By Eleasa Mullavey
If I were to ask you what your character strengths are, would you be able to answer me easily? Have you taken time to explore your inner genius and talent? If you have, then I take my hat off to you because most of us haven’t. In fact when I ask my clients these very questions, most become visibly uncomfortable. BUT what about when I ask you to name your weaknesses? Let me guess, they roll off the tongue. Most of my clients can recite a list a mile long….. If fact that’s usually why they want help. To strengthen what they’re not good at. Yet this process can feel like pulling teeth… painful!
So why do we insist on trying to fix our weaknesses? Well most of us have been brought up to believe that we need to work hard to get anywhere. This stems from childhood when we were encouraged and rewarded for improving areas of weakness, rather than nurturing those talents, which came naturally. For this reason people tend to put less value on things that are achieved too easily. This is a shame, given that when we utilize our strengths and talents, we find the task easy, enjoyable and almost always succeed. We experience more positive emotions, often enter a state of flow, are more resilient, energized and feel compelled to help others. Doesn’t sound so bad does it?
So how do we work out what our strengths are? A good place to start is to ask yourself some simple questions:
What are your greatest accomplishments?
What would you do for work if you didn’t need the money?
What comes natural to you?
What would your friends say your talents are?
What activities do you become completely absorbed/ lose time?
When do you feel most alive?
Or perhaps ask the experts. Dr Martin Seligman is considered the “Father of Positive Psychology” and has developed and tested a number of free surveys. One being the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. I highly recommend everybody take the time (approx 45mins) to fill out the on-line survey Authentic Happiness. There are 24 strengths in total and it will rank these for you. The top 5 are to be considered your signature strengths. Once identified, the idea is to find ways that you can utilize your signature strengths within your work, life and play. There are loads of websites busting with ideas. Eg. Exercises to build your character strengths.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should completely ignore your weaknesses…. Quite the opposite, it’s helpful to have awareness of all aspects of our character. The strong and not so strong. Try not to be a “Jack of all trades”. Know your strengths and how to use them. But also know what doesn’t come so naturally. Recognising your weaknesses and employing or enlisting help in those areas is in fact a strength. It’s all about awareness and energy management.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s just a matter of perception. Its not uncommon for clients to surface a signature strength that they actually considered a weakness. For example, a client’s top strength was critical thinking and open-mindedness, meaning they love detail and milling over all aspects before making a decision. This had been something they had been trying to change for years. But, after some exploration, they realized the usefulness of their strength – sound “big” decisions and something absolutely necessary for their job as a lawyer. Once recognizing this as a strength, the resistance and self-criticism was gone. To illustrate this point, I’m going to borrow some ancient wisdom in the form of a Chinese parable
A Chinese water bearer carried 2 large clay pots, each hung on the end of a pole, which he carried across his shoulders. Each day he filled the pots with water from the stream and carried them 2 miles back to his home. One of the pots had a crack in it. The other was perfect. Each day when the water bearer arrived home the cracked pot was half empty, whilst the perfect one was full.
The cracked pot was very ashamed of its imperfection, considering itself a failure for not fulfilling the task for which it was made. After 2 years the cracked pot finally spoke to the water bearer “ I am so ashamed of myself, I am a failure as my crack causes water to leak all the way from the stream back to your house”.
The bearer said to the pot “have you not noticed that there are flowers on your side of the road? They grow there because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path. Every day you water them. Now I have beautiful flowers to decorate my home. Without you being exactly how you I would not have this beauty to grace my house”.
We all have our strengths as well as our cracks and flaws. It’s these that make us who we are, such interesting and unique beings. The challenge is recognizing them and skillfully managing our energy when pursuing change. Learning to give focus to those areas which we can easily grow and nurture (our strengths), whilst being aware of those areas which are not that easy to change (our cracks and flaws). Perhaps learning how to accept who we are cracks and all…… or just how to view our flaws from a different perspective. One of my favourite sayings is “what we focus on grows”- so make a choice, where do you want to spend your energy? Until next time.
Personal, Health and Executive Coach
Brought to you by 180 nutrition