Recently, I have been talking a lot about putting more focus on developing our strengths, rather than spinning our wheels trying to fix weaknesses. Indeed, there is evidence that focusing more on strengths increases both, happiness levels AND productivity.
But how, then, do you develop your strengths? Or what does it even mean to develop something you are already good at? I decided to write a separate blog post dedicated to these questions and to give you some ideas on how you could develop your strengths. I focus here on character strengths, which is Positive Psychology’s way to approach what is strong and good about us.
1. Find New Ways to Use Your Signature Strengths
In the field of Positive Psychology, this is one of the most famous exercises to develop strengths. And for a good reason: it is a science-based intervention, and in a research setting it increased happiness levels and decreased depression symptoms for 6 months (Seligman et al., 2005).
How does it work in practice? After taking the VIA Survey and taking time to explore your results, choose one of your signature (top) strengths, and use that strength in a new way every day during a week. For example, if you choose Kindness, you could open the door to someone else, buy a coffee to the next person in line in a coffee shop or drive thru, or offer to go to the grocery store for an elderly relative. Or if you choose Love of Learning, you could carve out 15 minutes every day to read an article or watch a video on an interesting topic. Love of Learning is one of my signature strengths, and one new way I have used this strength has been learning something new from conversations with other people. This has been fun for me because I have been able to use one of my highest strengths in a new way, and I believe it has also made the other person feel valued, when I have asked them more questions.
Finding new ways to use our character strengths at work is also a powerful way to craft our jobs to have a greater meaning to us. For instance, you could take a seemingly boring task, and consider how you might use your signature strengths to complete it. For example, using your Humor or Zest to make a routine meeting more amusing, or Creativity to present the information in a monthly report in a new way. Crafting a job based on strengths is a skill that would benefit any organization through increased engagement, productivity, and motivation. It is no rocket science, but employees do need tools to craft their jobs successfully. Take a look at my Job Crafting Workshop, if you think this could benefit your team! 🙂
2. Act “As If”
This is a strengths development technique that Shannon Polly, MAPP, talks about in the book Character Strengths Matter – How to Live a Full Life (Polly & Britton, 2015). This technique focuses on the character strengths that are lower in your profile. Now, just a word of caution here. It is very easy to get caught up in our lowest strengths. It’s just the way we humans are wired, for most of us it is easier to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. Dr. Ryan Niemiec from the VIA Institute on Character reminds that most of our potential lies in our highest character strengths. Therefore, finding new ways to use them can be extremely powerful. However, at the same time, we all possess all of the 24 character strengths and all of them matter. It is possible for each of us to develop any of the 24 strengths further, if we find it important. Just be careful not to lose sight of your highest strengths.
So, back to acting “as if”. This exercise approaches developing strengths as if we already had that particular strength. For example, if you want to develop curiousity, pretend you are curious. If you want to develop leadership, act as a great leader would act. I know, easier said than done. Dr. Niemiec suggests to start by “reflecting as if” before taking action, for a softer start (Watts, 2013 via Niemiec, 2018).
For me, Bravery is one of the character strengths that is lower in my strengths profile. While I do put most of my focus on leveraging my signature strengths, I considered it very important to develop this particular strength that was lower in my profile. The importance of this strength became clear last year, when I decided to set upon the entrepreneurial career path. My husband has been very supportive and encouraging of this decision from the very start, but there have also been people around me who have made it clear that in their opinion, I am making a mistake, and that I would be better off working for someone else. It has taken a lot of courage to follow my own path, even if it might disappoint some other people. And then there is the actual work that can also feel scary when you are starting your own thing. I remember how nervous I was before giving my first own strengths workshop, even if I have delivered lots of workshops in the past! Right now, I am planning my first public webinar (more about that later!), and the idea of speaking live to an unknown public that I cannot see feels terrifying! But I remind myself to act as a brave person would. Because a brave person feels the fear, too, but they decide to act despite of it.
3. Pay Attention to Strengths Overuse
Another approach to developing character strengths is paying attention to strengths overuse. What is strengths overuse? Strengths overuse is bringing a particular strength forth too strongly for the situation. Let me give you some examples.
If Honesty is one of your highest strengths, it might sometimes make you say things perhaps a little too directly. Or if Kindness is high on your profile, you might be so focused on other people, that you forget about your own needs. In the past, I have overused my strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence. Meaning that it became perfectionism, and trying to avoid failure. For example, I used to have my native English speaker husband proofread all of these blogs because I was terrifed of making mistakes and looking unprofessional! All of the 24 character strengths are positive and good, but at the same time, it is possible to overuse any of them.
Just being aware of overuse can be helpful, I know it has helped me to get over my perfectionism. I still strive for excellence but at the same time, I have learned to identify the situations when I try to be perfect even when it is not necessary. If I catch myself proofreading a text or editing workshop slides for the 100th time, I simply ask myself: “Anni, are you perhaps overusing your strength of Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence? It doesn’t need to be perfect to be good enough. Let it go.” My husband doesn’t proofread my blogs anymore. I decided it was a waste of both of our time, plus, this way I feel that I am being more authentic, thus using my signature strength of Honesty.
Another word of caution here. Dr. Niemiec (2018) has mentioned that we shouldn’t worry too much about strengths overuse, especially when we are just starting to explore our strengths. It might be better to learn first to celebrate and appreciate your strengths, before delving into overuse. But I think it is still good to be aware of overuse as it can help us to approach these situations with a strengths mindset. Remember also that not every exercise necessarily works for every person, so it is important to listen to yourself and see what fits you.
Hope this article gave you some ideas on how you might develop your strengths and how your own, existing strengths can make you shine even brighter! And if you are thinking about harnessing your team’s strengths better, take a look at my workshops and contact me for a free consultation call ❤