Several years ago, Gallup asked this question in an international poll:
“Which would help you be more successful in your life –knowing what your weaknesses are and attempting to improve your weaknesses, or knowing what your strengths are and attempting to build on your strengths?”
If you answered “improving your weaknesses”, you’re certainly not alone. The chart below shows the percentage of people who answered “developing your strengths” in each of the countries surveyed:
(Source data from Hodges, Tim; Clifton, Donald. STRENGTHS-BASED DEVELOPMENT IN PRACTICE. International handbook of positive psychology in practice: From research to application. New Jersey: Wiley and Sons. http://strengths.uark.edu/development-in-practice.pdf)
There is an approach to development, however, that asserts that developing our strengths is where we should put the majority of our efforts. Proponents of this theory believe that by developing an existing strengths, we can become truly exceptional in these areas. By focusing on weaknesses instead, at best we can hope to become average at them, after an exceptional amount of work.
I am not sure if enough research to prove this claim. Most of the research has been done by Gallup or other consulting firms that have a financial interest in pushing strengths-based approaches. There are a fair number of critics to the approach as well, who sometimes state that character development requires us to work on our weakness.
I’m not here to prove or disprove the theory; I don’t really care if there is research to back it up. I’m interested in how we can use it to improve our lives. Do you know your top five strengths? Do you know what you’re naturally good at? These questions are sometimes hard to answer. We often can’t see what is obvious to others who know us. So, if you can’t answer what your top five strengths are, here are some ideas on how to figure it out.
Option #1: Take the Gallup Strengthsfinder test. (You need to buy one of the Strengths books, around $10, to get a code to take the test. Unfortunately that means you’re stuck buying this one new, or the code might have been redeemed already.) I loved this test; it helped identify strengths that I would never have even considered in myself. My top strength, for example, is “input” – meaning I love to learn all I can about topics I’m interested in. This is certainly true, but I would never have considered it a strength.
Option #2: Take the Via Me! Character Strengths profile. The survey and a basic report are free. (Watch out when you complete the survey, you have to read carefully to find the “free report” option. Paid report options are prominent.) The strengths are slightly different than the Gallup ones, so if you’re into these types of things, I recommend both. For example, in this one “Love of Learning” came up for me as my top strength, very similar to “Input” from Gallup. However, I got much more out of the Gallup one. I’m including an excerpt from the “Input” Gallup description and the complete “Love of Learning” Via Me! description so you can see what I mean:
Chances are good that you can finagle — that is, obtain by indirect or involved means — time with people who think about the coming years and decades. Routinely, you read their writings or listen to their conversations. You probably ask them questions and consider their responses …You display a voracious appetite for knowledge. You devour the written word to savor useful facts. For you, a great day is one during which you have added new insights to your mind’s storehouse of ideas.” (from my Strengthsfinder 2.0 Report)
“Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.” (from my Via Me! Character Strengths profile)
Since I loathed school and generally dislike museums, I might have had a hard time relating to the Via Me! report if I hadn’t taken Gallup first. My point here – if you only take the Via Me! survey, be sure to try to look into the heart of your strength, even if the initial description does not resonate. It might help to ask loved ones how that strength description applies to you if you can’t see it for yourself. And that nicely leads into our final option…
Option #3: Ask twenty-five people in your life to tell you your top three strengths/characteristics. I believe this was initially an exercise from Oprah to Dr. Oz when he was debating starting his own show, but I personally heard it from Marie Forleo. If you can’t stand asking twenty-five people, ask ten. I realize this is not an easy option for many of you. It wasn’t for me either, but I was glad I did it.
Once you have your list of top five strengths – or even a general idea of what your main ones are – we get to have some fun shifting focus to operating from those strengths. Here are some reflection questions that might help in getting you thinking more from your strongest place:
• What evidence do I have that my strengths have been a part of me for my entire life?
• How have I used my strengths to achieve any of my goals and accomplishments in my life?
• How do I use my strengths in my current work?
• How do I use my strengths to enrich my life experience?
• How do my strengths present themselves in my relationships?
Once you start to feel like you’re “owning” your strengths, we can use them for even more fun questions:
• How can I use my strengths to help me achieve my life dreams?
• How can I use my strengths to come up with a strategy to improve my weaknesses?
• How can we restructure our family system so that we each use our highest strengths?
• How can I use my strengths at my current workplace to improve my team, my productivity, my enjoyment of my job?
• What situations would naturally benefit from someone with my set of strengths?
• What strengths would complement mine and how can I collaborate with someone who has those strengths?
• Among my heroes, who seems to have strengths similar to my own? How can I see how they used those strengths to achieve their dreams?
• How can I use my strengths to help with a world issue that I’m passionate about solving?
I could easily go on, but that is more than enough for one blog post. I would love to hear your strengths (and if we know each other well, I would love to be part of your “Option #3” list!) and your plan for how to use them to create your best future.
Leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite strength is and how it’s shaped your life!