Build on Strengths or Fix What’s Wrong?
“If positive psychology teaches us anything, it is that all of us are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. No one has it all, and no one lacks it all.”
Do you put a greater emphasis on growing from your strengths or fixing what’s wrong?
In the 1990’s, I led a multi-community coalition focused on preventing substance abuse in children and teens; the mission involved anticipating problems and intervening before they happened. A few years later, earning my doctoral degree in psychology, I studied a lot about how to fix what’s wrong. More recently, my coaching, speaking, and training work is grounded in a newer branch of psychology called Positive Psychology.
Based on innovative theory and solid research, positive psychology takes a different perspective than many traditional approaches. Positive psychology focuses on what is best among people, rather than on what’s wrong or problematic. The emphasis is on building human potential and an understanding that everyone has character strengths. Investing in and putting our strengths to work for us is a sound basis for maximizing personal and professional possibilities, healthy development, and well-being.
What are character strengths?
Twenty-four top character strengths have been researched and identified by social scientists. “Character strengths are influenced by family, community, societal, and other contextual factors….they (character strengths) can be taught and acquired through practice” (Gillham and colleagues, 2011).
Approaches that emphasize strengths have broad applicability throughout life, leadership, education, healthcare, business, and organizations.
Why is it helpful to know your character strengths and build on them?
Very few people are good at everything. If you are a talented quarterback, how would it benefit you to struggle to develop your skills as a defensive tackle? Emphasizing your strengths allows you to positively build on your competencies, instead of focusing on what’s wrong. This approach does not deny problems, but instead encourages becoming aware of and bolstering strengths – what we are good at – in an effort to move more effectively toward full potential in life and work.
Actions to Put Your Strengths to Work
There are many ways to use your strengths. If you think about it, you can probably come up with many tactics on your own. Here is a list of five of the twenty-four strengths and some ideas to consider for moving forward and getting into action.
Strength – Curiosity
- Attend a seminar, class, or movie about a topic you don’t know anything about.
- At your job, ask a colleague/co-worker in a different department about the work he/she does and why it’s important to the organization.
- Prepare a novel meal, or try a restaurant with a cuisine that is new to you.
Strength – Kindness
- Hold yourself accountable to offer a random act of kindness for someone at work or in your personal life each day or weekly.
- Share with a loved one or friend how much they matter in your life and what you appreciate about him/her.
- Donate a couple of hours a month in helpful action to a friend, organization, or cause you believe in.
Strength – Leadership
- Take the lead as a collaborator on a project or plan of action in your family, a group, or at work.
- Listen carefully in conversations and reflect back to the speaker the important aspects of what you have heard.
Strength – Creativity
- Once a week create or write something new. For example: a short story, diagram, drawing, or unique solution to a problem.
- Brainstorm a new way to accomplish a challenging task at home or at work.
Strength – Humor/Playfulness
- Watch a funny movie; read a comic daily or weekly.
- Get together with family or friends that enjoy laughing, and have fun together.
For more information on identifying and engaging your character strengths, and how coaching can help you take action to engage your strengths in a way that is meaningful to you, please email me.
For references, and to learn more about positive psychology and character strengths, here are a few resources…
- Gillham, J., Adams-Deutsch, Z., Werner, J., Reivich, K., Coulter-Heindl, V., Linkins, M., Seligman, M. (2011). Character strengths predict subjective well-being during adolescence. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(1), 31-44. As cited in: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/classification-character-strengths-virtues/
- Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, NY.
- Peterson, C. Quote – Retrieved on 6/27/2017: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/positive-psychology-quotes/
- VIA Institute on Character: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/
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