Strengths: No Longer a Secret Sauce

In setting goals or targeting our own personal development, we typically focus on our shortcomings and weaknesses. However, refining the things we struggle with doesn’t exactly reveal our best or our greatest potential. Instead, I along with many others, propose you focus more on your strengths. When we are working, playing, and living in our strengths, we not only perform better, but we’re happier too.
 
The truth is that everyone has strengths, things that are best about us. They are made up of a unique combination of traits, characteristics, talents, and aptitudes that each of us possesses. Our strengths are naturally occurring within us and we employ them to varying degrees at work, in communication with others and to achieve our goals. Beyond that, we all have a group of top strengths that dominate our behaviors and actions; they come easily for us and we enjoy using them, whether we realize it or not. While improving weaknesses is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, research tells us that putting more energy into building up our strengths and being intentional in using them may just be the secret sauce you’ve been searching for.
 
Summer_Fall 2009 104
In 2007, while reading Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, I first took the VIA (Values in Action) Classification of Character Strengths, a validated strengths survey. My life has never been the same. Obviously, just taking the survey carried no magic in itself. It was the self-awareness, insight into who I am and the freedom it granted me to fully embrace my true self that made the survey meaningful. In the years that followed, I can honestly say, I have thrived like never before. This, the focus on what is best within us, embracing it and strengthening it, is the backbone of the exploding field of Positive Psychology.
 
Here are the top 5 reasons I choose to maximize my strengths and why you should do the same.

Reason #1: Increased energy
When I’m using my top strengths I feel more energized and less stressed. Often, time just flies by as I’m fully immersed in the task, loving it, as my strengths and abilities match the demands of the task. Often, this is referred to as flow or being in the zone. For me this happens when I’m investigating new things, creating something (like a blog post), making plans for the future or making progress on my goals. One study revealed that those who use their signature strengths are less stressed, which increases energy.
 
Reason #2: Increased engagement at work
When we have the opportunity to focus on our strengths every day, the research says, we are 6 times as likely to be engaged on the job. Furthermore, one study indicated that curiosity, zest, hope, gratitude, and spirituality are the top 5 strengths associated with work satisfaction across occupations. I have experienced this first hand. Today, I intentionally use my highest signature strength of curiosity in my everyday work and it has huge impact on how engaged I am at work.
 
Reason #3: Increased motivation
When I’m using my strengths I’m more enthusiastic about the task at hand and I’m more motivated because I identify more closely with what I’m doing. For example, I enjoy when my work requires me to strategize a plan for a client or create a speech on a new topic because I am a Strategic (according to the StrengthsFinder) and Curious (according to the VIA). One criteria for a strength to be included in the VIA to begin with is that individuals are naturally motivated to use it on their own, without encouragement or reward from others.
 
Reason #4: Increased goal achievement
The literature suggests that when we incorporate our strengths into our pursuit of achieving personally meaningful goals we are likely to experience greater positive emotions (ie. fulfillment), sustain our efforts and spiral upward to greater goal progress in the future. For me, this is absolutely true. A small but powerful example is when I read something that will help me achieve a goal. I feel excited, energized and driven to put the new information into action.
 
Reason #5: Increased life satisfaction, happiness
The research here just blows me away! Seriously, can you think of 3 people that you know who are unhappy with their daily life? It doesn’t have to be that way (and yes I understand there are a lot of factors at play). That said, people who use some of their signature strengths everyday are three times more likely to say they have an “excellent quality of life” than those who don’t. Sounds easy enough, right.
 
Some research suggests that strengths of hope and spirituality correlate the most with increased life satisfaction. An easy way to get started down this path is to pick one of your top strengths and use it in a new way for the next week, everyday. Be deliberate. People who do this have increased happiness and decreased depression for up to 6 months afterward, according to Martin Seligman’s latest book, Flourish. Astounding! For me, when I feed my curiosity daily by reading interesting articles on HuffPost or in my RSS feed, I enjoy it, learn new things and even share interesting tidbits with my family and friends, which boosts those relationships.
 
People are at their best when they are able to use their natural characteristics, traits and talents – the strengths in which they naturally excel. When I do what I am designed to do, putting my strengths, the best of who I am to work for me, then I am most likely to produce my best work. If you combine the reasons above of increasing energy, engagement, motivation, achievement and life satisfaction, it sure seems to form a recipe for success.
 
Question: What is one new way you will be intentional about using one of your top strengths moving forward? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 
 
Links: (posts, books, links, etc.)
Book: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
Link: StrengthsFinder 2.0 online assessment
Link: VIA Institute 

 

Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.