“Realising our strengths is about knowing and then growing them.”
– Alex Linley
I love the verb ‘to realise’ for its wonderfully subtle yet significant double meaning.
It shines when we combine it with the word ‘strengths.’ That’s when we get the double whammy ‘a-ha’ moment of realisation:
- To realise means ‘to see, to identify, to recognise and to understand’. Concerning strengths, it’s important we’re able to identify and recognise both our own and others’ strengths.
- To realise also means ‘to bring into being, to make manifest, to make real, or to bring into fruition’ – it’s about taking something that has potential (a hidden strength, let’s say) and making it a reality – as in the phrase ‘realising one’s potential’ or ‘realising your strengths’.
So, what are ‘strengths’?
According to Park et al (2004:603) defined as positive characteristics strengths, ‘reflected in thoughts, feelings and behaviours,’ exist in various degrees and are central to positive psychology.
“A strength is pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance.”
– Linley (2008:9)
Strengths are distinctive from, let’s say, skills and talents because strengths are said to come naturally to a person. Skills are learned through training and experience while talents have been described as an innate ability characterised by a strong biological background.
But unlike strengths, just because we may be talented at something doesn’t necessarily mean it energises us, brings us joy and makes us feel like it’s aligned with who we truly are – we may actually hate and not enjoy doing or being it at all.
Do you know your character strengths?
As Linley (2008:8-9) says, when we’re asked to ‘play to our strengths’ do we really know what this means? And if I were to ask you now to list all your strengths would you even be able to say what your strengths are?
Don’t panic, take a deep breath in because the answer to these questions, for most of us, is ‘probably not!’
In fact, when researchers asked a representative sample of 1000 people in the UK to say what their strengths were only around 1/3 of people were able to provide a meaningful answer – now you can breathe out.
You may be unaware of your strengths because as they feel so ordinary to you, you don’t classify it as a strength, which creates the so-called “the taking-the-strength-for-granted effect.”
Unfortunately, as is typically the case, we tend to focus on our weaknesses. I bet if I were to ask you to create a list of those – you’d have no problem jotting that list down in a jiffy!
Highlight my weaknesses, why don’t you? After all, it’s what we’ve grown accustomed to.
For many of us growing up, focusing on our weaknesses was the norm and, sadly, still is in many different environments today.
Let’s fix your weakness(es) by doing and trying everything in our power to make you (perceivably) better at (a), (b) and (c) as opposed to seeing what your strengths are and working with those.
For the record, they tried everything, but I’m still rubbish with numbers. Happy I have my calculator and my mathematical brained friends if, and when, I get stuck on anything.
How can I discover my strengths, Dina?
Glad you asked (your name!). There are a couple of great tools the VIA (Values in Action inventory) which you can take for free and/or the Strengths Profile assessment which starts at £10. I’ve taken both and they’ve been quite revealing and helpful and I’ve learnt so much about myself in the process.
So why focus on strengths?
Because research has suggested that utilising our strengths is connected to higher levels of well-being and promotes positive feelings. strengths reflect our true self, strengths allow us to realise our potential, to live and develop and be the person we are destined to be.
Isn’t that a good enough reason to discover your strengths? I think so!
Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A. Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press. Linley, PA, Nielsen, KM, Wood, AM, Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener.
Park, N., Peterson, C. and Seligman, E. M. (2002). Strengths of Character and Well-Being.
Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2004, pp.603-619.