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Let me ask you a question: what are you NOT good at?
Chances are, you can easily come up with a long list and fill up a whole page with your weaknesses.
I know I can.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing – knowing your weaknesses will help you focus your attention (and intention) on the things you want to get better at.
It’s a lot harder to know what your strengths are though.
Positive-negative asymmetry dictates that we pay more attention when things go wrong than when things go well. And similarly, we tend to dwell on our weaknesses and forget our strengths.
Knowing your strengths is not meant to make you feel better about yourself (although it might!). It will help you understand how to be more effective at what you do and leverage those strengths to address the weaknesses you want to address.
In today’s post, I help you shift your focus away from your weaknesses and toward your strengths. I tell you why it’s important and I give you a detailed action plan to find what your strengths are.
What Is Character Strength?
Research defines character strengths as positive, trait-like capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that benefit oneself and others.
According to Professor Alex Linley, a strength is a capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance.
The highlight for me is this: when you do something using your strengths, you are left feeling more energised, not less (mentally that is).
Strength is different from talent. Talent is innate and can only take you so far. But regardless of your talent, you can always grow and develop your strengths.
Angela Duckworth came up with this very insightful formula in her book GRIT:
Talent + Effort = Skill
Skill + Effort = Achievement
What does it mean? Don’t dwell on your talents (or what others see as your talents). Work hard to gain the skills (or strengths) you need to achieve what you want.
Examples of strengths are:
- Social intelligence
Why Knowing Your Strengths Is Important
Before we delve into how to identify your strengths, let me tell you why it’s an exercise worth doing:
- Using your strengths helps you find the motivation to achieve big things
- Using your strengths makes you more productive
- You will make the best choices in your career to maximise your success
- You will fast-track your growth and development when using your strengths to learn
- Your strengths are integral to who you are. And knowing who you are will help you make decisions and take action.
How To Identify Your Strengths
Here I run through 6 proven methods to find what your strengths are. They can be separated into two camps:
- Methods 1 to 4 rely on self-awareness, how you see yourself and how you interpret your thoughts, feelings passions and reactions in terms of your strengths
- Methods 5 and 6 rely on external feedback, how others see you and your strengths, behaviours and reactions
The 6 methods are complementary and to better understand what your strengths are, I recommend using them all.
Method 1: Brainstorm
I always surprise myself with the stuff that comes out of my head if I take the time to stop and think.
Before you do anything else, allow yourself time for reflection.
List out all the strengths you think you have on a blank sheet of paper or your favourite note app.
Simply note what comes to mind to any of the following questions:
- What are you good at?
- What do others have complimented you about?
- What have you helped others with?
- What tasks leave you feeling energised?
- When did you last lose track of time? What were you doing?
- What do you like to do outside of work?
If you need more inspiration, think of 5-10 achievements in as much detail as possible. What did you do? How did you influence those around you? What strengths would you say you used during this achievement?
This is a great exercise to become more self-aware. But we sometimes don’t realise what some of our strengths are because we use them every day on autopilot. The next method addresses this issue.
Method 2: Audit Yourself
The self-audit is a great way to dive deeper into what makes you tick. Remember the definition of strength earlier? A strength is […] energising to the user.
In this exercise, you will record and analyse your activities and energy levels for a set period (I recommend a week at least).
Every time you do something, write down what it is and what character attributes you were using. Then give yourself an energy rating – from 1 being “draining” to 5 being “energising”.
Again, think about what you genuinely enjoy doing, what makes you feel energized and forget the time, what evokes notice or praise from others, what you can do well even when you’re tired.
At the end of the week, it’s time to analyse your findings. Look at your energy ratings and pick 5 to 10 activities with the highest scores. Write them on a separate page and highlight what strengths you were using during each activity.
And there you have it – your top strengths based on what you currently do. But what about the things you don’t normally do? Are there strengths you might not be aware of because you’re not usually using them?
Method 3: Think Outside The Box
Most of my career has been in Finance and accounting. I am a numbers guy and know my strengths when it comes to logic, analysis and problem-solving.
But when I started this blog, I discovered that I also possessed a plethora of creative strengths I was completely unaware of!
What about you? Are you good at writing, speaking, gardening or tennis? Where the answer is “I don’t know”, you might need to do some exploring.
How can you know what you’re good at, and what you enjoy, without giving it a try?
Take time to try new things and reflect on the experience:
- Did you enjoy it?
- What did/didn’t you like about it?
- Was it easy or difficult?
- If you encountered struggles, what motivated you to continue?
- What strength were you using?
Just bear in mind that you don’t need to be perfect, or even good, the first time you do something. That’s not the point. It’s about energy, how it makes you feel. I mean, you should see the first blog post I ever wrote (and did NOT publish!).
This journey is about learning and exploration, not perfection. Keep an open mind.
Method 4: Get A Coach
Another way to get to grips with who you are is to use the services of a professional coach (preferably certified).
Coaches use a variety of tools to guide you in your journey to self-discovery and growth. They will not give you the answers but they will help you reframe your thinking so that you get to the answers by yourself.
If you haven’t tried coaching yet, it can be a life-changing experience.
These methods focus on introspection and are a great starting point to find what your strengths are. Research shows, however, that the way we see ourselves is not necessarily aligned with reality. To know your strengths, you need to ask others how they see you.
Method 5: Seek Authentic Feedback
Although this can be uncomfortable, asking others for feedback on your strengths is crucial. The point of the exercise is not to make you feel better about yourself, but to truly know yourself.
Look for 5 to 10 people you trust implicitly. They can be family, friends, colleagues or mentors (preferably a mix of these).
Get in touch with them and explain what you are doing and why you are seeking their feedback. Then ask them to think about times they saw you at your best and write down their answers.
Once you’ve consolidated all their feedback, look for patterns. What themes keep coming back? What strengths were you using?
Compare these findings with the list of strengths from your introspection. Are they aligned? What differs and why? Explore and reflect.
Method 6: Take A Personality Test
Another helpful way to know what your strengths are is to do a personality test.
These tests use questions to collect and process information about you. They will give you objective feedback on what your strengths are based on your answers.
I consider this “external” feedback as, assuming you give honest answers, the profile you get is not biased by the way you see yourself.
I’ve tried a few of them myself (both through work and directly) and can recommend these for you to try – although none are free!
So What Next?
I hope you enjoyed this post. I love focusing on the positives and what makes us special.
There are way too many reminders out there of what we need to improve. We sometimes forget how awesomely unique we all are!
Now that you know what your strengths are, it’s time to leverage them! Focus on using them to grow and develop. Learn how to sell yourself based on your unique set of strengths. Be intentional about the weaknesses you want to address and use your strengths to tackle them.
Have you found your strengths yet? What actions do you want to take? What is of greater benefit to you?
Please share and let me know in the comments!