Category Archives: Optimism

Shakespeare and life skills

I’m a great Shakespeare fan, so the recent anniversary of this death was been a great time for me. Re-watching some of the plays has reminded me that there are many instances in which Shakespeare’s characters offer great advice about how to live their lives. Two instances of this advice-giving spring to mind – both involve advice from a father to a departing son.

In Richard II, the King banishes Henry Bullingbrook (the future Henry IV) from England. As Henry contemplates a bleak future his father (John of Gaunt) encourages him not to be downcast, and to change his thoughts from negative to positive ones.

‘All places that the eye of heaven visits, are to a wise man ports and happy havens.’

(Act 1, scene 3, line 576 – for the full text see here.

As a coach, and in a similar way, I often use the techniques of asset-based thinking – these encourage you to focus on what you have got and what you can do rather than what you haven’t got and can’t do, and on what a person or situation can do for you rather than what they can’t. For more information, see my blog.

In Hamlet, Polonius offers Laertes (his son) advice about how he should conduct himself when he is away in France. The advice includes:

‘Give every man thy ear, but few they voice.’

(Act 1, scene 3, line 554 – for the full text see here.

This line has always resonated with me. Listening is (I think) an over-looked but crucial skill for the workplace as well as for life in general. For more on listening skills, see my blog.

Asset-Based Thinking

Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) was one of the first ‘positive thinking’ tools that I came across. I still use it a lot and think it’s one of the best and most easily used tools of its type.

ABT  encourages us to think positively, to think about what we’ve got rather than what we haven’t got, what we can do rather than what we can’t do. It focuses on:

  • opportunities rather than problems
  • strengths rather than weaknesses
  • what can be done rather what can’t be done

It applies this thinking in three realms:

  1. ourselves – it looks at our strengths and what we can do
  2. others – it looks at their strengths and what they can do for us, how they can help us
  3. situations – what’s good about them and the benefits they provide

The way we think is reflected in our internal dialogues, the language we use, the questions we ask ourselves and the answers we give. ABT focuses on these dialogues and seeks to change them, and in doing so, to change negative or deficit-based thinking into something more positive and enabling.

For example, these are some ABT ‘corrections’ to deficit-based thinking:

Don’t say ‘that’s impossible.’ Ask ‘what is possible?’
Don’t say ‘oh no, not that again!’ Say ‘it could be better, but I’ve seen this before.’
Don’t say ‘whose fault is that?’ Say ‘what’s done is done, move on.’
Don’t say ‘I’ll never get this done.’ Say ‘this could take longer than expected.’
Don’t say ‘what’s wrong with me?’ Ask ‘what am I learning?’
Don’t say ‘I always get it wrong.’ Say ‘I didn’t get it right last time, but I’ve learnt.’
Don’t say ‘that’ll never change.’ Ask ‘how can I get around this?’
Don’t say ‘he’s out of his mind.’ Ask ‘what makes him tick?’

For more information check out, for a complete guide to ABT, including practical tips and ‘work outs’ see Kathryn D. Kramer and Hank Wasiak, Change The Way You See Everything Through Asset-based Thinking, Running Press, 2006.

Asset-based thinking

Asset-based thinking focuses on opportunities rather than problems, strengths rather than weaknesses, what can be done instead of what can’t. I love the optimism and positiveness of this.

Some asset-based responses:

What is possible? (rather than – That’s impossible.)
What’s done is done. Move on. (rather than – Whose fault is that?)
What am I learning? (rather than – What’s wrong with me?)
How can I get around this? (rather than – That’ll never change.)
What makes him tick? (rather than – He’s out of his mind.)

For more information check out
(it’s American, so try to see through the slight cheesiness!)