Uncovering Hidden Tools

I occasionally have a gizmo or do-dad that I have stuffed away in a drawer somewhere, completely oblivious to its function.  The example that comes to mind was a jar opener in my kitchen.  When I finally asked and learned what it was, I had a small Aha moment, then was pleased to have a new tool (especially as I’m terrible at opening jars).

Roughly the same phenomenon occurs when I go to the gym and some kick-ass instructor has us doing something I’ve never done before.  Suddenly I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t even know I had.

Just imagine if we had access to all available kitchen or handyman tools and knew how to use them?  Or if every one of the muscles in our body was in top-notch condition when athletic ability is critical to our success?  Doesn’t it make sense to become aware of, and use, all the tools that we have to help us be successful and happy?  It’s kind of like trying to fix a car with only a hammer, wrench and a screwdriver.  You can probably get by for a long time with just those three tools, but at some point you’ll hit a brick wall.

Turns out, we have all kinds of tools that we rarely use.  As you probably know by now, StrengthsFinders is a self-assessment instrument that identifies the 34 common human strengths, such as Communication or Empathy, and ranks them for each person from strongest to weakest (yes, we all have all 34 to various degrees).  By focusing on our dominant strengths, we can maximize our effectiveness, engagement and happiness. Becoming aware of our strengths is the first step, as we frequently take them for granted.  I’ve written recently about some of my strengths that I want to embrace and develop.

But it doesn’t end there.  Apparently, our bodies and voices also give us access to a set of emotional tools.  Researcher Amy Cuddy describes how body language affects not only how others perceive us but also has real, physiologic effects on how we feel and even who we are.   Powerful poses make us feel more confident and less stressed, whereas defensive poses increase our stress hormones.  Actual changes in testosterone and cortisol (stress hormone) result based on our posture.  She recommends adopting a powerful pose (think:  Man of Steel poses) for at least two minutes to change your hormone levels and give you the confidence and courage to make a series of small changes that can change who you are.  Restricting yourself to defensive poses (slouching, keeping limbs close to body), therefore, can make it more difficult to be successful.  In other words, Fake It Until You Make It has an actual physiologic underpinning.  Cuddy advocates you Fake It Until You Become It.

Similarly, our voices have a range of five “elements”, according to Barbara McAfee, author of  Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence.  Each element corresponds with an emotional range.  For example, earth element is associated with authority and intuition, fire with passion and personal power, water with compassion and caring, metal with clarity and focus and air with spirituality and inspiration.  Relying too heavily on one or two voice elements may restrict our emotional range, both in terms how we might feel in a given moment but also eliciting and processing feelings from past experiences, according to McAfee.  The ability to access each element helps you put those emotions to work effectively in your life.  For example, I observed that while I was trying to embrace my Command strength, I intuitively went deeper into the Earth element, but too deep as I was stressing my voice.  I will need to work on finding the right mix of voice elements to improve my effectiveness. The down side of command is being perceived as bossy.  Perhaps intentionally eliciting the water elements of my voice could help provide balance.

If I can name three there are probably dozens more ways we can learn to more effectively use our hidden skills. Perhaps we are truly on the brink of being able to tap into the full human potential.  We already know so much about unlocking our potential, it’s now merely a matter of whether we choose to seal those kitchen drawers shut or dig through them periodically to find, and use, our hidden treasures.  I’m digging as I need something to prevent coffee grinds from going everywhere and to be viewed as less bossy.  What’s hidden in your toolkit?