THE BLOG

Can You Develop Your Strengths In Just 11 Minutes?

03/23/2015 05:21 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

If you had eleven minutes each day to just - shine and do what you do best at work - where would you start? Would you learn something new each day? Take the time to really connect with a colleague? Make some space for creativity?

Today 5 out of every 10 people report they have the opportunity to do what they do best each day at work - an increase of 30% over the last decade. As a result they tell us that they feel more engaged and energized, that what they do makes a difference and is appreciated and are much more likely to describe themselves as flourishing.

How are they getting these results?

For many of the people I coach after they've completed one of the popular assessment tools like the VIA Survey, StrengthsFinder or Realise2 to discover their strengths, the simplest way to start using them each day at work is to create an 11-minute strengths-development habit. Want to know how it works?

Can A Small Habit Make A Big Difference?

The good news is when it comes to changing your behavior, studies suggest that small, regular actions are the best way to create lasting differences. This is because when you shrink the changes you want to create into tiny, busy-proof steps, you stop feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and instead start notching-up success after success.

As your confidence grows and your fear of failure withers, your progress begins to accumulate into a positive spiral of behavior. This is particularly true when it comes to developing your strengths each day at work.

But here's the thing despite our best intentions, many of us struggle to start creating the changes we're most wanting in our lives. Bosses are demanding. Projects need juggling. And families and friends are waiting. There just never seems to be enough time to fit developing our strengths in, even when we know the benefits it might bring.

I completely understand. For years it felt like my life was passing me by in exactly the same way.

Then I discovered that researchers estimate about 40 percent of our days are mere habit - that's about six hours - and I decided to start directing at least some of this time to the developing my strengths each day.

What can you do to create small, daily strengths habits?

Studies at MIT have found that our habits run on a simple neurological loop that comprise a cue that triggers of the behavior, a routine that we practice and a reward that creates a craving to do more next time the cue goes off. And just to ensure there were no more excuses, I decided to make my strength-development habit, busy-proof by starting with just 11 minutes each day.

Here's is how I've taught thousands of people to do the same:

  • Firstly, identify the strengths you want to develop. Determine which strength you want to focus on to move you a little closer to your hopes of a strengths-fuelled future. I recommend just starting with one.
  • Secondly, cue the habit up in just thirty seconds. Make it easy to get started by anchoring it to a habit you already have (like getting out of bed each morning, traveling to work, or turning on your computer), embedding it in your environment (such as putting your alarm clock on top of your running gear, leaving the article you want to read across your computer keyboard, or attaching a Post-It note reminder to your car keys), or using a when/then statement to prime your brain for specific situations (like, "When I get to work, then I will spend ten minutes checking in with a colleague"). Use one or more of these strategies to trigger the desired behavior, and take a moment to conjure up the reward waiting at the end of your routine to kick in the cravings that drive your habit loop.
  • Thirdly, practice your strengths-development routine for ten minutes. Immerse yourself in a routine that will allow you to develop the golden mean of your chosen strengths.
  • Finally, reward your behavior for thirty seconds. Think of a reward that's either physical (like a green smoothie, a relaxing massage, or a nap) or emotional (like ticking your habit off the list, using social media to share your accomplishments with friends, or reporting what you've done to a coach) that will spark the natural flow of dopamine through your brain. It's preferable that you do this without chocolate or alcohol if you can.

Now you'll find it easier to follow through on your strength-development habit if you implement it around the same time each day. Also, because your self-regulation muscles wear down over the course of the day as you have to regulate your choices, emotions, and behaviors, you'll find it easier to stick with your habit if you start it earlier rather than later. It will also unleash a host of positive emotions to create an upward spiral of confidence and happiness that will propel you into the rest of your day.

You'll find a play sheet here to help you create your strengths-development habit if you'd like more guidance.

So if you had the gift of just 11 minutes a day to truly shine in your work which strength would you start developing?