How to Play to Your Strengths
We are neurologically wired to look for signs of danger. It makes sense, right? Our reptilian brain has been developed since the beginning of time to search for threats, and either deal with them or run away from them. It’s how we have survived as a human race.
That wiring in our brain, however, gives us a well honed negativity bias. Whilst we may not be searching for the lion, tiger or bear on a daily basis, our brain is still geared to seek out anything that can potentially harm us. In modern day lives, that can be anything that brings danger, so we do things like checking each way before crossing the road. And it can also mean searching for our weaknesses to stamp them out before they do us harm – like trying to end our bad habit of procrastination, or being too aggressive at work.
It all means that we are typically well in touch with our weaknesses and could list 100 of them if asked at random. But our strengths, those things that we are inherently good at and like doing, are a little more out of our reach, and harder to articulate, let alone put into action.
Our strengths represent our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that when used, excite, engage and energise us and help us to perform at our best. A growing body of research over the last decade is finding that when it comes to our careers, developing our strengths is good for so many things: our wellbeing, helping us to feel happier, less stressed, and more energised and satisfied with our lives; our performance, helping us to feel more confident, to experience faster growth and development, and to find more meaning in our work; and for the bottom-line, with people in strengths-focused teams reporting lower turnover, increased productivity and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Some studies even suggest that in most workplaces people spend around eighty per cent of their time focused on fixing weaknesses, and only twenty per cent of their time trying to build upon strengths. But as we continue to learn more about how people and organisations are wired to perform at their best, the recommendation is that we should be trying to reverse this equation and focus far more of our energy and efforts on doing what we each do best.
Unfortunately it appears many of us are blind to our strengths, so we’ve found that the VIA Survey (viacharacter.org) can be incredibly helpful to shed light on how we can be more authentic at work. The character strengths it identifies are aligned to the values you hold, they are how you like to work and are the things you’ll do whether anybody pays you or recognises you for them because you believe this is how you should up in the world.
You’ll find that your strengths are most effective and enjoyable when you have a clear goal that balances your skills with the complexity of the task to which you’re applying them. During these ‘goldilocks moments’ – where it’s just right – you enter a state described as flow. This is how it feels when you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing you lose all track of time and although in the moment you don’t feel anything in particular, at the end you’re left with a real sense of accomplishment. During periods of flow you perform at your very best, helping you to learn and grow and leaving you feeling more creative and more satisfied.
We need to retrain ourselves, our businesses, our workplaces, to look for the strengths in each other and embed strengths based approaches into systems and human processes like performance discussions. Take the VIA survey and then start to play with your top five strengths, your signature strengths, and see how you can bring more of them into your daily life.