One of my signature strengths is curiosity. I think it is the reason I became a coach. I absolutely love to explore and discover new ideas and concepts with my clients. Every coaching session is unique and I always learn something new about my client (and myself).
I begin each coaching engagement by assessing my client’s strengths. We all have them, and if asked, most people have a fairly good idea what their top strengths are – honesty, kindness, teamwork, forgiveness, love – just to name a few.
Harness Your Strengths
But embracing them, and knowing when to harness them, is a very different thing. We tend to take our strengths for granted. After all, they come easily to us – hence the name “strength.” We tend to use them without thinking. They are our lifeblood in many situations.
And, what if they were taken away from us? What if your top strength is honesty and you were told you couldn’t tell the truth or present yourself in an authentic way for a month? You couldn’t tell your child how much you enjoyed his performance in the school play or express your sincere interest in how your friend’s sick parent is doing or tell someone how sorry you are for that snide comment you just made. How would that feel? I would say excruciating.
Now assume your second-highest strength is kindness. And that was also taken away for a month. No doing favors for others, helping your teenager make his lunch, or taking care of your overworked spouse. At that point, I would just curl up in a ball and never leave my bed.
I pose this question because we often use our strengths but really aren’t aware of them. Research shows that if you are aware of your strengths at work you are 9 times more likely to be flourishing at work. And if you are proactively using your strengths, you are 18 times more likely to be flourishing at work. Additionally, people who use 4 or more of their top strengths in their job are much more likely to consider their work a “calling” versus merely a job or a career.
What About My Weaknesses? Shouldn’t I Worry About Those?
Many people feel the need to focus their energy on shoring up their weaknesses. This is where the payoff is, or so we often think. Our weaknesses are what bothers us about ourselves. These are what we want to fix.
Our strong negativity bias which makes our brains more sensitive and responsive to negative thoughts, feelings, and social interactions encourages this mindset. As Tal Ben Shahar, founder of the Wholebeing Institute and a leader in Positive Psychology education and leadership training says, “Our minds are velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.” As a result, we worry that we aren’t zesty enough when one of our top strengths is prudence, or that we don’t exercise enough judgment and self-regulation when our passion and enthusiasm are strong. But the reality is we can’t have 20 strengths in equal levels. By definition, it’s just not possible. We are imperfect beings. (See Blog post #1).
Our Strengths Are The Wind In Our Sails
Think of this in terms of efficiency. You need to expend way more time and energy improving something you’re not good at than something you’re already good at. Focusing on your weaknesses is like a salmon fighting the current to go upstream. Focusing on your strengths is akin to moving with the current with the wind in your sails.
When we harness and consciously use our strengths, they help us:
- Achieve our goals
- Bring more meaning and engagement to our lives
- Improve our relationships
- Decrease our stress levels
- Boost our resilience
- Increase our overall happiness and wellbeing
How Can You Focus On And Apply Your Strengths?
The first thing I suggest is to go to www.viacharacter.org to take the ten-minute, free strength assessment. Another great one is the Gallup strength test to access your top 5 strengths at gallupstrengthcenter.com ($19.99). Below are some examples of how you can harness your strengths and apply them in new ways:
- Pick the top 3 or 4 that you feel are essential to who you are. Think about how you use them now. In what types of situations? With which people?
- How can you apply your top 5 strengths in new ways? In a challenging situation? With a difficult person? In your upcoming presentation? While parenting your children? With your spouse? With yourself?
- How can you use your people-oriented ones – for example, kindness or forgiveness –with new people? Perhaps with a challenging person in your life? With yourself?
- Visualize how it will feel to apply them in new ways and with new people. This will help motivate you to get started and give you an idea of what it might look like.
- Create an action plan, consciously laying out how you will use your strengths today, tomorrow and next week, and in what situations and with which people. The more specific, the better.
- Pick one top strength and consider a new way to use it each day for a week. If it involves interactions with people, you can also pick a new person to use it with every day for a week.
- Journal at the end of the week about what you noticed about your new applications. These insights will help you apply your strengths more in the future in the ways that proved helpful to you.
- Repeat for several weeks to make this a habit.
Your Character Strengths Are Who You Are At Your Core
Don’t take them for granted. As you use your strengths and acknowledge them more, they will grow like a muscle, helping you reach your goals and find authentic happiness and meaning in your life.
Amy Larson is a life coach and career coach who meets with local clients in her comfortable office at 1877 Broadway in Boulder, CO and with clients from around the country via phone and Skype. Amy has worked in Investment Banking, Management Consulting and Consumer Products Marketing holds an undergraduate business degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach.
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