motivation passed just the one simple, “I need to lose ten pounds.” So I do love this approach.

Part of the other technique that you talk about in the book, which by the way, you have so many of these techniques that really were helpful for me. This idea that if you’re trying to reach your goal – because again, we set the goal – and then how do we stay motivated every single week to stick with it? You have this technique that I would love for you to talk about, and it’s called Reflect, Reveal, and Recalibrate. It’s something you suggest doing on a weekly basis. Could we go through what that means and how that helps you stick to your goals?

Fatima Doman: Of course. I call that the three Rs. And you can do that in as little as five minutes or if you really want to be expansive around it, you can spend maybe ten or fifteen minutes. But it doesn’t have to require a lot of time. So even in just five minutes, just stop and reflect back on your past week, and reflect on the goal that you set for yourself. What you want to do is just identify where you travel in that week in terms of accomplishing that goal. What type of progress have you made? That’s reflect.

And then reveal, it’s all about revealing insights. Because as you’ve made progress, you’ve probably learned some things along the way. And not everything we do gets us closer to our goal. You know this very well as a fitness expert. You’ll make advances, and then sometimes you’ll plateau. And every now and then, you might even fall back a little bit. But what matters is the cumulative effort and that you continue in this positive progression. So we need not beat ourselves up or be deflated by setbacks. What’s most important is when we’re reflecting on the progress we’ve made and then we’re revealing those insights, if we did have a setback to reveal why it happened, how we can avoid it in the future, and how we can proactively plan for not having that type of setback – come up with a positive solution for it and focus on the positive solution. That’s revealing insights.

Finally, recalibrate. The things that maybe didn’t work, that didn’t motivate you– remember, we talked about relevance earlier. So learn how to recalibrate. Sometimes, we may want to shift our goal a little bit. Because as we embark on that goal journey, we’ll learn more about ourselves and what’s truly important to us.

So I think reflect, reveal, recalibrate, it’s as quick as five minutes a week. It’s such a valuable tool.

Kathy Smith: I think that term recalibrate resonates with me because it’s not an all or n0thing proposition. It’s not like okay, I’m moving along, “This isn’t working. Okay. Let’s stop everything.” You can look at what worked, what wasn’t working, and you start framing it with that kind of lens. And all of a sudden, “I like this, this, this. And do you know what? I don’t like getting up and going to my 6:00 a.m. yoga class because it’s cold outside, and I missed it three days this week. So maybe I need to recalibrate and think, ‘What other form of exercise can I get that will allow me to stay on track but not always put me in a position where I am doing something I don’t want to be doing?'”

And those small, little changes week after week after week allow you to get a lifetime plan is what I’m hearing from you.

Fatima Doman: That’s brilliant, because it’s all about sustainability, as you know as a fitness and wellness expert. So if you’re embarking on processes that you don’t enjoy, you’re probably not going to stick with them.

So how do you create processes that are sustainable that help you to accomplish your goal and we can still be creative?

Kathy Smith: Oh, yeah. And get into what you call, in the book, a Flow State – to get into the flow. I’ve heard that term throughout my career. Athletes get into a flow. Business people get into a flow. Creative artists get into a flow. But this idea of getting into a flow in your life so that you’re using your strengths, and because you’re using your strengths, you’re feeling energized, and that leads to the more positive practices that you’re doing on a weekly basis. And pretty soon, this becomes second nature. But can you dive in? I know you have a whole chapter and you talk a lot about this flow state. Could you explain a little bit more about it?

Fatima Doman: Of course. The doctor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi– I know his name is quite a mouthful. But I have to give him credit. He’s the first person who really coined the term flow. And so he studied what he called optimal experience.

And as you said earlier, athletes are known for really being able to tap into that flow state. It’s also called being in the zone. And you lose your sense of time even when you’re in the flow. You’re just doing something you enjoy so much, and you’re completely immersed in it. And hours pass like minutes. We all have things like that, that we truly enjoy.

Those are experiential activities that we probably ought to learn how to leverage and how to infuse them more into other things that we want to accomplish. For example, I’ve coached people who just absolutely loved music and loved singing, but dreaded geometry or whatever the class was.

I coached them to come up with a song to remember all the elements of the new subject that they’re studying, because they love singing and they love coming up with lyrics. Find what you love, and use it to your advantage in as many aspects of your life as you can.

So I created a model that’s in the book that’s called the Strengths Flow Model, because again, when I studied all the research around flow, I noticed that nobody was really calling out strengths. But I could see in all of the research that that’s what people were doing. They were using their strengths. But they weren’t really articulating that that’s what they were doing.

They were looking at the many aspects of positive experience, but we know now with over 800 global research studies that our character strengths are a key component in creating optimal experience and helping us to have those in-the-zone experiences. That’s what I’m trying to unpack and demystify with the books that I write.

Kathy Smith: And you’re doing such a good job of it. And what I’ve learned through the past few weeks and reading your book and, as I said, doing background research, it’s not only your own strengths– this was a big light bulb moment for me– it’s not only your own strengths, but it’s starting to understand other people’s strengths and/or weaknesses. But it’s focusing on their strengths.

And when you do that, you start to look at creating more positive relationships, whether it’s in a workplace, in your family, with friends, with coworkers. Let’s talk about that. Because I think this is a big thing that I’ve seen in my life in that when people have different strengths, which might lead to different communication styles, there can become a lot of maybe chaos or negative talk or negative thinking. How does this character strengths tie into that?

Fatima Doman: There are so many different wonderful ways that they tie in. I call it, in the book, the Principle of the Upward Spiral. When you appreciate strengths in others, what you appreciate, it grows. So there’s the principle of observation. When you observe strengths in others and you express that, articulate that, then people are like, “Oh, I’ll do more of that.”

So it connects also to a principle called Feedback Versus Feed Forward that I talk about in the book. When people think about going to an important review meeting and they’re going to get feedback from their boss, they kind of just tighten up and prepare themselves for the worst. What if, as leaders and bosses or even as parents and friends and colleagues, we learn to give feed forward instead, which is telling people, “Gosh, when you do this, you are in the zone. You are performing at your best. It’s just something to behold. We love it. Would you give us more of that?”

Can you see how that would be a very different type of scenario than being in a feedback meeting? As a matter of fact, I coached a very high performer – the number one, top sales person for a very large pharmaceutical company. And this person said to me that they had been in an employee review meeting – the annual review – and this person’s manager was telling her all of the things that he thought she should change.

And she walked out of that meeting thinking, “Should I look for a new job?” Here’s their top sales person wondering if she should look for a new job.

So what if it had been a feed forward meeting instead? She would have been encouraged and energized to go out and do more of what she had been doing and perhaps to focus it in more specific ways that would have helped her increase her sales even more.

The way we interact with each other is so important. And the most important thing we’re learning from the research is to learn to spot strengths in other people. There are some really key ways that you can spot strengths in others. When someone’s using their strengths, usually their voice will become stronger. Their vocabulary will increase. They’ll talk faster. They’ll light up. They’ll lean forward. They’ll use better posture. So you can tune yourself in to strengths in other people and really see when they’re using their strengths.

Then let them know, “Do you know what? I love the creativity you brought forward in that last project.” Be specific about appreciating strengths in people. These are ways that you can bring out the best in people.

These are also ways to avoid what we call strengths collisions. The work environment obviously is not utopic, and people tend to sometimes step on one another’s toes. But we can learn to avoid those collisions by learning to spot strengths in one another and by increasing our awareness of one another’s strengths. Because my strengths may be very different from yours. And so if I’m more aware of your strengths, then I can appreciate how they contribute to the whole and not think that only my strengths are valid.

Can you see how that would improve relationships? And as I said earlier, that pertains to families, friendships, every relationship that you would have in life.

Kathy Smith: Yeah. I have to tell you, while you were going through that description when you were talking about feed forward, I actually stood up. I mean, I was sitting up, but I got an inch taller. You weren’t even talking to me, but the fact that you were saying all these positive things made me feel pretty good. And as soon as we started talking about the feedback and the negativity, I also found the opposite happening. So I feel that in this moment here in my body.

But I will have one follow up question. And that is, I see what you’re saying. Can you just play that out one more step with we want to feed forward? So I say, “Fatima, I love what you did on the last project. You stepped up and delivered it on time. And all of your bullet points were nicely lined up. But let’s just say that there were three things that I wish you would have done better.” How would you present that?

Fatima Doman: That’s a really good question, and there are ways that you can bring it out in people.

Often, people are more aware of what they could have done better than their boss or their spouse. The individual, themselves, is often mostly aware. So what I like to do when I’m teaching people to use feed forward, then at the very end, you would say, “Is there anything that you would change? Are there any goals that you have for improving your performance going forward?” And let them bring up topics. Then you’ll find that you’ll have an opportunity to share, in a nonthreatening way, some insights as they bring them up.

And if they’re completely unaware of some of their weaknesses – and I really try to avoid the word weaknesses. If they’re completely unaware of their growth opportunities, you could talk to them, using that language. “So what are some opportunities for growth that you see for yourself?”

Then after they’ve shared, if they haven’t brought up any of the things that you wanted to say– but typically they will. They’ll be harder on themselves more often than others.

So then you can say something like, “Would you like for me to share some growth opportunities as well?” And frame it rather than, “Stop doing this.” Articulate it by what you’d like for them to start giving more of. If you articulate it that way– people don’t like hear what you think they ought to stop. Because that kind of denotes that there’s something wrong with them, something deficient.

But if you say, “Do you know what I’d really love to see more of from you,” that’s easier for people to digest. And they can think of how they can step forward.

Kathy Smith: Well this is certainly a technique that I can practice. One of my strengths is honesty. And sometimes I can maybe be a little too honest. So if I could learn to couple that strength of honesty with maybe another strength of mine such as kindness, then I’m more likely to be heard and end up empowering people instead of perhaps diminishing them. So it’s such a good lesson.

I’ll have to tell you, Fatima, I could go on forever. I love talking about these kinds of skillsets, because I think it’s so important in our personal daily lives as well as our work lives.

It’s wonderful having you on the show. I know you’re busy and for you to take the time to spend to talk to everyone about how to transform their lives is really special. I’m sure everybody out there wants more information. What’s the best way to get hold of you to access all this transformational information?

Fatima Doman: Of course. They can go to AuthenticStrengths.com. We have videos, we have free resources. On the landing page, if you just scroll down the landing page, you’ll see a button that says, “Take Free Strengths Survey”, and you will get an immediate two-page report after you spend– it only takes about ten minutes to take the survey. And you’ll discover your unique strengths profile after you do that. So we would love to have you take advantage of that free offer.

Also take a look at our books on Amazon. You can just look me up – Fatima Doman – on Amazon. I’ve got a couple of new books coming out this year. Some of the questions that you asked at the end there, Kathy, I actually answer in some of these new books. So it will be wonderful to also talk with you more about that if you’re curious. You’ll find a lot of resources and blogs and things like that on our website.

Kathy Smith: Okay. That’s great. Once again, I know your time’s valuable. I appreciate you taking the time. And I look forward to seeing and watching for you, listening to everything you’re doing, watching everything you’re doing, and hopefully running into you in Park City. But until then, have a wonderful, glorious day. And thanks again for sharing all your stories.

Fatima Doman: You too. Thank you very much for having me on.

Kathy Smith: There are so many great take aways today. For me, my sort of biggest a-ha moments was first of all– the big step is really about all the small stuff. The big goals we’re trying to achieve really are a collection of all of our mini goals. So breaking things down into bite size, doable action steps is something that I’ve tried to practice and teach throughout my entire life.

Our daily world is made up of this collection of all of our small actions. What do you do when you get up in the morning? What do you do throughout the day? Where are your thoughts throughout the day? So don’t forget about your daily habits and refining them as we go through life. That’s the great thing as we get older. We can just work on not completely changing but just refining.

And then another big take away is this idea of positive practices allow us to get into this flow state. And when you’re in the flow state, it’s so much easier to reach your goals. To me flow means doing things that you like the process. You’re engaged in the process. And it makes you happy, so you want to come back for more.

So especially when it comes to working out or eating right, people ask me all the time, “How do you work out on a daily basis?”

Because I never think of it as working out. I think of it as getting together with friends. I think about it as energy boosts. I think about all the fun I’m going to have during the process, learning new skillsets, playing games, getting out, having adventures. And that makes me happy and that keeps me coming back for more.

So each of us have different ways of approaching life. I understand that. But the more you can find ways that you can get into a flow state, the more successful you’ll be. If you want more information, you can check out Fatima at AuthenticStrengths.com.

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