Changemaker LAB. To Be the Change: Use your strengths every day

Why  some people are more positive, altruistic and successful in everything they do?

How can changemakers, socially committed  employees and citizens  or positive leaders maintain high levels of resilience, positivity and energy?

To answer these questions, I have interviewed highly purposeful and successful individuals and  analysed and experimented with cutting-edge research from neuroscience, mindfulness and positive psychology. I summarized my learning and experience in the book Be the Change: how the find your Passion, define your Purpose and Create a Better World 

One of the characteristics of impactful and positive individuals is that they know their strengths and they consciously use them every day. This is backed by research from leading authors.

Why finding your strengths and using them every day?

For example, according to Martin Seligman, one of the main experts in positive psychology, an important step to increase our levels of joy and satisfaction in life is to know our strengths and put them into practice.

Experts from Gallup came to the same conclusion after studying the profile of millions of people in the workplace for 40 years: using your strengths at work lead to higher engagement levels and a better career, but also a better life. These well-being advantages, in turn, benefit employers through higher productivity, fewer sick days, lower incidence of chronic disease, and fewer health-related expenses from employees. Engagement and orientation together create a culture that fosters high performance.

If you are a change maker or a leader, knowing your strengths and weaknesses will give a you a better understanding of yourself and how you function, as well as help you narrow your focus. Equally so, it can help you identify what you’re not so good at, and how you can find fellow changemakers or team members to help make up for what you lack.

The most successful and happy people, according to these same experts, “don’t waste time improving their weaknesses, but rather learn, develop and work on activities related to their talents”. The only thing people should do is managing their weaknesses so they don’t interfere with their strengths.

According to the strength approach, it’s always better to pay attention to your talents than your flaws or shortcomings.

For example, imagine you have a son and at the end of the year, he gets the following grades: Literature 10; Social Sciences 10; Biology 7; Physical Education 6; Mathematics 3. What subject do you think he should focus on? In a survey done by Gallup 77% of the parents interviewed said they would spend all of their time and energy in the subject their child was not strong in (in this case mathematics).

Would you say the same? Well that answer is… not correct! We grow much more when we put our time and energy into developing our natural strengths. We can improve our weaker areas, but with much more effort. This doesn’t mean you should ignore that your son is failing in math, he should at least pass, but you should encourage his strengths in literature and social sciences.

In order to help you increase your wellbeing and your impact, I have summarized below a  a series of tools and practical exercises that will help you identify and use your strengths daily.

How to use your strengths every day to increase your wellbeing and impact

1. Identify your strengths

The first step is to identify what are your main strengths. If you believe that you already know what they are, you can skip this step, but if you’re not sure or want to dig deeper, I recommend  two tools: the Clifton Strenghfinder and the VIA Character Strength Questionnnaire.

Strengthfinder Assessment ( CliftonStrengths Gallup)

Clifton StrengthsFinder® Assessment was launched in 1998 and it had research that dated back to the 1960s. Don Clifton the “grandfather of positive psychology”, created the Clifton StrengthsFinder® Assessment Profiling Assessment aimed towards helping people understand their talent themes and to have conversations on what they are doing right. You can take the questionnaire to identify your profile among the following 34:

The Four Domains of Leadership Strength
Executing Influencing Relationship Building Strategic Thinking
Achiever

Arranger

Belief

Consistency

Deliberative

Discipline

Focus

Responsibility

Restorative

Activator

Command

Communication

Competition

Maximizer

Self-assurance

Significance

Woo

Adaptability

Developer

Connectedness

Empathy

Harmony

Includer

Individualization

Positivity

Relator

Analytical

Context

Futuristic

Ideation

Input

Intellection

Learner

Strategic

  • Achiever: People exceptionally talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  • Activator: People exceptionally talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They want to do things now, rather than simply talk about them.
  • Adaptability: People exceptionally talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to go with the flow. They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
  • Analytical: People exceptionally talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all of the factors that might affect a situation.
  • Arranger:  People exceptionally talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to determine how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.
  • Belief: People exceptionally talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their lives.
  • Command: People exceptionally talented in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.
  • Communication: People exceptionally talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
  • Competition: People exceptionally talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.
  • Connectedness: People exceptionally talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links among all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning.
  • Consistency: People exceptionally talented in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They crave stable routines and clear rules and procedures that everyone can follow.
  • Context: People exceptionally talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.
  • Deliberative: People exceptionally talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate obstacles.
  • Developer: People exceptionally talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from evidence of progress.
  • Discipline: People exceptionally talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create.
  • Empathy: People exceptionally talented in the Empathy theme can sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations.
  • Focus: People exceptionally talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.
  • Futuristic: People exceptionally talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They energize others with their visions of the future.
  • Harmony: People exceptionally talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
  • Ideation: People exceptionally talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  • Includer: People exceptionally talented in the Includer theme accept others. They show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.
  • Individualization: People exceptionally talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how different people can work together productively.
  • Input: People exceptionally talented in the Input theme have a need to collect and archive. They may accumulate information, ideas, artifacts or even relationships.
  • Intellection: People exceptionally talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
  • Learner: People exceptionally talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  • Maximizer: People exceptionally talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
  • Positivity: People exceptionally talented in the Positivity theme have contagious enthusiasm. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
  • Relator: People exceptionally talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  • Responsibility: People exceptionally talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
  • Restorative: People exceptionally talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
  • Self-Assurance: People exceptionally talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to take risks and manage their own lives. They have an inner compass that gives them certainty in their decisions
  • Significance: People exceptionally talented in the Significance theme want to make a big impact. They are independent and prioritize projects based on how much influence they will have on their organization or people around them.
  • Strategic: People exceptionally talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  • Woo: People exceptionally talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with someone.

You can find a more detailed description of the profiles in the following link.

VIA Character Strengths Questionaire

One of the most widely used strength questionnaires was developed by two of the founders of positive psychology, Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Chris Peterson. Their research identified 24 character strengths that were universally valued across cultures. Of course there are more possible strengths than 24, but it’s a good place to start exploring what your strengths are.

You can take the free version of the  VIA Character Strengths Questionaire     in about 30 minutes.

2. Make sure they are your strengths

To check if you identified your true strengths, you can answer the following questions:

  • What are your initial reactions? Pay attention to how you react in different situations. For example, do you usually react to difficult moments with jokes or do you immediately find a solution? Do you usually relate to new people when you attend an event or do you chat with people you already know? People react according to their behaviour patterns or dominant talents.
  • What did you want to be when you were little? Remember your hopes and dreams. These desires show the presence of talent. Picasso was already attending an art school at thirteen and architect Frank Gehry was making complex models when he was five.
  • What is easy for you to learn? Things that are easy to learn are good clues to our talents. You may never felt a calling when you were little and are discovering it at an older age. Henri Matisse, for example, didn’t feel the urge to paint until age 21, when, ffollowing an attack of appendicitis, his mother brought him art supplies during the period of convalescence. He discovered “a kind of paradise” as he later described it. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
  • What makes you feel good? When we use our talents to do something, we feel good. That’s why the satisfaction we experience when doing certain tasks gives us clues to a hidden talent. Do you enjoy making order of chaos? Do you love to think of new ideas? Do you like to host big events? Does helping others make you feel better? If thinking about an activity makes you immediately feel like doing it, that’s a good sign of your talent.

Take few moments during the day to pay attention to these signs so you can identify your strengths. Choose five to work with.

My strengths Hints, examples
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3. Use your strengths in everyday life

Once you have identified your top five strengths, you should make a habit of using them in daily life. For each one, ask yourself:

  • How am I using my strengths?
  • In which areas of my life do I use them?
  • In which areas could I use them more often?
  • What are other ways could I use them?

4. Make it a habit!

Dedicate a week to each strength During that week, try to use the strength in a new way. Here you can find 340 ideas of how to use your strengths.

For example, if your greatest strengths is Curiosity, you can try the following:

1. Look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information daily, such as journalism,
research, teaching, etc.
2. Expand your knowledge in an area of interest through books, journals, magazines, TV, radio or
internet, for half an hour, three times a week.
3. Attend a function/lecture/colloquium of a culture that differs from yours.
4. Find a person who shares your area of your interest and learn how he/she increases his/her
expertise in that area.
5. Eat food of a different culture, explore its cultural context and become aware of your thoughts.
6. Connect with a person of a different culture and spend at least an hour, twice a month to learn
about his/her culture.
7. Make a list of unknowns about your favorite topic.
8. Try things that challenge your existing knowledge and skills.
9. Visit at least one new town, state or country yearly.
10. Identify factors which might haven diminished your curiosity in an area and search three new
ways to rejuvenate it.
11. Get engaged in more open-ended learning experiences (i.e., making ice cream to understand
physics and chemistry or taking a yoga class to understand different muscle groups).
12. Explore processes of nature, for at least one hour weekly, by being in the woods, park, stream,
yard, etc.

 

On the other hand, the most innovative companies create teams where all members know their talents and use them to the fullest. And the results are excellent! Both for employees, who enjoy their work more, as well as for managers and the company, which usually get much better results. Teams work much better and everybody is happier, including clients, who receive better services. It’s a chain of excellence.

Resources

  • Groundbreaking handbook and classification of human strengths and virtues.

  • Gallup assessment tool with hundreds of strategies for applying your strengths

  • How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

  • Realising Strengths in Yourself and Others

  • Practical ways of using character strengths based on research by Tayyab Rashid

  • Learn What’s Best About You

  • Knowing your personality type according to Jungian theory

    Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

    Wood, A.M., Linley, P.A., Maltby, J., Kasden, T.B., & Hurling,R. (2011). Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire.Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (2011) 15-19