The tree of life

It’s a while since I introduced a new guidance or coaching model. Here is one I came across fairly recently. It appeals to me because it is quite simple and has a strong metaphorical visual image which makes it easy to remember.

The Tree of Life model from Positive Acorn

Where are the squirrels?

The model was developed by Positive Acorn a coaching consultancy spearheaded by Robert Biswas-Diener (author of a number of books on positive psychology and self-styled ‘Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology’ (perhaps he has a snake phobia). The main purpose of the model seems to be to give a structured way of thinking about factors related to individual growth and development.

Unsurprisingly for a model developed within the discipline of positive psychology coaching, the idea of strengths is pretty central. The various components of the model are:

  • Earth = Supporting Resources. These are the things which nourish you and provide for your fundamental needs. This could include important relationships, particular experiences or achievements, physical health and fitness, opportunities for learning, etc.
  • Roots = Values. These are the beliefs and ideals that make you who you are, the important principles you live by. These could include: honesty, kindness, respect, hard work, novelty, etc. The more closely connected your Values and your Supporting Resources, the more nourishment you will receive.
  • Trunk = Strengths. This represents the activities and behaviours that you are naturally good at and enjoy engaging with. They are the methods by which you activate your Values. These could include: creativity, courage, problem-solving, etc.
  • Branches = Life Domains. These are the various arenas in which you use your Strengths. This could include: health, family, work, leisure, etc. Each of the main limbs may have a number of sub-branches sprouting from it. At different points in your life, different branches will have particular significance.
  • Leaves = Developments. These are the outcomes of your activities in the various Life Domains — the fruits and nuts of your labours.

In the free activity sheet that goes with this model (pdf), they ask a number of interesting questions to prompt thoughts about growth.

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  1. #1 by Jim Bright on 28 August 2012 - 12:11

    hmmm…. I wonder whether you need to be in a pretty positive frame of mind already for this to benefit. I wonder if you are feeling blue, hesitant or self-limiting whether the questions here might not serve to reinforce a sense of isolation and vulnerability – e.g. what supporting resources are missing ..? Ans: all of them….what pesiticdes are in the soil – Ans lots and they are deadly and sapping my strength with no way of moving away from them (I am a tree afterall and I am helpless to move unless the council come to the party and issue permission for someone to transplant me)

    Oh and my developments (leaves) are all temporary – they fade and die within months if they are not blown on the wind, or they get shat on by those bloody birds that take advantage of me continually. Ohh those bloody birds and their squawking. Do I get to lie in? No because they are at it so much, it seems like from dawn!!! And….oh no it’s the sodding Great Dane from No1 about to do a No2 on me again… It’s learned that my bark is worse than my bite…..

    • #2 by David Winter on 28 August 2012 - 12:15

      Do you need a break, Jim (or perhaps a visit from the tree surgeon)?

      • #3 by Jim Bright on 28 August 2012 - 12:22

        a LOPP sided comment David – branching out into humour, not seeing the wood for the trees, perhaps one too many CEDARS at lunchtime, come back to the office ASHen by GUM, making yourself far from POPLAR, need to SPRUCE up your act, anyway enough LARCHing around should be off to the BEACH after BIRCHING YEW….

    • #4 by CM Oosthuizen on 10 October 2013 - 10:23

      Dear Jim
      I can scientifically vouch for the fact the the Tree of Life model works! I have applied it in coaching as well as therapy situations – specifically with people suffering from depression – and it works! I used this model as part of a
      group of women exposed to violence, and it worked in that application as well!
      Identify and focus on your strengths and abilities, and cultivate the soil! Your harvest will be much more than expected!! :-) CM

  2. #5 by David Winter on 28 August 2012 - 12:53

    G-rowan! #headPALM

  3. #6 by Dan Armishaw on 28 August 2012 - 20:08

    Thanks for the post. I think for some people the strong visual image will be helpful, even if Jim is PINE-ing for another metaphor.

  4. #7 by Jim Bright on 29 August 2012 - 09:47

    Dan what are you trying to inFIR?

  5. #8 by runninginaforest on 29 August 2012 - 20:55

    First an apology, I may not use a pun about trees in the reply…

    For me this appears to work best for the person who has strengths they are not aware of or maybe to help with interview prep when you have to talk about strengths and results. I think this is more about revealing positives but I’m not sure how it could help someone develop themselves or decide on new directions or as Jim points move away from negatives. I think maybe a bit limited but could be useful in the right context.

  6. #9 by Jim Bright on 30 August 2012 - 09:37

    perhaps a Bonsai amongst Oaks Thomas? groan! I take a bow! Bow geddit? …oh suit yourselves!!

  7. #10 by David Winter on 30 August 2012 - 10:50

    @runninginaforest: Hi Tom

    I’m not sure how useful it would be for people who are not aware of their strengths. How would this help them to discover them. Unless perhaps you started with the leaves (outcomes) and worked backwards to find the strengths which must have led to these outcomes.

    I see one of the main benefits of this model as being to do with identity affirmation and self-validation. A lot of careers work is about focusing on what’s wrong with your life. ‘I’m in the wrong job.’ ‘I’m not happy with the rate of progress I’m making.’ ‘I’m not experiencing success in applications.’ As with much of positive psychology, the aim of this model is to help you focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t have.

    Self-validation – engaging in an affirmation of your unique values and strengths – can make people more likely to engage in novel activities and to have more confidence in new social situations where they might otherwise hold back for fear of rejection (See Overcoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of social rejection).

    Another use I can see for it is to help people to review their achievements in various life domains and prioritise what that they want to pour their future resources into.

    Yet another use could be in meaning making, helping people to connect the roots and the leaves. To help people understand the ‘root’ causes that have helped them to achieve (or prevented them achieving) things in the past, so that they can have a better idea of how to use their talents to achieve things in the future.

  8. #11 by Elaine Denniss on 31 August 2012 - 15:27

    I too like the simplicity of the model and the parallel with the interconnectivity of ecosystems. I’d probably extend the metaphor/model to include other external factors such as light, temperature (ie elements necessary for different trees to survive in different conditions) to represent the importance of seeking out environments that will enable or encourage people make use of their strengths and develop unrealised strengths. I’m thinking of my Christmas tree – thrives and grows when it’s kept outside in its pot and watered regularly but wilts/drops its needles when it’s brought into a warm centrally heated room once a year and dressed up to look pretty!

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