When you begin to implement a "strengths-based focus" in your day-to-day living (click here to learn more about a strengths-based focus), you can achieve anything you want. Let me repeat this: anything is possible, and I mean anything, with a strengths-based focus. Do you want to have ever-present peace and joy in your life on a daily basis? How about the job of your dreams? What kind of a romantic relationship do you want? How much money do you want to make? Do you want to be outgoing rather than shy? Would you like to be a half-inch taller or 30 pounds lighter? How about becoming an expert in the field of your choice? You name it, focus on it, and you'll get it.
You may be thinking at this point that "this focus stuff is just a bunch of hype." But you already have evidence that this concept works, but probably in reverse. In other words, your focus may have been predominantly on the negative, and the more you focused on that negative thing, whatever it was, the more pessimistic you became.
To use a concrete example from one of my Asperger's clients, Roger (age 31 at the time) always viewed himself as one of the most socially inept individuals out there. He knew he wasn't very good at the give-and-take of a normal conversation. He tended to dominate most conversations by rambling on and on about his favorite topic of interest, which was World War II history. After about five minutes into his monologue, Roger would notice that most of his listeners became disinterested and even annoyed. Then Roger would think to himself, "Either nobody cares about history anymore, or I am the most boring person on the planet." His focus was on how boring he was, which unfortunately resulted in the vast majority of people finding him to be very dull and monotonous. What he focused on became his reality.
Fortunately, the focus concept can work the other way around. I've seen clients go from being unemployed and under-employed to making well over $75,000 a year. I've seen clients who had never been in a relationship before find the person of their dreams, get married, buy their own home, and have children. I've had clients in their 40s and 50s who were grossly overweight with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and numerous other physical ailments get their health back to the point where they were in better shape than most people in their 20s. I even had one client who went from being the most shy, reserved person I knew at the time to performing standup comedy at one of the prominent comedy clubs here in Indianapolis. These success stories occurred not because I waved a magic wand over my clients, but because they understood the importance of a strengths-based focus and employed it in their lives on a daily basis.
One of the first things I do in therapy is to have my client create his or her own unique "strengths-based focus" vision board. We call it a "focus board," and this will be your first assignment as one of my website visitors. As an adult on the spectrum, you are probably well aware of the fact that people with Asperger's syndrome and High-Functioning Autism tend to be very visual. That is, they learn best by seeing rather than hearing. So as part of your first assignment, go to your local office supply store and purchase a bulletin board and a package of pushpins. You will want to hang this board on a wall in whatever room of your house that you occupy the most. On this board, you will be placing pictures that you have cut out from magazines or any other sources, or pictures that you've taken yourself with a camera. These pictures are going to represent your current strengths as well as strengths that you may not possess yet, but desire to at some point in the near future. So in this way, you will be focusing on both current strengths and future strengths.
Here's an example to illustrate: Let's say you're very good at playing a particular musical instrument, perhaps the piano. So find a picture of a piano in a magazine, cut it out and tack it on your focus board. This is a current strength that you possess. Let's also say that you are not in a relationship currently, but would very much enjoy having a love interest. So for example, if you are a heterosexual male looking for a girlfriend, find a picture of a pretty girl, cut it out and tack it your focus board. Now let's also say that you spend a good part of your evening at home on the computer. So a good spot for your focus board might be on the wall directly above your computer screen so that you can see it every day.
Now before you hang the bulletin board and cut pictures out of magazines, take some time later today to (a) list at least five things that you are currently good at doing and (b) at least five things that you would like to be able to do someday. When you have completed this list, then you can begin pinning pictures to your focus board. Then every day from this point forward, spent a few minutes reviewing the board, visualizing yourself engaged in your current strengths as well as the ones you want to develop. To use the example above, spend a minute or two visualizing yourself playing one of your favorite piano pieces, and then spend another minute or two fantasizing about your first date with a pretty young lady.
When you visualize, be sure to do so in a very detailed fashion. For example, when you see yourself on that first date, what are the two of you doing exactly? Are you having dinner in a nice restaurant? If so, what are you wearing? What is she wearing? How does her perfume smell? What do you like most about this person ...her hair ...her laugh ...her voice? What are the two of you discussing? In other words, you want to play a movie in your head that illustrates exactly how you want this first date to go.
Everything is fair game for your focus board -- as long as it has to do with building on current strengths and cultivating new ones. It should go without saying that you do not want to include "flaws to be fixed" on your board. So you will need to put a positive spin on some things. For example, if you are rather shy, but want to be more outgoing, you are not technically going to "fix" shyness, rather you are going to "foster the development of a more friendly, conversational trait in yourself." Put it in the positive (e.g., "I want to _____ instead of "I don't want to _____").
Mark Hutten, M.A.
== Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples