Why is it important to know our strengths? Well, research indicates that when we do something we are naturally good at, we get energy, enthusiasm and confidence. When we do something we are not good at it saps our energy and makes us feel less confident across the board. So although I’ve spent much of my career trying to improve my weaknesses, the evidence indicates that working with strengths is often a better strategy to improve performance as well as be happier and enjoy life more.
You can find out what your strengths are by doing the free VIA online test. This will tell you your top character strengths out of 24 “virtues” assembled by top positive psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. (It takes 30 mins or so, so maybe do it when you have a bit of time).
My top strengths according to the VIA test are Humour, Kindness and Creativity. It’s true that when I’m able to work in a way that allows me to use these traits I feel happy and energised. Now I know what they are, I actively look for opportunities to use them, and I realise that I struggle in situations where for some reason these strengths are not useful or appropriate.
Using your strengths has been linked to increased happiness and reduced depression. So it’s worth taking a moment to ask yourself how you could use your strengths more to achieve your goals. How could you use them more at work? And out of work?
I think understanding strengths is particularly important if you manage a team. It would be good to encourage them to do the survey too. That way you can help them understand and use their strengths at work, keeping their energy up and helping them enjoy what they do. There is good evidence showing that employees who feel appreciated for their strengths are more engaged, happier and more productive.
There is, of course, a danger of overusing your strengths. I make inappropriate jokes, extend myself too far for others and push against the status quo with unhelpful creative ideas. But when I overuse a strength, one trick is to bring another strength to bear. So if I make an inappropriate joke, I can use kindness to smooth things over and unruffle any feathers. If I extend myself too far for others, I can use humour to make a joke of it and back-track without causing offense.
All this focus on strengths does not mean we should ignore our weaknesses, especially any fatal flaws which have the capacity to totally undermine everything else we do. In my case, I found that understanding my strengths made it easier to look impartially at my weaknesses (but I’m not going to share those!). Even more importantly, it helped me redress the critical way I often see myself by pushing me to recognise my virtues, and think about how to use them more. And it’s this – using my strengths more – that has indeed made me happier.
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