WHY ARE WE BAD AT BEING GOOD?
When did you last tell yourself this?
What makes it so hard for us to acknowledge what we are good at?
Why is it that at the end of the day, we remember the stuff we didn’t do so well whilst experiencing amnesia over the great things we actually achieved?
Apparently it’s all to do with our evolutionary make-up. Focusing on where we need to improve helped us to evolve as a species, prevented us from being eaten and enabled us to adapt to the many challenges that were faced.
Today, an awareness of our strengths can be hugely beneficial. On an individual level, how we were parented has a considerable influence on how easily we can tune into what we are good at. Regardless of our ‘starting point’, the good news is that we can all learn to cultivate more awareness of our strengths, and use that information to ‘float our boat’ and navigate it through turbulent times, at work or at home.
HOW DOES KNOWING YOUR STRENGTHS MATTER?
It matters for several, important reasons.
- If you know and consciously use aspects of yourself you are good at, you’ll feel more positive and that in itself brings about huge benefits. For example, this includes being able to think more expansively and more creatively, as explored by Barbara Fredrickson in her ‘broaden and build theory of positive emotions’ (Positivity, 2009). This now well accepted theory states that positivity opens our minds, making us more receptive and more creative, whilst enabling us to build new skills, new knowledge, new ways of being.
Going back to our ancestry, Fredrickson states “positive emotions were consequential to our human ancestors because over time those good feelings broadened our ancestor’s mindsets and built their resources for the future” (2009). Working from our strengths, designing ways in which we can use more of them, more often, can be a highly successful way of bringing in more positive emotions into our daily lives.
- Knowing what our strengths are gives us a way of dealing with challenges. When you work from a place of strength, you are far more likely to be successful. As you accomplish more, you build more and more evidence of your abilities. Success breeds success, so applying your strengths to help you tackle difficult situations or conversations, for example, helps you build the self-belief and self-confidence to do more. It’s a virtuous circle, which when consciously acknowledged can be very powerful.
Recently a coaching client of mine was having difficulty seeing their strengths, and keeping an evidence log in the form of a ‘what went well and why’ exercise made all the difference in building that awareness and insight.
- Knowing what your strengths are can also help you be aware of your ‘shadow’ side. This is the opposite, unhelpful aspect of having that strength. For example, ‘a love of excellence’ has a shadow of being a perfectionist; ‘optimism, zest and energy for life’ (one of mine) can also lead you to overcommitting and needing to take a few reality checks. Transactional Analysis (a theory of communication) frames someone’s character traits you may find annoying as a ‘strength overdone’. Developing insights to where you (and others) are perhaps overdoing some strengths can lead to better relationships, at work, at home, with friends, family and colleagues.
- Acting from our strengths makes it easier for us to go into ‘flow’ at work and find what we do more satisfying (Johnstone, 2013). ‘Flow’ has been the subject of considerable research in the field of positive psychology. One leading researcher, Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi states that flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Flow, 1991). Researchers Clifton and Harter who reviewed work across this field concluded that workers who “have the opportunity to do what they do best every day” show less staff turnover, better customer loyalty and higher productivity (2003).
In Part 2, we examine how to identify your strengths and use them creatively across your daily life.
Clifton, D. & Harter, J. K. (2003). Investing in strengths. In K. S., Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn, (Eds), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 111-121). San Francisco, CA: Berrett- Koehler
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002), Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How To Achieve Happiness. Rider
Fredrickson, B. (2009), Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive. Oneworld Publications
Johnstone, C. (2013), Positive Psychology for Coaches and Health Professionals, online course materials, FindYourPower.com