Scientists say the best way to achieve your goals in life while simultaneously lowering your stress and increasing your wellbeing is to identify your strengths and learn how to use them consistently. Taking a 30-minute strengths test gives you the opportunity to be and feel at your best.
We know our weaknesses well, and frequently dwell on our mistakes. Reinforcing our inner critic are people who point out our flaws and failings. While there’s always something to be learned from our past failures, we frequently allow our mind to make these experiences personal. When we feel like there’s something wrong with us as a person, we feel inadequate and stop engaging.
It’s hard to drive toward a positive outcome when focused on looking in the rear view mirror. Reflecting on why we did something wrong prevents us from trying out a new strategy and deploying a different behavior. If you’re making mistakes, you’re engaged in the trial and error learning process.
Positive psychology studies show that people who use their strengths at work are up to six times more likely to be joyfully engaged in their jobs and relating well with their coworkers. Their productivity soars, and so does customer satisfaction.
What exactly are strengths? Scientists such as the late Professor Chris Peterson define them as “patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving that, when exercised, will excite engage, and energize you, and allow to perform at your optimum level.” In short, strengths are something you enjoy and are good at doing.
These patterns of thinking, feeling and doing become hardwired in your brain through repeated practice, and are permanently in place by the time you’re in your mid-20s. The simplest illustration of how strengths become second nature is learning to write your name. If you were to pick up a pen and write your name the way you normally do, it wouldn’t require much attention or conscious effort to get a good result. But if you were to switch the pen to your non-dominant hand to write your name you’d undoubtedly notice a big difference.
If you’ve not strengthened a neurological pathway by practicing a behavior over many years, you’ll find even a simple task to be much more difficult, requiring increased concentration and extra effort. Even after expending some additional mental energy, you’re less likely to be less satisfied with the outcome.
Using your strengths should also make you feel good, in fact “excited, engaged and energized.” You should look forward to the opportunity to use your strengths, feel absorbed in your work when using them, and have a sense of invigoration and fulfillment afterward.
Consider what you are thinking about on your drive to work. Do you typically find your mind anticipating the difficulties of the day, the problem people you’ll face, and the potential catastrophes that could result? When you leave work do you feel exhausted, frustrated or just glad to be getting out the place? These before and after states are signs of low strengths awareness.
In contrast, people who know and use their strengths spend time driving to their job figuring out which of their strengths will enable them to best overcome a challenge, collaborate with a particular person, and contend with a setback. They leave work feeling they had the opportunity to be at their best, grateful for the help they received, and appreciative of the progress they made.
Gallup Polls have consistently shown that more than 60% of people focus on their weaknesses in the misguided belief that is the path to improvement. The research soundly refutes that conviction, revealing that individuals who have higher personal satisfaction and more professional success are those who know and use their strengths consistently.
Why? Your brain requires less energy if it’s using well-established neural pathways and it’s more enjoyable to be engaging in activities you’re good at doing. The extra energy that’s then available enables you to be more creative and courageous when getting started, and more optimistic and resilient when facing setbacks.
There are two types of strengths tests: performance (The Gallup Organization’s StrengthFinders, www.gallupstrengthscenter.com – $9.99) and character (VIA Institute’s Character Survey, www.viacharacter.org – FREE!).
Performance strengths are based on natural talents you were born with, and developed through education and practice. They enable external success for which you receive recognition. Character strengths are the positive qualities you possess that make you feel good about yourself when you use them.
Performance strengths are listed on your resume. Character strengths are described in your eulogy.