Written by Dr Andrea Giraldez-Hayes
What do you spend more time doing, thinking about your weaknesses and trying to fix them or thinking about your strengths and building upon what is working? If you are like most people, the chances are that you are in the first group. However, it should not be the case. Research suggests that when people spend more time using their strengths and talking about them, they get excited and energised (Cooperrider, 2012).
So, why not try to identify your signature strengths? Before we tell you how to do it, let us explain what they are.
What Are Strengths?
Back in 2004, Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson edited a ground-breaking book: Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. In that book, the authors undertook a systematic classification and measurement of universal virtues and strengths. They identified 6 virtues comprising of 24 measurable positive character strengths;
Wisdom and Knowledge: Creativity, Curiosity, Love of Learning, Perspective, Judgement
Courage: Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest
Humanity: Love, Kindness, Social Intelligence
Justice: Forgiveness and Fairness, Leadership
Temperance: Forgiveness and Fairness, Humility and Modesty, Prudence, Self-Control
Transcendence: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour, Spirituality
Everyone has all these strengths in different degrees. We know that when people recognise and appropriately use their character strengths, they are more authentic, experience an increased sense of wellbeing and less stressed, are more confident, more creative and agile at work and grow and optimise their performance and productivity. They also tend to live happier and healthier lives and have more chances to thrive (Park, N. & Peterson, 2009).
So, if you want to live a better life, why don’t you start by using your strengths instead of trying to ‘fix’ your weaknesses?
How to Use Your Strengths?
Before you continue reading, take a look to the table above. What would you say you top five strengths are? What would be at the bottom of your list? When you do this, remember that the strengths at the bottom of your list are not necessarily weaknesses – they are just lesser strengths when compared to others.
Suzy Green, in a wonderful book entitled The Positivity Prescription, suggests that you can reflect on some statements to realise how much you are currently “playing to your strengths”. For example:I am regularly able to do what I do best.
– I use my strengths to achieve my goals.
– I can use my strengths in many different situations.
– Why don’t you also have a go at these ideas:
Select one of your top strengths and consider a new way to use them every day for a week. For example, if one of your strengths is perseverance, you might decide to use it to complete a task that you have been postponing. Or you may choose to go out and exercise, or to select one skill you want to improve and set small daily or weekly goals until you’ve made significant progress. If you cannot think of enough ideas, try considering different options. For example, to use your perseverance at work, at home, while you engage in a hobby, as a team player or to have a healthier diet.
Are you overusing one of your top strengths? Let us continue with perseverance. To persist towards your goals despite obstacles or disappointments could be something positive. However, there might be occasions when the best option would be to give up. Perseverant people tend to make extraordinary efforts to complete whatever they have started, even when they realise it is not worth the energy or the goal has become irrelevant. As a result of overusing their perseverance, people can take too much risk or become unconcerned of others’ reactions. On the contrary, the consequence of underusing perseverance could be helplessness, laziness or giving up too soon. Ryan Niemic (2019) has looked at the effects of overusing, underusing and the optimal use of strengths, and observed that individuals find wellbeing and life satisfaction when they make optimal use of their character strengths.
Strength journaling could be an exciting way of exploring and noticing how you use your strengths. You can select one of your top strengths, or one that you would like to develop, try to use it more often and observe the results. How do you feel when you use your strength? What is the impact on the people around you? Does the strength help you to achieve better results? Are you overusing it? If so, what could you do?
We all know how important is to know ourselves, and understanding your strengths is a significant step to rise your self-awareness and live a more fulfilling and flourishing life.