Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How your positive memories can help you identify your strengths.

Can you remember times when you felt you were at your best? Events or situations that were particularly enjoyable, interesting or rewarding? Thinking back to past successes can be motivating and inspiring and can be useful to help you remember and notice your strengths. As we are naturally drawn to activities that allow us to use our strengths, our past interests, hobbies and lifestyle can also remind us where our natural abilities lie.
Some strengths develop at an early age and you may have used them throughout your life. These strengths may have shown themselves in your choice of childhood and teenage activities. Can you think of the activities that you enjoyed as a young person? For example, did you like sports, art, reading etc. What activities or lessons did you look forward to the most? Has this changed over time or have these sorts of choices stayed the same?  You may have changed your activities over the years, but does anything stand out as always being part of who you are. For example, have you mostly been sociable, or interested in learning, or organised, or creative?

My sister has always enjoyed art and is a very sociable person. She recently used these strengths to organise an art exhibition of her own screen prints and other artists work in her own home. On doing this, she also discovered that she had the ability to collaborate really well with other artists and create a real buzz at the event. She had used her strengths creatively and in doing so discovered other strengths that added impact.

Different situations bring out different strengths. There may be events in your life when you remember discovering new things about yourself. Memories of positive experiences such as learning a new skill, getting a new job, family events, travelling abroad or coping well in difficult times. These can give you clues to more of your strengths. It doesn't have to be big things, just events that you feel were memorable and positive. You may already be familiar with you main strengths, but are there more things about your own character, abilities, values or skills that you can remember that you haven't really noticed before?

When thinking about positive experiences, you may find it helpful to ask yourself:

  • What did I contribute to the situation that I felt good about?
  • What positive character traits did I notice about myself?
  • What was it about that situation that made it memorable or rewarding?
  • What did I enjoy the most, was it the people, the activity or work, the place or a mixture of things?

How to name or describe your strengths.

There are unlimited ways to describe strengths. So however, you describe your own depends on your own choice. The key thing is to get to know your own strengths so that you can use them to your advantage and know the sorts of situations that give you the opportunity to do this. You can use online strength tests to help you with this or use your own words. Here's a few ways you could describe your strengths:

Strengths around other people:

friendly, approachable, makes people laugh, gives other people energy, motivates others, considerate, thoughtful, respectful, fair, good leader, cooperative, a good listener, helpful, supportive, kind, compassionate, chatty, tells a good story, enjoys teamwork, explains things well, teaches well, communicates clearly, persuasive, encouraging, positive, empathic, generous...

Strengths in doing preferred activities or work:

enthusiastic, determined, motivated, curious, focussed, energetic, driven, organised, careful, attentive, precise, attention to detail, problem solving, creativity, imagination, sorting out problems, getting going, quick learner, planning ahead, getting things done on time, prioritising, making things happen, thinking in an abstract way, physical strength, coordination, agility, speed, takes risks, manages risks well, adventurous, thorough, leaves no stone unturned, tidy, learning quickly, recalling lots of information, good sense of direction, endurance, perseverance, visionary thinking, an eye for design, artistic ability....

Strengths relating to character or personality:

loving, humble, spiritual, brave, integrity, open-minded, fair, honest, self disciplined, humour, wisdom, kind ....

What sort of situations bring out your strengths?

You may have noticed that certain sorts of situations bring out your strengths and give you the most rewarding experiences. I worked with a woman who told me that her best memory of feeling confident was when she led a geography field trip and spent a weekend at the beach teaching students about coastal geology. She loved being outside, really enjoyed her subject, and found that she enjoyed teaching when she was in a small group of people she could get to know really well. She realised she loved learning and had a lot of passion for the environment. She used this memory to help her make decisions about her future career.

When you recall the most rewarding experiences in your life, what situation were you in? Here's some examples of types of situations that you may feel are the most suited to enhance your strengths. Obviously you may already experience many of these for different activities, projects or interests you already do. You may use different strengths in different situations.  I use the word 'working' here to mean doing any important activity in your life:

working by myself, working in a small group/team, working in a large group, being in a bustling environment, being in a quiet environment, working with lots of different people, travelling to new places, being at home, being involved in a certain industry, working in a vibrant city, working for your community, being outdoors, being in the countryside...

What purpose to your day makes you feel at your best?

Years ago I worked in a residential home for adults with learning disabilities. I remember a colleague of mine said she'd left her previous career as an accountant in order to do care work because she loved creating a supportive home for the residents. She enjoyed supporting the residents in lots of different activities and she also liked doing the domestic aspect of the work. She was certainly a very warm and caring person and she seemed to have found a job which made use of her strengths. When you think back over the successful times you've had, can you remember what purpose to your day really energised and motivated you? Here's a few ideas to get you thinking:

 meeting new people, learning new skills, learning new skills in a group, training others, helping other people, caring for others, supervising others, giving people individual attention, teaching large groups of people, being a leader, making changes, helping others make changes, educating others, caring for family, caring for relatives, making money, spiritual/religious activities, religious work, entertaining others, creating something new, becoming an expert, organising events, developing good relationships or networks, making friends, competing, relaxing, having a laugh, sharing ideas, thinking creatively, researching or investigating, tackling challenges or overcoming difficult situations....

Your sense of purpose in previous good times can give you clues to your strengths. But it can also help you look at your current activities in a new light. If you find a purpose that is aligned to your strengths in whatever you are doing, you will have more motivation and energy to do it successfully and enjoyably now and in the future.

Putting it all together. 

Your past activities, jobs, experiences and lifestyle can give you more certainty about your strengths. Sometimes we discover our strengths during good times and sometimes during challenging or difficult times. I would only recommend doing the above activity if you feel comfortable about reflecting on the past. You may prefer to keep focussed on your strengths in the present and very recent experiences. Either way, the more you notice your strengths, the more you can use them!

The important things to enquire about yourself are:

What strengths do I know I already have?
What situations do I use these strengths?
What sense of purpose do I have when I use these strengths?
Keeping in mind the situations that enhance my strengths,  how can I use my strengths appropriately to achieve my goals?

I hope you enjoy discovering your own strengths.

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