a newer one »Lying

The Anxiety Toolkit

Book Notes

This book is how to deal with anxiety, coping mechanisms and the like. Again, I have no idea how this ended up in my to-read pile, a problem I am becoming more anxious about fixing as I write that statement again.

The anxieties described in the beginning of this book are not anxieties I have. Public speaking in and of itself does not cause me to become a ball of anxious jelly. I know that my voice will crack and my throat will become dry when I first start talking in front of a crowd, but my heart doesn't race and I feel notice the voice and throat from outside of myself, not inside. Neither am I stuck by nerves about doing basic adult tasks or looking out for myself. I believe I have done a very good job at identifying my anxieties and addressing my anxieties.

As such, when I read this book, I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the techniques and suggestions in the book. I didn't relate to the "do you feel X?" questions in the beginning of each chapter. I am grateful for whatever place I am on the autism scale that allowed me to dodge those particular emotions.

I was thinking this was an interesting book, but not applicable in a meaningful way to me, until I read the chapter on rumination.

Hooboy. Hello, Kitt.

This is the chapter I paid attention to. This is the chapter that made the rest of the book worth reading.

And that's the thing, isn't it?

We all have different manifestations of our anxieties and different ways of processing anxiety. We all have different triggers and different soothing mechanisms. Some people have fantastic soothing mechanisms, others need help, guidance, and a direction.

Boyes comments early and frequently:

Like any book, take what you find useful from it and ignore the rest.

Which sums up my opinion of the book. It's worth reading if you have anxieties or want to hear about other people's coping mechanism. Drinking to numbness is not a valid solution, for example, it is abdication of responsibility to your own life and a crappy coping mechanism. This book lists other, better coping mechanisms. Worth a read if you need some.

Update: Read Faith Harper's Coping Skills first. It's a shorter and better read for those needing immediate coping skills. Come back to this one once the worst is over.

To better manage your anxiety, you don’t need to understand the average anxious person — you need to understand the multidimensional you.
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People who are agreeable tend to prioritize getting along with others. They may not be willing to make waves when they can see problems with other people’s ideas or plans. In contrast, people who are naturally disagreeable may underestimate the importance of getting along with others and not invest enough in relationship building.
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If you’re anxious and agreeable, you may find yourself overcommitting to things because you overestimate the potential negative consequences of saying no.
Page 26

When people overfocus on anxiety for a long time, they tend to lose confidence in their capacity to be anything other than a walking ball of worry and rumination.
Page 33

When anxiety becomes a major problem for someone, it’s usually because the person has become stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle where the things he or she does to reduce anxiety in the short term cause it to multiply in the long term.
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Find the Goals Where Pursuing Them Is Worth Tolerating Anxiety
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Goals Don’t Need to Be Giant to Be Important to You
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When you’re thinking about goals, keep in mind that more ambitious goals aren’t “better” than less ambitious goals. Many people would rather visit 30 countries in a lifetime than 200.
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Experiment: What’s one idiosyncratic goal that’s important to you?
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However, there are some instances when anxiety causes people to restrict their goals.
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People with shaky self-worth may hold back from setting ambitious goals because they worry that others will see them as too confident or full of themselves.
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Your worry might be that you won’t get the alone time you need to feel balanced.
Page 45

If you’re constantly thinking of new goals, there’s nothing wrong with that either. It suggests you’re hardwired with a high need for novelty and excitement.
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Feeling happy is like feeling warm. It’s a state of being that feels good. It might sound counterintuitive but focusing directly on pursuing happiness isn’t always the best approach to increasing it. This parallels the idea that focusing on reducing anxiety isn’t always the best way to decrease it.
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Self-esteem is composed of (1) a sense of self-worth and (2) a sense of being competent at things. 4 For example, sources of self-worth might involve loving and being loved by others; an ability to make other people feel comfortable and at ease; or positive contributions you make to society, your field, or your community. In contrast, a sense of competency might come from being good at computer tasks, being able to prepare a dinner party for 10, or paying your bills on time. Try coming up with three sources of self-worth and three things you’re competent at. Aim to recognize areas you’ve tended to underappreciate.
Page 48

Whenever you’re feeling anxious, use this feeling as your cue to practice articulating your negative prediction and an alternative. Try prompting yourself to think of the best possible outcome, instead of just the worst.
Page 59

When you change a habit, you don’t so much break a bad habit as build up and strengthen a new one.
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If you’re currently stuck in pause mode, and have been for a while, taking some action is usually better than taking no action. When you can recognize the value of acting with uncertainty, you’ll help your brain start to interpret uncertainty as a positive or not-so-terrible state, rather than it causing your alarm bells to ring loudly.
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Try to come up with three examples of your own. If coming up with three examples is intimidating, come up with just one example.
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Nope. Go for 10.
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the vast majority of failures aren’t catastrophes.
Page 63

Many people underestimate their capacity to cope with trying something and not succeeding. Anxious people often worry about later regretting decisions and finding it hard to deal with the ensuing emotions.
Page 63

Anxiety tends to make people think in dichotomous, either/ or terms. A common example is seeing success and failure as the only two potential end points, rather than seeing a zigzagging path toward success that is dotted with failures along the way.
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1. Have you had any past experiences where you ended up succeeding after initial failure? List one. 2. Identify one area in which you have a fixed mindset. It should be a skill/ capacity you see as important to your success, where you see yourself as not as good as you’d like to be, and where you see that skill/ capacity as fixed. 3. Identify a new growth mindset that you’d like to strengthen.
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Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to wait for your thoughts to change before you try behavioral shifts. Mental and behavioral shifts go hand in hand. When you start making changes in your behavior (even subtle ones), you’ll notice that all kinds of thoughts, including your view of yourself, start to shift. Changing your behavior, without waiting for your thoughts to always shift first, is one of the best and fastest ways you can reduce your anxiety.
Page 69

The best way to instantly feel less anxious is to slow your breathing. Try this whenever you feel physically overaroused due to anxiety, or when your thoughts are either racing or frozen. Slowing your breathing will automatically slow down your heart rate.
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Here are some tips for slowing your breathing: 1. Before you try to slow your breathing, drop your shoulders. It’ll make it easier. Also, focus on breathing slowly rather than breathing deeply. 2. If you have an area of tension in your body, like your neck and shoulders are tight, imagine you’re breathing fresh new air into those areas. There’s nothing sciencey about this, but lots of people like this method.
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Deciding when and where you’re going to do something will dramatically increase the likelihood you’ll follow through.
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Intermittent reinforcement means sometimes getting rewarded but without being able to predict when you’ll score vs. when you’ll strike out. 5 Intermittent reinforcement results in behaviors being quickly acquired and creates behaviors that are very persistent—
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The take-home message: Even if you achieve only intermittent reinforcement—that is, you experience success only sometimes—having some successes will make your behavior much more resilient, and you’ll be less likely to give up.
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regularly interact with people who are already successfully doing what you want to do.
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if you surround yourself with people who are already acting in the ways you need to act, this will likely rub off on you. You’ll be more likely to take action.
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When an opportunity to act with uncertainty comes up, articulate the potential upsides of taking action:
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Look for small ways to practice hesitating a little less than you usually would.
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give yourself some criteria for making quicker decisions.
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Believe it or not, psychologists have a term to describe people who like to think a lot. The trait is called need for cognition. It refers to people who enjoy effortful thinking and feel motivated to attempt to understand and make sense of things.
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Ruminating can sometimes be a bit like daydreaming, in that people often get lost in rumination without realizing they’re doing it.
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Experiment: Jot down a list of the different topics of rumination you’re prone to. Use the following ideas to brainstorm, or just fill in the blanks: Replaying conversations with people in power positions in your life. For example, replaying conversations, including email conversations, with [insert names of people] . Replaying memories of experiences of failure from the past. For example, . Thinking about ways in which you’re not as perfect as you’d like to be. For example, thinking you’re not as good at as you’d like. Thinking about things you should be doing to be more successful, such as . Thinking about whether you’re too much of a loser to ever have success and happiness. Replaying small errors you’ve made, such as . Thinking about the path not taken, such as .
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when you’re ruminating: Don’t trust your memory. You might be ruminating about something fictional or at least magnified.
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Experiment: Do you have any current rumination topics where memory bias might be playing a role?
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Answer the following questions: 1. What’s your ruminating mind telling you? 2. What are the objective data telling you about whether your ruminative thoughts are likely to be correct?
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3. Are you recalling feedback as harsher than it was or recalling blips in your performance as worse than they were?
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However, because anxiety tends to make thinking negative, narrow, and rigid, it’s difficult to do creative problem solving when you’re feeling highly anxious.
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Reducing self-criticism is a critical part of reducing rumination.
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harsh self-criticism doesn’t help you move forward because it isn’t a very effective motivational tool,
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Acknowledging the emotions you’re feeling (such as embarrassed, disappointed, upset) and then giving yourself compassion will lead to your making better choices than criticizing yourself will.
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Identify a mistake or weakness that you want to focus on, and then write for three minutes using the following instructions: “Imagine that you are talking to yourself about this weakness (or mistake) from a compassionate and understanding perspective. What would you say?” Try this experiment
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Try to notice when you get caught in should/ shouldn’t thinking traps, in which you criticize yourself just for feeling anxious.
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Try this: Switch out any shoulds hidden in your self-talk and replace them with prefer. 7 For example, instead of saying “I should have achieved more by now” try “I would prefer to have achieved more by now.”
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Doing something useful then further helps lift you out of rumination.
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if you’re jumping to any negative conclusions about why the person hasn’t responded and try coming up with alternative explanations that are plausible.
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Often you won’t find out the reasons for other people’s actions, which is part of why this type of rumination tends to be so futile.
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Humans like to have explanations for why things happen. When we don’t have one, we tend to invent something. Sometimes the explanations involve personalizing. Personalizing is when you take something more personally than it was meant in reality.
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you need to learn to tolerate that you’re not always going to know why people behave the way they do.
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Recognize that if someone acts strangely, there’s a very high likelihood that the behavior has something to do with what’s happening for that person, rather than being about you, and you’re probably never going to know what the reason was.
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Start with three minutes of one of the following practices, and increase the time you spend meditating by 30 seconds each day: Pay attention to the physical sensations of your breathing. Lie down and put your hand on your abdomen to feel the sensations of it rising as you breathe in and falling as you breathe out. Sit or lie down and listen to any sounds and the silence between sounds. Let sounds just come in and out of your awareness regardless of whether they’re relaxing sounds or not. Walk for three minutes and pay attention to what you see. Walk and pay attention to the feelings of air on your skin. Walk and pay attention to the physical sensations of your body moving. Do three minutes of open awareness, in which you pay attention to any sensations that show up. Pay attention to anything in the here and now, which could be sounds, your breathing, the sensations of your body making contact with your chair, or the sensations of your feet on the floor. Spend three minutes paying attention to any sensations of pain, tension, comfort, or relaxation in your body. You don’t need to try to change the sensations; just allow them to be what they are, and ebb and flow as they do.
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When your thoughts drift away from what you’re supposed to be paying attention to, gently (and without self-criticism) bring them back. Expect to need to do this a lot. It’s a normal part of doing mindfulness meditation and doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. You’re likely to get
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forward. To shift out of rumination and into problem-solving mode, concretely and realistically define what your best three to six options are.
Page 91

Defining your options relieves some of the stress of rumination and helps you shift to effective problem solving. Keeping your list of options short will prevent you from running into choice-overload problems.
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Experiment: Practice concretely defining your best three to six options for moving forward with a problem you’re currently ruminating or worrying about. Write brief bullet points, like in the example just given. You can use this method for all sorts of problems.
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Imagery exposure is a technique in which you vividly recall a situation you’ve been ruminating about,
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To start, recall all the sights and sounds of the past situation (or feared situation) in as much detail as you can. For
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Deliberately keep the image in mind until your anxiety falls to half of where it started (or less). For example, if vividly recalling the situation triggers 8 out of 10 anxiety initially, hold the image in mind until your anxiety drops to about a level 4. Repeat the imagery exposure exercise at least once a day until you can bring the image to mind without it triggering more than about half of the peak anxiety you experienced the first time you tried imagery exposure.
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If you’re ruminating because you’ve been putting off dealing with an issue, taking any level of action to address what you’ve been avoiding will usually help alleviate your rumination.
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Move Ruminative Thinking Forward by Asking Questions
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Ask questions as a way of unclogging stuck thinking. When you ask questions, you may get useful new information, or just the process of asking the questions may stimulate your own thinking. Sometimes even getting unhelpful responses can help you move forward, because they prompt you to define your problem differently. This often happens when someone misunderstands your question and gives an unhelpful, irrelevant response, but this makes you reformulate your question in a clearer form.
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Thinking Shifts to Overcome Unhelpful Types of Perfectionism Anxiety-related thinking patterns can contribute to problems like prioritizing the wrong types of tasks, feeling burned out, and getting intensely frustrated when results aren’t coming as quickly or consistently as you’d like.
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If you can shift your thinking from a performance focus to a mastery focus, you’ll become less fearful, more resilient, and more open to good, new ideas. Performance focus is when your highest priority is to show you can do something well now. Mastery focus is when you’re mostly concerned with advancing your skills.
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A mastery focus can help you persist after setbacks.
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Mastery goals will help you become less upset about individual instances of failure.
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What’s your most important mastery goal right now? Complete this sentence: “My goal is to master the skills involved in
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How would people with your mastery goal: 1. React to mistakes, setbacks, disappointments, and negative moods? 2. Prioritize which tasks they work on? What types of tasks would they deprioritize? 3. React when they’d sunk a lot of time into something and then realized a particular strategy or idea didn’t have the potential they’d hoped it would? 4. Ensure they were optimizing their learning and skill acquisition? 5. React when they felt anxious?
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3. How would you talk to yourself differently if you had more acceptance of this? What would you say to yourself?
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More Useful Pattern Anxiety/ frustration “I need to work harder” thinking error Spot the thinking trap Take a break Resume and maintain the behavioral goal I know works for me
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Thoughts are just thoughts; the problem is that we accept thoughts as true, and confuse feelings with facts. Part of the reason this happens is memory bias: Your brain will tend to remember events from the past that match your current mood.
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Therefore, regaining confidence is often just a matter of being patient and waiting for a negative or anxious mood to pass.
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Excessive expectations plus anxiety get in the way of generating ideas.
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Instead, try asking yourself: What do I know that’s relevant to solving my problem or helping me answer my question? How could I replicate something I’ve already done successfully, but with a twist? How could I combine two concepts that could be combined but aren’t usually? (Like croissants + donuts = cronuts) How could I take a successful method and replicate it with different ingredients? (Such as you notice the title of a viral blog post and copy the form of the title for a blog post you’re writing about a different topic.) Experiment: Try thinking of a successful method and how the method could be replicated but with different ingredients.
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The following are some ways of making more willpower available to you: Reduce the number of tasks you attempt to get done each day to a very small number. Always identify what your most important task is, and make sure you get that single task done. You can group together your trivial tasks, like replying to emails or paying bills online, and count those as just one item. Refresh your available willpower by doing tasks slowly.
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Slowing down in this way is considered a form of mindfulness practice.
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Another way to refresh your willpower is by taking some slow breaths or doing any of the mindfulness practices
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Know Your Warning Signs That You’ve Persisted Too Long
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Define your overpersistence warning signs in objective and specific ways. This will make it harder to ignore them than if your definitions were fuzzy.
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We all have recency bias, meaning recent memories tend to be the most salient.
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Experiment with what it’s like to stop working while you’re in the zone and still enjoying a task rather than when you’re exhausted and frustrated.
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A behavioral experiment you can try is delegating or outsourcing tasks you feel overwhelmed by.
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To help you be less tempted to jump around, reduce your exposure to excessive information and alternatives.
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questions. Write down one specific example of each.
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Have you avoided seeking feedback early on only to later realize that earlier feedback would’ve saved you from continuing down the wrong track for so long? When? Have you avoided feedback only to later realize your fears of negative feedback were unjustified? How long did you worry unnecessarily? What was that like for you? Have you had times when your predictions of negative feedback came true, but it was a much milder experience than you’d anticipated? Have you had an experience where you realized that making the required changes was much easier than you thought, and you had endured extra worry for no reason? What cool opportunities have you opted out of because you didn’t want to expose yourself to even the possibility of negative feedback?
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One of the reasons anxious people fear feedback is that they tend to judge their performance more harshly than others judge them.
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Just like everyone has a vision blind spot, everyone has cognitive blind spots that can lead to making less than stellar choices.
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Think about a specific scenario in which you fear negative feedback. If your fears came true: How would you go about making the required changes? How could you be self-accepting of your sensitivity to criticism? How could you talk to yourself gently about the emotions you’re feeling instead of criticizing yourself for feeling upset? How could you be patient with yourself while you’re having those feelings? What self-care would you do while you wait for your hurt and upset feelings to pass? (Yes, rewatching episodes of ’90s TV is a totally acceptable answer. 3) What personal support would you access to cope with your emotions? For example, you’d talk to a friend.
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Anxiety can cause people to sometimes misinterpret feedback once they’ve received it. When people feel anxious, they tend to interpret ambiguous information (and lack of feedback) as negative.
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You need to train yourself to consider the possibility that whatever has happened might not be personal. The second is recognizing that negative feedback does not necessarily mean the person doesn’t like you, doesn’t respect your capabilities, or doesn’t recognize your potential.
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Anxiety (and stress) can make people more vulnerable to the hostility bias, a type of personalizing where you jump to the conclusion that other people have hostile intent.
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The hostility bias often crops up in the workplace and in other group settings. For example, others offer you suggestions. You experience those suggestions as being attacked or nitpicked.
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the best way to tackle the hostility bias in the moment is to slow your breathing to calm yourself physiologically, then use a behavioral strategy such as “canned responses” (see the next section).
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You can prepare some verbal canned responses for times when you need to stall, without appearing defensive while you’re mentally processing feedback. Some examples: I think you’ve got a good point about ____. I’ll think about everything you’ve said. I need to process your feedback and mull it over. That’s an interesting way to look at it. Let me think about how I can incorporate your feedback. Let me think about how best to proceed from here. I’ll email you with some thoughts.
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You can also have canned responses for when you feel embarrassed that a blind spot has been revealed. For example: I hadn’t thought of it like that. That’s really useful. Thanks for alerting me to that way of looking at it. That’s a great idea. I often come away from our conversations with a new perspective.
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Acting as if you feel relaxed is one of the fastest ways to actually feel more calm. If you get an anxiety spike when you receive feedback or tend to feel defensive, try making your body language more open.
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Drop your shoulders, lift your head, make gentle eye contact, and relax your hands. When you do this, your
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When you ask people to give you feedback, ask for it in the form of a “poop sandwich.” The poop sandwich is feedback given in the following order—something you did well, a problem or learning edge, something else you did well. Try to give and receive feedback using this technique.
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Sometimes anxious people need time to process a little bit of feedback before they’re open to receiving more.
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Avoidance will eat you alive psychologically if you don’t work on it.
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How avoidance coping manifests for you will depend on what your dominant response type is when you’re facing something you’d rather avoid. There are three possible responses: freezing, fleeing, or fighting.
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By recognizing the gap between your values and your behavior, you can find the motivation to overcome your avoidance.
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Guilt is psychologically healthy. Shame is not. The difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is about feeling bad about a behavior; shame is about feeling bad about who you are.
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If you up your belief in your ability to cope with facing an upsetting reality, you’ll experience less desire to avoid.
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Examples That’s Me (indicate with a ) All or nothing thinking / Rigid thinking / Unrelenting standards / Perfectionism You need to clean a whole room but don’t have the energy. You do nothing rather than clean one or two things in the room. You believe that everything needs to be done to an excellent level. If you can’t do something to an excellent level, you tend to avoid it completely. You set unrealistic productivity goals for how much you can get done. This causes you to avoid everything completely because you feel overwhelmed. Negative predictions You expect that if you try something you’ll fail. You put off asking for things because you think other people won’t be interested or expect they’ll say no (mind reading). You put off getting user feedback because you expect it will be negative / You avoid testing products with real customers. You overestimate how difficult or unpleasant a task will be. Underestimating your ability to cope You underestimate your ability to cope with boring, stressful, or anxiety-provoking tasks. Personalizing: personalizing your difficulty with a task rather than seeing the task itself as difficult, which gives you an excuse to avoid You think the reason you struggle with something is because you’re too stupid to figure it out rather than thinking it’s inherently challenging and has a learning curve. You think you’re the only one who has problems with something.
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You make a list of all the situations and behaviors you avoid due to anxiety. You then assign a number to each item on your list based on how anxiety provoking you expect doing the avoided behavior would be. Use numbers from 0 (= not anxiety provoking at all) to 100 (= you would fear having an instant panic attack).
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Aim to construct a list that has several avoided actions in each 10-point range.
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Make a plan for how you can work through your hierarchy, starting at the bottom of the list. Where possible, repeat an avoided behavior several times before you move up to the next level.
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During the 30 days, take as many opportunities as you can to be less avoidant than you usually would be.
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As situations come up, focus on taking some action, even if you’re not certain what the absolute right action is.
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Don’t be too all-or-nothing about overcoming avoidance coping. We all have only so much willpower available for dealing with things we’d prefer not to do.
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When you’re avoiding something, try identifying the next action you need to take to move forward. Do that action.
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After you’ve worked on a task you’ve been avoiding, allow yourself to enjoy the fruits of your labor by taking some time to relax.
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assume that if you don’t plan when and where you’re going to do something, you’re probably not going to do it. If you avoid choosing when and where you’ll do a task, take that as a clue that you’re not committed to doing it.
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Pick a smaller action for which you are willing to plan when and where you’ll do it.
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Antiprocrastination strategies that can work well for a while can stop working. Accept that you’ll need to switch strategies in and out.
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Some areas in which you can set up your life to fit your temperament are: Have the right level of busyness in your life.
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Pick the physical activity level that’s right for you.
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Having pleasurable activities to look forward to and enough physical activity will help protect you against depression. Have the right level of social contact in your life, and have routines that put this on autopilot.
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Allow yourself the right amount of mental space to work up to doing something—enough time that you can do some mulling over the prospect of getting started but not so much time that it starts to feel like avoidance of getting started.
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Have self-knowledge of what types of stress you find most difficult to process. Don’t voluntarily expose yourself to those types without considering alternatives.
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It’s sometimes easy to forget other people’s emotional needs when you’re putting so much hard work into your own.
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Also make sure that the first thing you say to your loved one when you reunite at the end of the day is something positive rather than complaining, whining, or handing out honey do’s
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use feeling anxious, stuck, or overwhelmed as your cue to ask yourself whether any of your most common behavioral traps are the culprit.
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Make sure you have a plan for an alternative action you can take when you notice yourself sucked into your most frequent behavioral traps.
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Many of the anxious people I’ve met are prone to excessive responsibility taking. They really don’t like to let anyone down and typically work hard to avoid conflict or other people being potentially unhappy with them. And they usually have high standards for self-performance.
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problem solving should generally involve concretely defining what the problem is, generating a short list of your best options for moving forward, picking something, and deciding when and where you’re going to implement that solution.
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Being in thinking-only mode for long periods is comforting in the same way that overeating junk food for long periods is. It feels comfortable in the moment, but in the long term, you end up far from where you wanted to be.
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Anxious people sometimes spend too much time and energy trying to change other people. Be aware if you’re doing this as a way of avoiding focusing on yourself and your own goals. Of course it’s easier to shift focus to what others could change rather than deal with the psychological work that’s sitting on your own plate.
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It’s really important that you like who you are. Provided you’re not a serial killer, no one deserves the emotional pain of going through life not liking themselves
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List your top five strengths as a person. Since you’re free to revise your list at any point (it’s yours after all), don’t get too perfectionistic about it. Once you have your list, identify a task you currently need to do. How could you apply one of your top five strengths to approach that task in a new way?
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