Your Strengths, Your Resources
I was training one of the new caddies at my favorite golf course the other day, and I asked him if he knew what his personal strengths were.
“Yeah, I have strengths. I’m...well I’m...uh...nice. Yeah, I’m nice to people, the players like me. I’m a good caddy. And I’m kind to animals.”
Most people will do better than this when asked to list their strengths. But, I want you (the reader) to be MUCH, MUCH better. I want you to be able to give a list of ten very easily.
...And since I do want you, the reader, to be the one who profits from this blog, I’ll continue the conversation with you.
"Why do you want me to be MUCH, MUCH better" you ask?
Well to start with, your success in life is based on doing what you are good at doing. And while some of you might just fall into a job and life doing something you're good at doing, you’ll be much more successful if you know your strengths in detail and put multiple strengths to use.
Even more importantly, most people would say they want to have good
self-esteem, and the basis of self-esteem is knowing what your strengths are and liking them for the strengths they are.
“Wait a minute. Why wouldn’t I like my strengths?”
That’s a great question! People don’t like their strengths when they mis-label them. When it seems to them that the quality is a bad thing rather than a good thing.
Let’s use an example:
Take the strengths determined and obstinate. Which one do you like better?
“Oh, I know. You’re going to tell me that obstinate is just a way of being determined.
That’s right I am. But I’m also going to tell you that when we call the behavior of
continuing to try and achieve something, or continuing to believe a certain way “obstinate” we also make an implied judgement of the underlying personality of the person we are talking about. We attribute a negative quality to them.
Personality psychologists tell us that we aren’t very good at accurately assessing our own and other people’s qualities. It’s very important to know that when you negatively assess your own qualities as deficits instead of strengths you harm yourself. But we aren’t here to talk about how we attribute qualities or strengths to others, we’re her to discuss how to discover our own
qualities that are our strengths and resources.
“Resources? Are those the same or different than strengths?”
Good point! I’m using them interchangeably at times, but I think they have slightly
different implications. A strength being a strong point, something one is good at, and when we think of them as resources it implies that there is some quantity and that they might be used up. For instance, if I have being calm as a strength and and am using it in a situation that has the potential to get me frustrated, I may run out of calm after some time. I will need to add in some other strength to the situation, perhaps creativity or determination to support how I manage it. But let’s put that aside for the moment, we need to find your strengths.
Below I’ve listed some examples of strengths. You can get more extensive lists here and here (below). Notice that the examples have strengths that you may believe are negative. I’ll give an example with instructions to do the process I’m using, and you can follow along and work with your own strengths from one of the lists above.
First of all, we’re going to choose ten strengths from the list. These are strengths that I (or you) have. We are choosing strengths based on what we have already not on what w need to do the exercise.
“What if someone is having trouble knowing what strengths they have?”
Great question! Being able to accurately assess your own strengths is very useful. If you are having difficulty doing so, then focus on discovery of your strengths is a GREAT first exercise to help you learn and have greater access to them. For now we’ll proceed as if that’s not an issue.
So, I’ve chosen:
Next I’m going to think of a situation in my life in which I would like to be better, more effective, or in which I’d like to feel differently. It’s actually helpful to choose a few situations and then pick one that is important to you, rather than taking the first one that comes to mind.
I’ve picked three:
• Being more patient and understanding when a loved one is upset with me
• Reading the line of a putt from in front and behind the hole when golfing or caddying
• Fluidly going back and forth between the details and the big picture in problem solving
You can notice that these are three very different types of situations and seem to rely on different strengths. I think they have something in common, a common pattern. I’ll leave it for you to consider that as, again, it’s a tangent to what we are doing. However, a very important point is that the overall process we are doing of finding and applying strengths, has applications in an enormous number of very different situations in your life.
I’m going to choose “being more patient and understanding when a loved one is upset with me.” Please notice that “understanding” is a strength on my list. Remember that we are helping you (actually in this case me as an example) be better at something you already have some ability to do.
Sooooo..., in the example, I’m going to have to use my strengths to create more patience and then add that to an enhanced understand to get the change that I want. I’m going to be Alert to situations where a loved one is upset. When I notice one I will Flexibly engage my Concern for them to be Compassionate and focus on Understanding them more. By doing so I will be acting more Patient.
“Well, you’ve used Focused and it wasn’t on your list. Isn’t that cheating?”
It might be considered cheating if I didn’t have enough of the ability to focus. I don’t think that’s a deficit I have. It points out that not all our abilities are in a list of ten strengths. The ability to concentrate or focus would be necessary to build if I didn’t have it already to do the example above.
“You just have more strengths than most people. It wouldn’t work for someone who has only a few strengths.”
Actually, I’ve found in doing this exercise with literally hundreds of people, that very, very few people have the limitations you are describing. The vast majority of people have many strengths. That’s one of the points of this blog! However, you’re right that for those few who don’t have many strengths, the process of identifying and building strengths is much longer than it was in my example. On the other hand, it is easier to do for those few than you might guess. It will still work for them.
Have you been able to do the process for yourself? Let’s review the steps quickly.
1) Pick ten strengths that you already have from the lists.
2) Find several situations from your life in which you’d like to be better. Then pick one to work on. (For a first run-through of the process pick a situation of moderate
importance to you and one that can be described fairly concisely.)
3) Choosing from the strengths you already have, pick the strengths that will help you do what you want to do. Write out a sentence (or sentences) that will describe how you will act using the strengths to achieve your goal.
4) Practice using the strengths in the situation you’ve chosen.
The last point is important! You will need to practice applying the strengths in the
situation. Don’t be the guy or gal who “knows what they should do, but doesn’t act on it.” Give it a try over several occurrences of the situation in your life. Let me know how you’re doing in the comments and at my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know you’ll realize more about yourself than you suspect right now.
Love of Learning
Appreciation of Beauty
(2004, Martin E. P. Seligman)
(1999, Shelby Steen)