Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays!
I’m excited to discuss a new topic this week.
So, let’s dive into strengths!
What was the last goal you set for yourself? I invite you to take a moment and think about it. Write it down if you like. Then, examine it. Were you working to “fix” something you consider a personal weakness? Or were you developing a personal strength?
Time is a limited resource, and how we spend our time matters.
Because what we water, grows.
Human beings are typically drawn to fixing our weaknesses. This makes evolutionary sense. Did you know that our brains adapted to weigh negative information more heavily than positive information? This is known as the negativity bias (1). It keeps negative information more salient, which was incredibly helpful to the survival our species during the world of the saber-toothed tiger. However, in today’s world, it can create psychological imbalance and disrupt accurate thinking.
What does this have to do with our goals?
Well, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what we needs improvement. Many people are so busy figuring out how to improve their weaknesses that they completely forget to acknowledge, let alone capitalize on their strengths! We no longer live under the threat of a saber-tooth tiger. In fact, many of us are lucky enough to be in a position to ask questions about and cultivate personal well-being. Perhaps that is what drew you to my blog to begin with? We are growing and learning not just to survive, but to thrive. And in order to thrive, we need to ask different questions.
Do you know what you do well?
Many folks fall into the cultural trap of believing that we can be anything we want to be. This makes a lot of sense. We are taught from a young age to overcome our weaknesses in order to to acquire our greatest potential. We’ve spent years with parents, teachers, and mentors telling us just that. “You can be anything you want to be.” It's meant to encourage us. But is it true?
This belief is one reason our culture is consistently drawn to a triumphant story of an underdog. We adore an unexpected hero. But what are the realities of that underdog's life? How much time, energy, effort was devoted to overcoming their weaknesses to achieve that success?
Why are we drawn to an uphill battle?
To be clear, I am certainly not here to ask you to limit your potential or squelch your dreams — I love BOTH and very much want to encourage you to reach, grow, and dream. Yet, I am concerned that our cultural mindset focuses too much of our time, energy, and attention on “fixing” what is wrong with ourselves. I am concerned that the belief we can be anything we want to be is inaccurate and causes us to undervalue our strengths.
Today, I want to suggest that you can’t be anything you want to be. Sure, sometimes an underdog saves the day. But at what cost? What do you think that underdog could have achieved if they has spent their time, energy, and effort developing something they were already good at?
I’m arguing that we limit our potential when focus on our developing our weaknesses rather than cultivating our strengths (2). To be clear, I am not saying that we are not capable of strengthening our weaknesses, nor that we should not attend to them at times. What I am saying is that developing weaknesses will not promote the same amount of growth as cultivating strengths. And that we can approach our weaknesses by way of strengths to go farther, faster (2).
There is evidence to support that most of us underutilize our strengths in daily life and that we would benefit from from the active use of our strengths. In fact, only 17% of folks report using their character strengths most of the time each day (3). Due to our tendency to underutilize personal strengths, there is great potential for beneficial outcomes if we cultivate awareness and actively utilize our strengths more frequently.
Strengths are the building blocks for human flourishing. And strengths are not just about skills or talents that help us accomplish a particular task. They are what is best within us. They are the good characteristics that allow us “to struggle against and triumph over what is darkest within us” (4,p. 52). Our strengths are a personal pathway to well-being, and the first step is awareness. Only by garnering awareness and identifying strengths, does it become possible to build on our strengths in action (1). And that’s where the good stuff lies. So, let’s get started.
When was the last time you stopped to celebrate what you do well?
This week, I invite you to write about a specific time when you felt that you were at your best. It can be recent or from a while ago, a big moment or a small one… Just choose a time when things were going well and you felt successful, authentic, and energized? Take a few minutes to write a story about that experience or that moment in your life. Be sure to give the story a beginning, middle, and end. If you’re having trouble, you might want to try to replaying the experience in your mind as if your were watching a movie of it.
Once you have written your highlight story. Take a step back and ask yourself - why were things going well? List at least three strengths that helped you make that moment a reality. It's a great way to start identifying your personal strengths.
I hope you all enjoy writing about your best selves, and I look forward to continuing the conversation about strengths next week!
As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.
1. Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and social psychology review. 2001; 5(4), 296-320.
2. Rath, T. StrengthsFinder 2.0. Simon and Schuster; 2007.
3. Buckingham, M. Go put your strengths to work. New York, NY: Free Press; 2007.
4. Peterson, C, Seligman, M.. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol 1). Oxford University Press; 2004.