Research-based activities

The aim of this chapter is to present a quick pedagogical overview and to create an understanding of the activities in each of the four dimensions and the purpose of these.

The tools and activities are built on and inspired by research, principles, and methods from positive, vocational and humanistic psychology, cognitive principles, social cognitive behavioural systems, and entrepreneurial studies which mutually support each other in promoting the scope of this project.

In the following sections, you will find a short description of the activities from the dimensions:

The Self-Knowledge dimension

The concept of Self-knowledge corresponds to the personal system of the individual.

The Self-knowledge dimension consists of a range of activities aimed at supporting the participants in collecting, analysing, interpreting and using one’s personal information. This dimension will help the participant get a clear understanding of him or herself and create a stronger sense of identity.

This includes values, character strengths and skills.


Values are the beliefs that define what is most important to people. Personal life values influence one’s behaviour, decisions, choices, emotions, habits, lifestyle, and social experiences. Values are the motivators of people providing purpose and meaning. Focusing on one’s values enables the participants to set personal goals based on what is important for oneself.

The toolbox offers two activities to work with values:

  1. Exploration & Clarification of one’s values using the visual image cards
    • A three steps activity using a narrative approach to identify and explore the personal values of the participant. Values related to the past, the present and the future.
  2. Values by self-assessment
    • The aim of the ‘Wheel of life’ activity is to help the participants identify and select eight different domains of importance in their lives. The next step is to reflect and gain insight into personal values and perceived satisfaction in the different domains of life, in order to identify and understand the driving force of their values and their motivation. (Inspired by the theory of Basic Human Values. Schwartz (1992, 2006)).

Character strengths

A central element in the participants’ development of self-knowledge, insights and self-awareness is to help them identify what drives them, and what impedes them in exploiting their potential. The Character Strengths approach is based on the VIA Signature Strengths as described by Peterson & Seligman (2004).

The toolbox offers four strength-based approaches and activities.
Peterson & Seligman (2004) have developed a classification of central human strengths, which come from universal human virtues across culture, geography, and religion. The six universal virtues are Wisdom & Knowledge, Courage, Compassion & Love, Justice, Moderation & Transcendence, (Paterson & Seligman, 2004). According to Seligman (2004), the 24 strengths are the road to realising the virtues.

Peterson & Seligman (2004) define signature strengths as the strengths that are the most characteristic and recognisable for the individual, and the easiest to grasp in different situations because they are apparent and authentic for people.

Research and practice demonstrate that people actively working with their strengths thrive better, are more confident, and have higher self-esteem. Furthermore, they gain more energy and zest, experience less stress/are more resilient, perform better, are more committed, are better able to achieve their goals, develop faster, and achieve lasting improvements. (Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, 2010)

Strengths are, to a greater extent, context related. According to researchers, by applying strengths in your daily life, you will become more effective when combined and developed in a dynamic synergy with the reality in which you interact. Furthermore, there is evidence for an increased effect when people use their signature strengths in new ways over a period of time (Seligman, Stern, Park & Peterson, 2005).

The toolbox offers different strategies to work with the strengths, and we recommend that you follow these three level steps: “Aware – Explore – Apply’. This approach to working with strengths will lead to a more optimal personal outcome.

Step one: (Aware) The VIA online strengths profile and the Strengths Image Cards ‘Solitaire’ activities identify and create awareness about one’s strengths.

Step two (Explore) Applying either the ‘Strengths Spotting Interview’ and or the ‘Image Card’ activity “Solitaire’ to explore one’s strengths even further and to approach different perspectives of one’s strengths.

Step three (Apply) Furthermore, link awareness to a goal in the future, indicating how the strengths can be applied in daily life.


The concept “self-efficacy’ and relevant elements from Albert Bandura’s social cognitive learning theory (Bandura, 1994; 1997) is applied when working with the participants’ development of Self-knowledge, World-knowledge, Decision-making and Transitional skills.

The concept of self-efficacy means:’ One’s belief in one’s abilities to perform or succeed at a certain level of performance or desired outcome that influences situations affecting one’s life’ (Bandura, 1994). Self-efficacy is important to explore when aiming to develop the participants’ beliefs in their own abilities to succeed, as the person is seen as an agent in his/her own life. People’s experienced self-efficacy affects, according to Bandura (1994), the way in which we think, feel, act, and motivate ourselves.

Bandura highlights that mastery experiences, together with Role Models and social persuasion, are vital sources of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994). People’s self-efficacy can be trained through the influences of four different sources:

  • Mastery experiences (also named success stories)
  • Vicarious Experiences (role models, people similar to you)
  • Verbal Persuasion (positive examples)
  • Physiological Feedback (emotional arousal)

Mastery experiences (successes) are described as a driving force behind action (Kirketerp, 2012).  The challenge behind the success needs to be within the individual’s Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky).

Within the dimension of Self-knowledge, the toolbox offers more activities to work on enhancing one’s self-efficacy:

  • Strengths by Storytelling; applying the guiding question in the PARS MODEL to discover one’s personal competencies, experiences, and success stories.
  • Finding success stories by storytelling in groups; applying the Strengths Spotting Interview.

The World Knowledge dimension

The concept of “world knowledge’ corresponds to the contextual systems in which the individual acts. This dimension consists of activities that allow the participants to examine their relationships within the close communities and the wider society. Working with these activities will help the participants collect, analyse, and interpret information about the opportunities available to them in their surroundings and how they can use this to achieve their goals.

The surrounding, social network relations and role models

Exploring the world (professional, training, and educational) is a fundamental step in ensuring that participants make decisions in a conscious and informed way, based on reliable and credible sources of information. This information also has to be related to participants’ knowledge of themselves (personal desires, interests, values, and expectation).

The activities dedicated to the dimension of world knowledge aims to support the participants in exploring (collecting, analysing and interpreting) the basic and fundamental information about the life and career objectives that they are considering.

People and the environment are always related, as human development is embedded in a larger social context. Including one’s social networks as a resource in change, processes can have great impact.

The facilitator can support and help the participant analysing their environmental relations and interaction in order for them to understand the complexity of, and opportunities for, the participants’ change.

One way to work with the social surroundings is by mapping one’s own social network and identifying role models in the networks and its surroundings.

The ‘role models’ are one of the other sources of self-efficacy. A role model has the ability to shape the views, ideals, and actions of a young person. Modelling and connecting with role models is a way of enhancing self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994). Role models can increase belief in one’s own performance and action by observing others who succeed. Support and encouragement from others are important in transition phases.

When people seek competent role models with competences that they themselves would like to acquire or strive to reach, it is important that the role model is someone that the participant can get in touch with or reach out to. (So, not a hero or famous person). To increase the success of the action, the participant should be able to model his or her behaviour on the role model, who can show the participant the possible next steps of action within the participant’s Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky). Knowledge or information about a skill or behaviour can be acquired by seeing them in the performance of others.

The toolbox offers the following activities to work directly with relations, role models, and network.

  • Mapping one’s social network
  • Identifying support and role models (source of self-efficacy)

The Transitional Skills Dimension

This dimension “Transitional skills’ refers to skills typically considered as not specifically related to a particular job, task, academic discipline or area of knowledge but as skills that can be used in a wide variety of situations and work settings (IBE, Unesco skills for work and life). These skills are increasingly in high demand for learners to successfully adapt to changes and to lead meaningful and productive lives.

  • “Skill is the ability to perform tasks or cope with various situations effectively, in a particular context, and it is, therefore, necessary to mobilise attitudes, skills and knowledge, at the same time and interrelated’ (Zabala & Arnau, 2007),
  • “Skill is an underlying characteristic of a person that results in effective and/or superior performance in a job’ (Zabala & Arnau, 2007),
  • “The ability to perform a task in a particular context and transferring the knowledge underlying it to other contexts and tasks’ (Luís Imaginário, 1997).

Your skills are the most basic unity – the atoms – of any career you may choose. Be aware not to confuse skills with personality traits.

The toolbox offers the following activities to work with transitional skills:

  • Learning positive emotions
  • Learning the power of thoughts
  • Challenging thoughts and beliefs
  • Perceptions and tolerance to differences
  • Time management


As humans, we tend to remember negative events more than positive events. “Bad is stronger than good “according to Roy F. Baumeister (2001). It is evolutionarily adaptive for “bad to be stronger than good’. An organism that was better attuned to bad events would have been more likely to survive threats. A person who ignores the possibility of a positive outcome may later experience significant regrets of having missed an opportunity for pleasure or advancement.

According to Lyubomirsky (2008), 10% of our joy in life (happiness) depends on external circumstances (the context in which we live), while 50% is genetic, which means that we have the “ability’ to influence the remaining 40%.

The ‘Broaden-and-Build’ Theory of Positive Emotions developed by Frederickson (2009) is the result of meticulous studies that show that one’s cognitive preparedness is expanded through positive emotions, whereby a person gets a bigger platform to build competence (Fredrickson 1998, 2001). It further explains that positive emotions expand cognition and behaviour tendencies and broaden the potential behavioural options.

The expanded cognitive flexibility, evident during positive emotional states, results in resource building that becomes useful over time. According to Frederickson (2009) “Upward spirals of positivity counter downward spirals of negativity’. One’s cognitive ability will broaden by exploring positive emotions and is the person’s foundation for building competence. The positivity ratio by Frederickson indicates a Tipping Point; for every negative emotion you need to experience 3 -11 positive emotions to experience well-being.

Positive emotions are according to Seligman (2012): Contentment, joy, satisfaction, clarification, hope, optimism, trust and belief (Seligman, 2002). Positive emotions are the foundation for good learning processes (Seligman, 2002).

According to Frederickson (2009) awareness of, and working with, positive emotions have an impact on humans’ resources:

  • Physical – sleep quality, immunity from illnesses and diseases
  • Social – expanded social connections, social support
  • Intellectual – creativity, mindfulness
  • Psychological – trait resilience, optimism

For a list of 10 of the most common positive emotions explained by Barbara Fredrickson (2009), you can look at the enclosed list in the supporting information sheet.

The toolbox offers different approaches to working with positive emotions:

  • To create awareness of the positive emotion, you will find 2 group activities related to positive emotions designed for the classroom.
  • One approach: The Positive emotion journal by writing: The activity “3 good things every day’ by focusing on the positive things occurring during the day. Write the events down in a notebook or in the handout for 14 days.
  • Another approach: The positive emotion journal by collage’ which may work very well for participants with below average writing skills, is to do the exercise with the help of drawing or symbolism and using materials (pictures from magazine’s) to document 1-3 good things from the day.

Cognitive methods

As inspiration for training and enhancing the participants’ resilience, perseverance, and self-confidence, we include principles from the cognitive theories and methods (Beck 2011) and principles of cognitive coaching from Oestrich & Johansen (2006).

The Diamond model based on the cognitive methods

Emotions and behaviours are influenced by our perceptions of the events. It illustrates that it is not the situation in itself that determines what people think and feel; it is rather the way in which they think, construct and analyse the situation. The way we think determines how we feel and act. If we change the way we think, the way we feel will change as well, and we will be able to change the way we act. (Beck, 2011).

The cognitive method is about finding a balance between thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and behaviour. When there’s a discrepancy between thoughts and feelings, or we lose connection with our sensory apparatus, our behaviour becomes without goal and meaning – and in some situations, becomes destructive (Oestrich, 2006).

By becoming aware of thought processes or emotions and sensations, the participants can learn to influence thoughts and feelings – and thereby the implications of these – in a positive way.

To introduce the cognitive principles, the facilitator should first apply “The diamond’, followed by the activity “challenging thoughts and beliefs’ which is inspired by the ABCDE model and introduced by Seligman (2002). This explains the cognitive principles to the participants in an understandable and easily applicable way.

The Cognitive Diamond

The cognitive diamond is the first tool to be introduced to explain the relationship between thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and behaviour.

Furthermore, the facilitator will present the cognitive principles, “negative’ thoughts and related behaviour, and different levels of thinking (automatic thoughts, feelings and core beliefs (Beck, 2011).

In relation to Bandura’s sources of self-efficacy (Physiological feedback, emotional arousal), it is recommendable that the participants have been introduced to, and have worked with, positive emotions before working with “the diamond model’. This will create a better understanding of emotions in general.

Challenging your thoughts

According to Seligman (2002), the ABCDE model is a well-documented method that can be used to build optimism by recognising and challenging negative thoughts. When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, we rarely challenge them, even though they are often false.

The key to questioning the irrational’ thoughts about oneself is to acknowledge them and relate to them as if they were unjustifiably presented by another person (Seligman, 2002). The elements involved are:

  • Activating Experience (the event or situation)
  • Belief(s) (thoughts or interpretations of the event),
  • Consequence(s) (upsetting emotional consequence of self-defeating belief; how you felt following the belief)
  • Disputing self-defeating belief (challenging the self-defeating belief; consider another possibility; another way to interpret the belief),
  • Effect of the consequence of disputing self-defeating belief (new emotional consequence as a result of challenging the self-defeating belief) has an energising effect and build optimism.

Using the model and the questions will challenge the participants’ beliefs, automatic thoughts, and interpretations that result in resistance. Thus, it will be possible to change the habits of negative thoughts to a more realistic and constructive explanation style.

The activities ‘The Diamond’ and ‘Challenging your Thoughts’ acquired and applied by participants will be useful to them when they face challenges or find themselves in stressful situations.

The toolbox offers to work directly with changing behaviour and perspective in the following activities:

Activity 14 Learning the power of thoughts

  • The Diamond
  • Challenge your Thoughts – changing behaviour
  • Changeable questions
  • Pros and cons: Decision-making Balance
  • Time Management
  • The time management aspect of the toolbox intends to assist participants in acquiring the ability to plan and control how they spend their time in order to achieve their goals. This includes abilities such as:
    • planning for the future
    • avoiding procrastination
    • and prioritising tasks.

The Decision-making Dimension

Goal Setting and Goal Management

According to Bandura (1994), people can motivate themselves by setting goals for future actions and envisaging preferable scenarios. It is important, however, that these goals are clear and achievable if they are to be satisfactory and strengthen people’s faith in their ability to act.

Effective goal systems are organized hierarchically, where the closest milestones regulate the motivation and the actions that are necessary to reach the overall goals. According to Bandura, this is the reason why it is particularly important for humans, with little belief in their own self-efficacy, to set achievable goals that can give them a sense of movement in the right direction. Furthermore, in order for goals to have an effect, it is important that the individual feels obligated and motivated by the goals (Bandura, 1994).

Enterprising action will become manageable and possible if people “always’ deal with the ‘next best action’ through small steps of full control. This idea is derived from entrepreneurial studies by Sarasvathy (2012) who has researched different approaches of thinking about the future, respectively called “causation’, i.e. “goal-oriented thinking’, and “effectuation,’’ i.e. means- controlled thinking.

According to Sarasvathy, the research on means-controlled processes indicates that an entrepreneur’s starting point consists of three types of means which have been incorporated in the final dimension of the toolbox. The Toolbox proposes different dimensions for the use of the respective tools to help participants locate resources for working with goal setting. These include:

  • Who you are, i.e. characteristics and preferences (activities from the Self-knowledge dimension)
  • What you know, i.e. competencies and experience: Strengths by storytelling PARS Model and competence three ( world knowledge dimension)
  • Who you know, i.e. social and professional network. ‘Mapping network relations activity’ and ‘identifying role ’

Research suggests that becoming aware, exploring, and applying your strengths are important sources of intrinsic motivation (Seligman, 2002) and (Linley, 2008).

The following general tools for anchoring goals and making them “SMARTE’ can be applied to complete the goal setting:

  • The SMARTE Model to make the goal: Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, Time-focused and Effective
  • Anchoring your goal and Action
  • Decision-making balance