Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Getting Started on Building Your Strengths

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It’s not human nature to be good at everything. Everyone has areas of strength and using them well can give the most energy, satisfaction and potential for achievement. However, if we overplay a particular strength we start to lose out on its value. According to psychologist Alex Linley, it’s best to optimise our strengths by learning to ‘use the right strength, to the right amount, in the right way, and at the right time.’

If you’re interested in developing your strengths and using them to your best advantage, here’s a few suggestions based on the books of Alex Linley and Mike Pegg to help get you started.

Consider all the different strengths you can think of and what they describe. Is it a character strengths, natural ability, a skill or value? There’s lots of ways of describing strengths. What words do you prefer to use to describe your strengths?  There are links to online strengths tests and books on the Know Your Strengths page of this blog.

Raise your awareness of your own strengths and strengths of those around you. What do you admire in others? What comes naturally to you? What makes you feel enthusiastic and energised? Linley points out that you may not realise all of your own strengths because a) you’re already using it and don’t notice it as a strength or b) you haven’t noticed the potential for an underused strength to develop.

What strengths are you already using the most? Do they blend well together in certain situations? For example, if you like planning, getting into action and managing your time really well, these strengths will all work together to get things done effectively. If you are a good listener, have strong empathy and are good at enabling others, these strengths work well to help others.

Do you use one strength a lot more than others? It is possible to overplay a strength or use it in situations when other strengths would be more effective. It is important to be able to use your strengths to suit the situations, challenges and opportunities that you face.

Nurture your less developed strengths carefully. Build up your confidence in more relaxed settings. Creative or social strengths can be explored in hobbies and leisure interests. Or if, for example, you feel you have good empathy for others and want to help people, ensure that you have plenty of support and feel comfortable in the place you do this. It’s really important to have encouraging people around you to help you build skills relating to your strengths.

What is important to you and what are your aims? Do you use your strengths in the best way to help you achieve your hopes for the future?  This involves trying things out to see what works best. It can also help to think back to situations that have worked particularly well. What was it about that time that brought out your enthusiasm, talents, skills or strengths of character? Mike Pegg, author of ‘The Strengths Way’ suggests thinking about your successful style of working; how you use your strengths in your own unique way. This includes the physical and social environments in which you flourish and how these situations help you have the best experiences, whether it’s at work, home, with family or friends.

For example, I really enjoy learning in small groups or teams. I had a great experience learning to sail on holiday recently. There were five students and an instructor sharing a boat for five days. When I’m learning a new skill I prefer to be in a small informal group. I can think back to various occasions when learning or working in a small group has been memorable and good fun. However, at other times when I want to try and come up with something creative or solve problems, I prefer having time on my own to think and can enjoy working alone, getting absorbed in the information. 

So different situations call for different strengths and making the best use of strengths involves adapting the way you go about your activities to suit your own style.  I hope you enjoy thinking about your own strengths and successful styles of using them. Here’s a bit more information about further reading:

Average to A+, Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others, by Alex Linley is published by CAPP Press (2008). Alex Linley is a psychologist and founder of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.
The Strengths Way, The Art of Building on Strengths, by Mike Pegg is published by Management Books 2000 Ltd (2007). Mike Pegg is the founder of The Strengths Foundation. 

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