Let's talk about strengths. And let's start that conversation by exploring what strengths actually are, shall we. You see, while a lot is made about strengths, and how important it is to know what strengths you have, and to 'play to them' in every aspect of your life, what they actually are, and how they actually work, often seems to be something of a mystery.
Your strengths are your innate abilities. They are things that you do so easily that you take them for granted, and may even assume that everyone possesses them. They include traits such as social intelligence, courage, honesty and curiosity, for example - things that are hard to measure, but critical to your success in your pursuit of your adventure into your best self. And they can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways.
For example, take creativity - it covers a multitude of things, from the immediately obvious - painting, drawing, music, dance, writing, acting, for example - to the much less obvious - such as mathematics and computer coding.
So, someone with the strength of creativity may find that painting landscapes seems to come naturally; or, the minute a beat strikes up, they find themselves harmonising in their heads, or breaking out a dance move; or maybe they lose themselves in algorithms and complex equations. But, sit the person who busts out the dance moves in front of a piano, and they may be all at sea, and put the person who loses themselves in algorithms in front of an easel, and a stick man is about all they can muster.
How do you go about discovering what your strengths are?
Not many people understand their strengths. Not fully. And even the people who do recognise their strengths, all too often under-estimate them. This clip from 'A Samurai Story' brilliantly shows how we can feel like we have no strengths, or that are strengths aren't 'all that'.
So how do you recognise, and appreciate your strengths? A great place to start is with the free VIA Strengths Inventory, which is a proven questionnaire that will help you identify your top strengths from 24 possibilities. But, if questionnaires aren't your thing, or you want to explore your strengths more widely, you could try a couple of these exercises...
Start by identifying three specific situations where you have been fully involved in what was happening. Ideally, these will be situations that turned out well. Then, using the list of strengths you can find here, work through your part in that situation and identify the strengths that you displayed.
Once you have worked through each situation, take each strength you identified and ask yourself how using that strength makes you feel, affects the outcomes you experience, and the way in which you see yourself (does it help you to see yourself more positively, or does it not affect your self-perception?).
How do your strengths help you in your adventure?
OK, so now you understand what strengths are, and have begun the process of identifying what strengths you have, how will those strengths help you to navigate your adventure into becoming your best self?
Well, firstly, strengths open up opportunities for you to release more and more of your passion - to do the things that you truly enjoy. And, when you do things you enjoy, you provide opportunities for your strengths to come into play, which causes those strengths to become more prominent in your everyday life. Something of a virtuous circle.
And, given that your strengths are an expression of the real you - a window into your best self - it stands to reason that the more prominent they become in your everyday life, the more you will discover about yourself, including what you do, and don't, enjoy.
Secondly, using your strengths on a daily basis builds resilience. When you use your strengths at every opportunity - in everything from the humdrum routine events in your calendar, to the unexpected, straight out of left field curve balls that threaten to derail you - you become equipped with a deep-rooted resilience to the negative messages and circumstances that inevitably crash against you as you plot your course. And that resilience allows you to maintain your progress, preventing you from being thrown off track, or from the brakes being applied to your adventure.
Thirdly, using your strengths impacts how you see yourself. When you use your strengths you build a positive view of yourself, which builds your momentum and pushes you further into the adventure of becoming your best self. And, as you might expect, when you don't use your strengths, the opposite is true - you lose that momentum and see yourself in a much more negative light.
For example, let's say you woke up this morning in a real downer, feeling like you had a heaviness weighing you down. Your day went from bad to worse and now, to top it all off, someone in the office has begun pushing all the wrong buttons at totally the wrong time.
You feel a fury welling up inside, and you can sense the lid keeping it in is not far from blowing off. Now, luckily for you (and your co-workers), self-control is a strength you have. And that means that, as you sense that lid beginning to work itself loose, you can exercise that strength and contain and manage the emotions building inside. You can deal with it in a positive way, and prevent it from pouring petrol on flames that are already burning.
And that response means that you see yourself as calm, level-headed and maybe even a little pragmatic. Which makes you feel good about yourself. And because you feel good about yourself, as you look in the mirror that evening while you brush your teeth, the person staring back at you puts a smile on your face. And, because you like yourself, the heaviness you felt this morning is still there, but it's a lot lighter than it was - a lot more manageable. In fact, now you stop to think about it, it's barely noticeable.
Lastly, your strengths help you to set, and achieve, the goals that will move you through each phase of your adventure. Strengths like perseverance, prudence, creativity, hope, humour, and self-regulation, for example, can make the difference between staying the course and navigating each twist and turn, and falling at the first hurdle.
Using your strengths is key to how your adventure plays out, and, if you want some ideas on how you can apply your strengths in your day-to day life, the VIA Institute have put together some ideas on how to apply each of the 24 character strengths in their inventory. You can find it right here.
It really is no exaggeration to say that to neglect your strengths is to jeopardise your adventure, but to play to them is to open the door to success. Don't take your strengths for granted - get to know them, cherish them, and embrace them each and every day.