What’s Right With You: How to Discover Your Personal Strengths

Your personal strengths reflect your core values and provide you with a sure sense of direction. They energize and satisfy you and let you feel real and whole.

Discover Your StrengthsWant to know one of the top ways to put more meaning, satisfaction and joy into your life?  Identify your signature strengths and bring them into play in as many ways as you can.

Over and over again, that’s what the positive psychologists say.  Your personal strengths reflect your core values and provide you with a sure sense of direction.  They energize and satisfy you and let you feel real and whole.  Living in alignment with them is living well.

When you put your values into action through the expression of your strengths, you’re living authentically, from your heart.  And that is where the deepest joy is.

But what, exactly, is a strength?  How is it different from a skill or a talent?  How can you discover your own top strengths?

“A Classification of the Sanities”

A little over a decade ago, when Dr. Martin Seligman was initiating the field of positive psychology, he realized he needed a way to define the qualities demonstrated by psychologically healthy, thriving people—to come up with what he called “a classification of the sanities.”

Toward this end, he recruited Dr. Christopher Peterson, director of the clinical psychology program at University of Michigan and a world authority on optimism and hope, to lead a study that would result in an authoritative classification and measurement system for the human strengths.

“One of the first tasks that Cris set,” Dr. Seligman writes in his book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, “was for several of us to read the basic writings of all the major religious and philosophical traditions in order to catalog what each claimed were the virtues, then see if any showed up in almost every tradition.”

To their surprise, “almost every single one of the traditions flung across three thousand years and the entire face of the earth endorsed six virtues:

Core VirtuesWisdom and Knowledge
Courage
Humanity and Love
Justice
Temperance
Spirituality and Transcendence”

But while these characteristics were almost universally endorsed as the qualities that make up the good life, they were too abstract to measure in human behavior.  So the next step was to identify the measurable strengths that were the means through which these virtues were expressed.  Dr. Seligman calls them the routes to the virtues; by walking the paths the strengths described, you become virtuous—a good human being.

Next, the Seligman-Peterson team developed criteria to define what a “strength” is, and finally ended up with two dozen traits that qualified.  At last they had their “classification of sanities,” and from this base, the whole science of positive psychology has evolved.

Strengths, Talents and Abilities

Strengths are moral traits, traits of character that people can acquire and build.  Talents, on the other hand, are inborn gifts.  If you have a talent, you can hone and refine it to some degree.  But if it’s not a part of your personal make-up, you can’t will yourself to acquire it.  You either have a talent or you don’t.

Like strengths, abilities are acquired.  But while they may provide you with a sense of competency and allow you to perform adequately in a given role, unless they’re related to one of your signature strengths, they don’t necessarily bring you satisfaction or joy.  You can learn, for example, to be a highly competent engineer or accountant or assembly line worker and discover you really don’t like the work at all.

Strengths make you feel good when you use them.  Because they represent your core values—the things you deeply and authentically care about—they give you a sense of purpose; they feel meaningful and satisfying.  They’re inspiring and elevating.  And when you put your own best strengths into action, you feel like you’re being “the real you.”

Why Should I Identify My Strengths?

Once you know your key strengths, you’re empowered to find more and more ways to employ them.  You can begin to look for opportunities to express them in all the arenas of your life, becoming more and more authentic and heart-centered in all you do.  The value-centered life is the good life—as identified across the centuries and across the world’s cultures.

How Can I Find Out  My Personal Signature Strengths?

Working OnlineYou can take the VIA Character Survey at no cost at two places online:  here and here.  You only need to register, and your privacy is assured.  The survey is nearly identical at both places, and both sites are worth exploring for their host of additional resources.

The Survey is composed of 240 questions and takes 30-40 minutes to complete.  Even if (like me!) you ordinarily dislike completing surveys of your preferences, it’s well worth your time to make the effort.  You get your results back right away, with a list of your personal strengths ranked in order.

When you do, focus on your top five personal strengths.  Take a look at the in-depth description of them that you’ll find under the “Classification” tab at the VIA Institute on Character site.  (Personally, I thought this was especially rewarding—as if someone was describing me the way I really see myself, deep down.)

See which of your top five feel most like you and whether one or two maybe don’t resonate with you with quite as much power.  Dr. Seligman suggests that you ask yourself some questions about your top five strengths:

  • How attractive is each one to you?
  • How easily did you acquire it?  Did it seem automatic?  Second nature?
  • How strong is your desire to use it in more ways in your life?
  • How much energy does it give you when use it?
  • How much joy, zest, enthusiasm and even ecstasy do you feel when you’re using it?

The ones that have the most of these qualities are your “signature strengths.”  You’ll want to focus on bringing them into play in as many ways as you can because you’ll feel so good, so alive and so real when you do.

Set aside the time to take the survey as soon as you can.  It’s one of the most worthwhile and rewarding actions you can take to enrich your life and expand your well-being.  I guarantee it.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy Personal Strengths – An Expanding View

 

VIA Classification  © by The VIA Institute on Character

 

Share

Your Best Possible Self

When you gaze along your time line toward your future, how bright does it look? How vivid is the picture? How much promise does it hold? When your vision of the future holds the possibility of excitement and fulfillment for you, it not only casts a glow on your present, but it shapes your current decisions in a way that makes the fulfillment of its promise more likely.

Bright FutureWhen you gaze along your time line toward your future, how bright does it look?

How vivid is the picture?  How much promise does it hold?

When your vision of the future holds the possibility of excitement and fulfillment for you, it not only casts a glow on your present, but it shapes your current decisions in a way that makes the fulfillment of its promise more likely.

Chances are you expect your future to work out reasonably well.  You have a loose sense of how you would like to be living, what you would like to have achieved, what areas of your life will have blossomed two, three, five years down the road.

But, since it’s in the future, and you have no way of knowing what will happen between now and then, you probably haven’t invested much of yourself in fleshing out the details of the picture.

What would happen if you did?  What if you invested some time in creating a full-blown image of the way your life would look five years down the road if everything went spectacularly well for you between now and then?

That’s what Professor Laura King at the University of Missouri-Columbia set out to discover back in 2001.  She pioneered the first experimental study of optimism by having a group of participants do what’s come to be known as the Best Possible Self exercise—and that’s the Positivity Practice we’re going to explore today.

I’ll describe the exercise first, and then share with you the fabulous benefits you can expect to gain by doing it yourself.  Here’s how it works:

The Practice

If you haven’t yet started a Positivity Journal, now’s the perfect time.  In any case, dedicate some paper or electronic space to doing this practice.  Here’s how:

1. Carve out 20 minutes where you can write undisturbed.  Have a way to time yourself and stick with it for the full 20 minutes.   Even if at first it feels like a daunting challenge, once you begin, you will find yourself relaxing and getting into the flow.

2. Select a future time frame: two years from now, three, five, ten—whatever feels good to you.  Sit quietly for a moment with your eyes closed, relaxing and watching your breath.  When you feel centered in yourself, begin writing whatever comes to mind about the Best Possible Self you can imagine in the future point that you chose.

Now here’s the good part:  Imagine that everything has gone wonderfully well for you, that you put worked toward you goals with diligence, patience, persistence and playfulness.  And now you have manifested your own best potentials and created your life dreams. What would your life be like then?  Write for 20 minutes about this Best Possible Self.

3. Stop at the end of 20 minutes, sit quietly again, allowing what you have written to settle inside you, and then put your work aside.

4. Over the course of the next four weeks, add to your vision whenever you feel like it, taking as much or as little time as you like.

You may want to use our Dream Creation Diagram to broaden your picture so it includes everything you might want it to hold.

What You’ll Gain

  • To sustain positivity at a high level in your life, says the godfather of happiness research, Martin Seligman, you need to cultivate it in all three segments of your time line: past, present and future.  By doing The Best Possible Self practice, you create the most positive future for yourself that you can imagine .
  • In addition, you will probably find that, like the participants in the studies who utilized this practice, you’ll feel an immediate boost in your mood right now, in the present, be happier several weeks afterward, and even have fewer physical symptoms three months down the road.
  • The practice is far more than an indulgence of your imagination.  By helping you clarify your ideals, it motivates you to be your best possible self today, to see the path ahead more clearly and to make decisions in alignment with your goals.
  • The very act of writing forces you to slow down and really think about your ideals.  Because it is a structured activity, it leads you to organize your thoughts, to clarify and crystallize them.  It helps you see where some of your goals might conflict with each other, leading you to think them through and prioritize or adapt them.
  • The practice also gives you a new window into yourself, a fresh way of seeing your feelings, your motives, and what’s really important to you.  It also provides you with an enhanced  sense of control about your future course, strengthening your optimism, and adds meaning to your life experiences as you gain insight about what you can be doing in the present to move you toward your ideals.

Those are some pretty powerful benefits to gain for the mere investment of your time.  If you play with this practice diligently, at the end of the four weeks you will have gained far more than you would from a self-development program costing you hundreds of  dollars or more.  And the insights you’ll gain will be all the more powerful because you generated them yourself.

*               *               *

Thanks to Sonja Lyubomsirsky and her book  The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want for her description of this practice and its proven results.   A veritable treasure trove of positivity practices, Sonja’s book is a great resource for anyone who’s interested in  creating a more exhilarating, meaningful life.

Share