There’s an unspoken taboo in our culture that keeps us from seeing our own best self. Two-thirds of us can’t even name our top personal strengths.
Patting ourselves on the back or singing our own praises is considered crass behavior, self-centered, egotistical, braggadocio. We have a negativity bias that says the way to become better is to focus on our weaknesses and flaws and to work on overcoming them.
But positive psychology is turning that theory on its head. The fastest, most effective path to excellence and success, according to its findings, is to focus on what’s best in yourself, and to turn up the volume on the things you love doing, and that you do well.
Not only that, but getting a clear picture of who you are when you’re at your best is a powerful and long-lasting way boost your sense of well-being. But, because we’re normally discouraged from looking at what’s best in us, how can we go about painting that clear picture for ourselves?
What’s Good About Me?
One way to find the areas in which you shine is to complete the free online VIA (Values-in-Action) Character Strengths survey. Are you motivated by a love of learning? A sense of justice and fairness? Does your love of beauty and excellence drive you? Is kindness one of your top strengths? Creativity? Taking the VIA Character Strengths survey will let you find out.
You can build a picture of your best future self—the one you’re hoping to become—by doing the Best Possible Self exercise described here. It will let you see your potentials and the qualities that you aspire to develop. And just doing it will make you feel good now and fortify your sense of well-being.
Or start by simply upping your awareness of your positive qualities, by paying attention to the lovable parts of yourself and the things that you do well and enjoy doing. That’s what the questions below are designed to help you do. Just reading through them will prompt your subconscious to start delivering up its hidden knowledge about your fantasticness.
Exploring Your Best Self
Relax and read through the following questions. Invite the answers to them to flow gently into your awareness as you go. Maybe take some notes about the images that come to mind.
If you like, you can get even more from this exercise by writing down your answers and then looking for patterns. Some people enjoy using their insights as the basis for writing a “My Best Self” description of themselves.
In any case, enjoy:
- What are some things you most enjoy doing—things that make you feel energized, that you can get so lost in that it feels as if time is standing still?
- Think about the kinds of situations bring out the best in you? Where would you be? Who would be with you? What might you be doing?
- What inspires you?
- What kinds of challenges turn you on?
- What makes you feel strong?
- What do you enjoy creating?
- What kinds of puzzles or problems do you enjoy solving?
- What would you be doing on your ideal vacation?
- What kinds of adventures do you enjoy?
- Where do you most often find and enjoy beauty?
- How have you bounced back after a disappointment, failure, or setback?
- How do you make other people feel good about themselves? In what ways do you make people smile? Laugh? Feel comforted, encouraged, or supported?
- For which of your personal qualities are you the most grateful?
- When do you feel that you’re being most truly you?
- What did each of your family members like most about you when you were little? Do you still have those characteristics today? Which ones do you most enjoy today?
- What did your favorite teacher like most about you? Are those qualities still something you express today?
- What do you like most about your job?
- What does your boss appreciate most about you?
- What do your co-workers value about you?
- How about your customers or clients? What do they appreciate in you?
- What makes other people seek you out?
- Who, in your circle of friends and acquaintances, do you highly admire? What does that person appreciate most about you?
- Who provides you with guidance? What does that person like about you?
- Where do you find the most purpose in your life?
- What do people complement you about? What do others seem to think you do especially well? What do you enjoy doing for others?
- What can you do to use your Best Self more in your life? In your work? In your relationships with others?
More Ways to Use the Best-Self Inventory
These questions are meant as a springboard, a way to help you notice the positive sides of yourself. The things you enjoy and are good at are tools you can use to enrich your life. By focusing on them, you can find more creative ways to build excellence and to develop those parts of your life where you’re not quite as strong.
Do a Nightly Review: Try asking yourself questions like those in the inventory as you fall asleep at night, as a kind of daily assessment of your best self. What did you enjoy the most? What excellence did you notice and appreciate in yourself and others? What were the highlights of the day, and what do they tell you about you-at-your-best?
Encourage Yourself: Print out these questions or file them somewhere that lets you access them easily. When you have a down day or an upsetting experience, pull them out and review them to remind you about the positive parts of yourself.
Create a Best-Self Portrait: Use the images and answers from the questions to write out a description of your best self. Or make a vision board or scrap book using personal photos, or images from the Net or from magazines that illustrate some of your best qualities. Put a note in your calendar to update it in six months, or every New Year’s Eve, or on your birthday. Watch how your best self changes and expands over time.
Form a Best-Self Master Mind: Break through the taboo. Start a little “mutual appreciation club” with a few close friends, co-workers, or your family members that’s dedicated to recognizing each other’s specific positive qualities and pointing them out. Meet at regular intervals to talk about your own best-self discoveries and to point out what qualities you genuinely appreciate in the other club members. This is a fabulous way to strengthen relationships. The only rule is to focus on specific behaviors, not giving each other flattering compliments, but real feedback about things done well.
Above all, enjoy the good feelings about yourself that this inventory generated. Let the insights and discoveries percolate into your awareness over the next several days. Let it serve to heighten your awareness of the things you most appreciate about yourself, and that others appreciate about you. Likewise, let it heighten your awareness of others’ positive qualities. Mention them; see what kind of responses you get.
Your greatest room for personal growth is in the area of your unique strengths and special talents, in all the qualities that make up your best self. Increasing your awareness of them and building on what you discover will strengthen your sense of well-being and allow you to continuously create for yourself new pathways to excellence and a thriving life.