When we were kids, my sister and I loved playing board games. One of our favorites was the strategy game, Risk. The prize at stake was no less than world domination by conquering the six continents and 42 territories that made up the small plastic board.
Having the advantage of age, I realised a little more quickly that the key to winning was not overextending yourself when setting up your armies. Spreading yourself too thinly across one continent, for example, left you vulnerable to a sweeping attack from a much bigger army concentrated in only one or two territories in a neighboring continent. Better to build from a few strong bases.
So with this strategy, I ended up owning the world. At least until dinnertime. Then my mum was back in charge. I was a short-lived tyrant.
We get the highest rate of return where we are strongest
Board games aren’t often used as important life lessons, but Risk seemed to tap into something profound: that when we focus on where we are strong, we grow faster than when trying to improve where we are weak. In fact, researchshows we get the highest rate of return where we are strongest.
Studies have shown that people who use their strengths, especially four or more of their top strengths, are more likely to experience satisfaction and meaning in their work, and feel happier, less stressed, and more confident.
Not enough people use their strengths every day
Research group Gallup has spent more than a half-century studying human strengths. In 2001, they released a groundbreaking book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which revealedonly two out of ten people use their strengths every day. That set the scene for serious conversations about organisations building strength-based cultures. But in the two decades since, many people still do not use their strengths enough. That’s a lot of missed opportunities to play to your strengths and reap the resulting benefits.
We can put much of this down to the conventional management wisdom that our greatest potential for growth is by fixing our weaknesses. But author and speaker Marcus Buckingham says that focusing on your weaknesses only drains and demotivates you. By building your strengths instead, you’ll feel more positive, get more energy as a result, and actually lift your weaknesses, too (because it’s not about ignoring weaknesses; it’s about becoming more accepting of your areas of lesser talent).
It’s not what you have, it’s how you use it
When we think of strengths, we can use an equation to define them:Strengths = Talent x Investment
Talent is something we have. Investment is something we need to cultivate: we do this through regular, deliberate practice. This creates skills and builds knowledge.
Talent is trickier. We form our talents at an early age. By age six, we’ve already developed 90 percent of our brain activity. Every talent we possess is neutral. You can develop your talent or let it drift, which is why we hear so many stories of wasted talent.
Some people think “focus on your strengths” means “just do what you’re good at and you won’t need to improve.” Those same people believe talents are natural gifts. But talents need to be nurtured. They need the investment part of the equation for the talent to become a strength.
And you need to believe those strengths can be improved. Entrepreneur and author Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, speaks about the shifting mindset: from proving myself to improving myself.
Dr. George Gallup, the founder of the research company of the same name and whose research I highlighted earlier, is a good example of someone who lived out the strengths equation. Gallup knew he wasn’t cut out to become a successful businessman. He once said he couldn’t even run a popcorn stand, and he was proud of this. But he could teach, and so he focused all his energy and investment on that. He become so good that many leaders around the world said he was the greatest teacher of his time.
Identify your strengths
The start of a new year is always an opportune time for some self-reflection and goal-setting. This might be a good time to identify and crystallise your own strengths.
There are a few ways you can do this.
A good starting point is to ask for an honest assessment from your colleagues, friends, and family. Try to get a full picture based on the different roles you play in life. A colleague may see different strengths in you than a lifelong friend, but all feedback is useful. Find patterns and identify things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
You can also take a strengths or personality test. The CliftonStrengths tool helps you discover your top five strengths by measuring the presence of talents in 34 areas or themes. It costs $20 and you can do it online. I took the assessment and discovered my top five strengths were (in this order): Discipline, Learner, Intellect, Relator, and Analytical. They all made sense. I enjoy routine and structure; I love to learn and continuously improve; I’m introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions; I take pleasure in close relationships with others; and I like to take a thorough, logical and well thought out approach in everything I do.
Creating a list of your accomplishments is another good way to help identify your strengths. Don’t just list work accomplishments, look right across your life. An Annual Life Review can help give you a framework for a holistic set of accomplishments.
Lastly, ask yourself how you think about strengths and weaknesses. Strengths make us feel strong. Weaknesses make us feel weak. Think about how your activities make you feel in order to identify your strengths. Does it make you feel successful or fulfilled? Are you drawn to it? Does it engage you? Does it get you into the flow state? You can be good at something you hate doing. That’s not the type of strength you necessarily want to improve. Part of my early career was organising events. I was good at it—see my strengths above—but it wasn’t something I enjoyed.
Develop and use your strengths
Now you’ve identified your strengths and know how you feel about them, put them to work, cultivating them across your work and life.
Here’s 9 ways to make your strengths even stronger.
- Take a class or online tutorial. There are courses on almost any subject online today.
- Find a mentor. Someone in your field who can help guide you.
- Network and build your contacts. Meet someone for a coffee if what they do plays to a strength of yours. Maybe they do it even better and are happy to share their journey.
- Read. Books, articles, audiobooks. Books are the Himalayas of knowledge.
- Take training in something you think you’re already good at. Chances are you can get better.
- Use constructive criticism. Most likely this will come from structured feedback at work, perhaps an end-of-year review or a 360 Review. This feedback can be gold if you keep an open mind.
- Teach someone else. The philosopher Seneca said two thousand years ago, “While we teach, we learn.” It’s known as ‘the protégé effect.’ That we put in more effort to learn information when we know we’re going to teach it to someone else.
- Develop a related skill. I’ve been developing my coaching skills alongside my writing skills because they are both complementary and aligned to my longer-term goals.
- Timeblock your day every day so you have the time to work on them. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. If you don’t make the time, it won’t happen.
Own and execute your strengths for a better you in 2023
A few final thoughts.
Recognise every strength or talent you have has both an upside and a downside. The downside of my Discipline strength can be a rigid, mechanised approach. The downside of my Learner strength can be a lot of learning, but little end result. This self-awareness is important to keep you consistently in the upside part of your talent.
Own your talent. We often forget and underestimate them. Use them in areas important to you. Use the tools and steps above to best identify your strengths and then grow them. Turn a seven into a nine or ten.
Know which of your talents to use in particular situations, or which talents to combine to amplify, accelerate, soften, or moderate that talent.Unlike the board game Risk, the goal isn’t world domination. It’s about taking your place in the world by harnessing the full power of the talents you have.
And making them last beyond dinnertime.
This article was first published on my website Deep Life Journey,a resource to help people live a deeper, more fulfilling life.
How do you focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses? ›
- Identify your strengths, name them, and concentrate on them. ...
- Don't compare yourself with others, but approach people who inspire or even challenge you for your growth. ...
- Offset your development areas by capitalizing on the strengths of others.
If you use your strengths, you are more likely to be happier, less stressed, and more confident. And our strengths can help us grow faster than when focus on improving our weaknesses, according to research. Your life follows your attention so focus your attention on the positive instead of the negative.How can you use your strengths to improve your skills answer? ›
- Assess Subsets of Your Strengths. ...
- Find People to Cover for Your Weaknesses. ...
- Get Additional Training. ...
- Identify Strength-Enhancing Opportunities. ...
- Deliberately Practice. ...
- Communicate and Blog. ...
- Learn From Others. ...
- Be Open to Change.
A study from 2016 found that we tend to see weaknesses as more changeable than strengths—which means we're more inclined to try to improve where we're weak. But various studies have shown that when we focus on developing our strengths, we grow faster than when trying to improve our weaknesses.What is the best answer of strength and weakness? ›
- Collaborative. I am very collaborative. ...
- Technical know-how. ...
- Detail-oriented. ...
- Positive attitude. ...
- Solving problems. ...
- Self-criticism. ...
- Fear of public speaking. ...
- Be honest. ...
- Tell a story. ...
- Remember to get to the insight. ...
- Keep it short. ...
- Don't sweat it so much.
My strength is, I am a quick learner, a hard-working and active person. My weakness is I am not felling good until I completed my work on time. My strengths are I'm self-motivated, Hard-working, a quick learner and I am a good team player. My weakness is I'm an overthinker and kind-hearted person.What are your greatest strengths how this strength would help you in performing your job? ›
My greatest strength is my ability to stay focused on my work and finish tasks in advance of a deadline. I'm not easily distracted, and this means my performance is very strong. This skill will come in handy because I know this is a very busy office under constant deadline pressure.What are your strengths that help you perform your current job? ›
Reliable. Loyalty and dependability are always top strengths in the workforce. This person is on time and can always be counted on to not only complete their work but help others with theirs, too. No matter the chaos the workday brings, a reliable employee is one a supervisor can turn to on the road towards success.Why is it important to look at strengths and weaknesses? ›
Why is it important to know your strengths and weaknesses? When you spend time reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses, you get to know your true self better. This helps you make decisions that better reflect your true self and make you happy.
How do you explain focused as a strength? ›
Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal. Those that don't are ignored. In the end, then, your Focus forces you to be efficient.Why is being focused a strength? ›
Focus sees the end goal and then sets out to achieve it. Those high in the Focus StrengthsFinder theme like to get a lot accomplished, but make conscious decisions about which tasks to undertake; only tasks that get them closer to the goal are worth completing.Why knowing your strengths is important? ›
The better you know your natural talents, the more you can draw from them to search for and identify opportunities that will give you the chance to do what you do best every day, so you can then turn your raw talents into matured strengths and live up to your full potential.Why playing to your strengths is important? ›
By playing to your strengths, you can develop them even more and become a unique professional or grow your personal abilities as well beyond the average. By becoming much more successful at what we do best, we can reach new heights. Improving our weaknesses can sometimes also be a great way to focus.