How do you know what your strengths are? You are probably aware of some, but identifying your strengths can be tricky. This is due partly to our innate ‘tuning into’ the negative about ourselves or situation, and the difficulty we all have in recognising what we are truly good at!
One way is to ask yourself what strengths you have just used when you have done something you feel good about. You could also try asking a friend or trusted colleague who you feel can give you honest feedback (itself a real skill).
Research shows there are 24 character strengths recognised across cultures as being inherently desirable human traits. Martin Seligman has used these as the basis for his ‘VIA Character Strengths Tests’ questionnaire which is available, for free, on his website http://www.authentichappiness.org You need to register and the questionnaire will take about 40 minutes to fill in. That time is well spent however, as the results can be truly illuminating.
“OH, THAT WAS NOTHING!”
If you do ask for feedback on your strengths, it’s worth noting how hard it can sometimes be to actually hear a strength being identified in you, or indeed for others to hear it said of themselves. How many times have you heard, or said yourself, “Oh it was nothing” or “the others did it, I did very little” when being praised for something done well, whether it be at work or in your personal life. Giving and receiving positive feedback is a skill, and given that it can be so powerful in shaping many things, not just our ability to identify strengths, it’s good to know that we can all learn to give and receive it.
TOP TIP: USE EVIDENCE BASED, POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Here’s where providing evidence for the strength is so valuable. Next time you listen to a friend or colleague talk about something that went well, identify a strength they used in order to achieve what they did. Identify specifically what they did so when you then feed their use of that strength back to them, you can provide the evidence. See and feel how different things appear by trying it out when you don’t use the evidence. For me, it carries far more impact when my husband tells me I’m good with people when he also refers back to the specifics of the situation he has perhaps just seen me in, letting me see the strengths of kindness, patience and empathy, for example. Collecting your evidence of where and when you have used your strengths is a great activity for building up your self-confidence and self-belief in your abilities.
RE-CRAFT YOUR WORK / LIFE AROUND USING YOUR STRENGTHS
The next, essential step, is to actively use your strengths in different ways across your day. Remember, using your strengths builds positive emotion, opening you up to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. You’ll feel good and will be more likely to ‘get into flow’ at work or whatever activity you need to focus on, when you are applying your strengths. (Go back to Part 1 of this blog series if you’ve forgotten why it matters).
As a mum, I’m aware how powerful this all is for my children. I help them recognise the things they have done well and encourage them to reflect back on things they feel good about. Being a coach I find it fairly natural to bring into use all those great empowering questions with them, such as “How did that make you feel?”, “What did you learn from that?” And “How could you use (insert strength) with (new challenge or difficulty)? I actively help them identify their strengths, celebrate their use and encourage them to think of where they can apply their ‘good skills’ to tackle their problems.
I’m still not brilliant at doing it for myself though. So, time to apply a bit more positive psychology on me I think, and here’s an immediate opportunity: how can I use my ‘optimism, zest and energy for life’ to work out an approach to cooking dinner for the children when much of it is likely to be immediately scraped back into the compost bin…