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Harnessing Your Unique Strengths

Harnessing Your Unique Strengths

Using Your Strengths for a Better, Easier Life

This blog post is about “Your” unique strengths and natural gifts, but let me begin with a personal reflection to start us off.

Until several years ago, I believed in the notion that if we fixed an ailment or weakness within us, we would become healthy and strong. That we should endeavor to isolate that which is ‘wrong’ or ‘weak’ within us and all will be right. I developed the belief in this notion from my studies in Psychology some 15 years ago. We had spent more time in our studies focusing on what was wrong than focusing on what was already right and good within a person. It seemed as though all of Western Society had believed in this notion – the focus on illness and weakness was all consuming.

Also, as a society, we seem to value certain strengths, traits, abilities and skills over others and we hold those strengths as the ideal and that “those who do not possess those strengths should either go out and get strong in those areas or give up.”

We can all isolate areas of our lives, in the realm of abilities and skills (performance), that do not measure up to the so called ideal, but who’s to say what that ideal really is? As individuals, we have a tendency to value what society values and if we don’t have ‘it’, we feel we are not good enough or plainly, just not enough. What a terrible feeling that is.

When I began my own journey of personal improvement and growth, I began to remember the ‘Guy’ who felt good about himself at different points in my life. It wasn’t till 4 or 5 years into my journey that I really got to know and appreciate who I really was at my core, what I was naturally good at and that doing more of what I was good at led to me feeling even better about myself.

In my ‘world’ however, what I was naturally good at didn’t seem to be as valued as being able to bring definitive bottom line results through business and marketing oriented activities. I practically gave away for free that which I valued and enjoyed most, just so I could make the work I was doing, the results side of things, more enjoyable and gratifying.

Then I discovered Positive Psychology and Coaching and I did a complete 180 turn – and my ‘world’ changed. I realized I hadn’t been valuing my unique strengths and gifts. I was valuing what I thought society wanted and worked hard to improve my perceived shortcomings, and though I became fairly good in my field, it always felt like more of a struggle than an exhilarating experience.

Turns out that the more I focused on building on my unique strengths, the happier I was, the more confident I was, the easier life and work became, and the more positive things and feelings flowed into my life. And that is one of the biggest reasons why I became a coach.

So what are strengths anyway?

Strengths can be character traits, virtues or unique abilities and gifts we came in to the world with. They relate to the essence of who we really are at our core. The work of positive psychology pioneer, Martin Seligman, will help shed some light on this. If you’re interested, consider reading one of his books “Authentic Happiness” to learn more.

Seligman studied thousands of people and dozens of philosophies and religions to uncover universal traits & virtues not bound to only one particular culture or society. Traits, that when used and owned, brought fulfillment and gratification to the bearer. He developed a list of 24 Signature Strengths that all people have to a certain degree but each person has a different rank or order to the strengths when assessed. Your top 5 strengths or traits are your unique strengths that if utilized more often, will bring many benefits to your life and to the lives of those around you.

Instead of listing all the strengths here and describing each one, I’ll just give you a summary of how these different strengths can be grouped.

Wisdom and Knowledge – cognitive strengths relating to the acquiring and using knowledge (creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective/wisdom)

Courage – emotional strengths involving the exercise of human will to accomplish goals in the face of internal or external opposition and pressure (bravery/valour, persistence/perseverance, integrity/authenticity/honesty, vitality/enthusiasm/energy)

Humanity – interpersonal and social strengths that involve caring about others (love, kindness/generosity/compassion, social intelligence)

– Justice – civic or social strengths that underlie healthy community life (citizenship/loyalty/teamwork, fairness, leadership)

Temperance – strengths or traits that protect against excess (forgiveness/mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, self control)

Transcendence – strengths that foster connections to the larger universe and provide significant meaning to life (appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, hope/optimism, humor/playfulness, spirituality/faith/purpose)

If you wish to take the Signature Strengths assessment and learn what your top 5 strengths are, then visit and look for the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (VIA stands for Values in Action). (There are also a variety of other assessments there that you may find interesting.)

When coaching clients, I always begin with a Discovery Session preceded by having the client fill out a Discovery Questionnaire and one or more assessments of their strengths (including the Signature Strengths assessment).

One of the questions in the discovery questionnaire asks you to describe a Peak Moment or Experience in your life by considering a time when you felt you were operating at your best and you felt good about it.

Chances are very high that in that peak moment you were using some of your unique strengths and gifts and didn’t even realize it. When engaged in an activity or experience when we can use our signature strengths, we feel good – even if we are challenged. We can feel exhilarated, excited, passionate, gratified by the experience itself, not just the end result. Time seems to slow down and we are what Mike Csikszentmihalyi, another pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, calls ‘in FLOW’. (This is kind of like the term ‘being in the zone’.)

The Benefits of Using Your Strengths

When we are caught in the routine of life, most of us aren’t using our strengths very often and we end up feeling unfulfilled and ungratified. Coaching helps people discover, or rediscover, their best selves by tapping into their unique and natural strengths and coaching them towards mindfully choosing to use those strengths in their lives more often – sometimes by changing how they do something (their approach) and sometimes by changing the things they actually do (e.g. career).

Recognizing and developing our strengths contributes to a deeper feeling of self trust – a stronger belief in ourselves and that brings more confidence – a sense of being powerful. Using our strengths, being engaged and in flow, contributes to a fuller and richer sense of well-being and happiness. Developing our unique strengths (instead of focusing on weaknesses or strengths that ‘society’ seems to value) is about developing our fullest potential.

Knowing, owning and using our strengths can lead to a deeper sense of our purpose here in life and an answer to ‘why am I here?’  I believe that the world will be a better place when, as a society at large, we begin to value people’s uniqueness and their authentic expression of their unique strengths and gifts, rather than trying or struggling to achieve some cookie-cutter set of so-called ‘ideal’ skills and abilities.

Imagine a place where you get to feel great – challenged – engaged – enthusiastic just by being your true self – all the while everyone else is doing and feeling the same things, just in other ways. What a rich tapestry that will be. I believe that place is accessible to everyone now, if we just focused more on developing and using our unique strengths in our lives.

{Here’s a larger version of the signature strengths thumbnail, maybe it will bring some inspiration. It doesn’t contain all of them but I did my best and had some fun in the process 🙂 }




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