Is there something in your life that makes you say, “this is the real me?” Something that gives you energy. Something that you do when you are at your best and would do for its own sake? Playing music? Building things? Cooking? Whatever it is you enjoy doing, it’s probably a strength for you, and research says that using it more can help you in a multitude of ways.
Strengths help with optimism, confidence, finding direction, producing positive emotions, and having insight. They even build resilience against adversity and protect against mental illness. They help you perform well and overcome a negative self-image. In a word, they can help you flourish.
Everyone has strengths. It’s just a matter of identifying and figuring out how to use them in daily life. Once you start using your strengths, it will set up a virtuous cycle of performing well, triggering positive emotions such as satisfaction and confidence, and overcoming the natural bias of your mind toward negativity. This will lead to more success, and the positive spiral upward continues.
To get started discovering and activating your own strengths, consider the following tips:
1. Make a List
Begin writing a list, perhaps in a journal, or even in your phone, of positive personal qualities (e.g. kindness or humility) and performance strengths/talents (e.g. organization) you can see in yourself. Include things you’re naturally good at (e.g. cooking or showing empathy) and ask friends and family what they see as strengths in you. Add to the list whenever something new comes to mind. For a rewarding, research-based boost on this, complete the free VIA Character Strengths Survey found at viasurvey.org.
2. Reflect and Act
Every day for a week, consider one of your strengths. How can you use that strength that day? Try thinking of how it might help you at work or with a personal challenge. Write what your strength is and how you plan to use it that day.* You can broaden this by imagining other new ways to use your strengths that will help you be motivated and feel like your real, best self.
3. Look Forward
To get a better idea of how to reach your goals, spend some time each day writing about what your ideal life would look like in the future. Consider what you really want for your relationships, career, health, etc. and include as much detail as possible. This will give you a better idea of what goals would be most helpful for you. Identify a few of those goals then choose one and ask yourself how one of your strengths can help you reach that goal. Write through your thoughts and plan a few small steps in the direction of your goal, applying the chosen strength.
Becoming familiar with your strengths can help you recognize the good in yourself and give you tools to both overcome challenges and enhance the positives in life. Strengths are assets that enable optimal performance, helping you feel authentic and energized. They are both a sign of and a contributor to well-being, and they can help you find the direction in life that will be most fulfilling for you. You already have strengths; now is the time to find and use them to engage more fully with your life.
* Based on the “Use Your Strengths” and “Best Possible Self” practices found at berkeley.edu, which has other great exercises that can help you develop strengths.
Akhtar, M. (2018). Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression. London, United Kingdom: Watkins Publishing.