Do you have a chance to do what you do best each day at work? You know, to use your strengths - those things you're good at and actually enjoy doing.
When I was first asked this question several years ago I thought it was trick. Surely the most important part of my job was to fix my weaknesses, not to build on my strengths. And when I looked back over the performance reviews written by my bosses, it was clear that this is where they wanted me to focus.
Yet despite many of us believing we grow most in our areas of weaknesses, brain studies reveal we grow the most new synapses in those areas where we have the most pre-existing synapses. This is why building on our strengths has been found to help us be more engaged, more energized and more productive at work.
Willing to try any evidenced-based idea that would boost my performance, I rushed out and completed two of the most popular strengths surveys - StrengthsFinder and the VIA Survey - and basked happily in my results. After all discovering what we're good at makes a nice change from the constant flaw spotting our brains are hard-wired for.
As the glow of this good news faded however, I realized these surveys left me with more questions than answers. The most important being: How exactly was I meant to develop these strengths at work?
After extensively reviewing the research on strengths these are the five things I believe you must know if you hope to put your strengths to work:
- Know what your strengths are - It's estimated two-thirds of us have no idea what our strengths are. If you can't name your top five strengths, using one of the tested surveys is definitely the easiest way to start. Having trained thousands of people around the world in their strengths, I recommend the free VIA Survey for discovering how you like to work (these are the character strengths that intrinsically motivate you) and StrengthsFinder for discovering what you like to do at work (these are the talents that extrinsically motivate you).
- Know how your strengths are valued - A generic definition of a character strength like "love" or a talent like "woo" is of limited benefit. You need to discover how these strengths can be used in your job and in your organization so they'll be respected, valued and appreciated. This is easily revealed by thinking back on the high-point moments you've experienced at work - those times when you were really engaged, energized and enjoying what you were doing - and noticing which of your strengths you were using. I guarantee one, or more, of your strengths will be present in these moments. This simple act of reminiscing gives you a clear guide as to how you're already using your strengths effectively.
- Know when you're overplaying your strengths - Every strength has what researchers call a "shadow side" that can get us into trouble when our passion and excitement causes us to over do things. For example, when we overplay a strength like hope we can see so many opportunities to make great things happen and ways to achieve this that we tend to over-extend and over-commit ourselves. You may even find many of the "weaknesses" your boss has asked you to improve, are actually strengths you're overplaying and just need to dial down. Be mindful of where your strengths are creating difficulties for you at work and start to explore ways you can dial them up or dial them down in different situations to create the outcomes you want.
- Know what your strength-fueled future looks like - Positive images have been found to pull us forward into positive actions, so it's worth taking a moment to consider what the year ahead might look like if you could effectively use your strengths more at work. Try journaling an unedited stream of consciousness that vividly captures what you might achieve over the next 12 months if everything in your job went as well as possible and you could consistently draw on your strengths each day. What would you be doing and which of your strengths would you be using? How would your boss or your colleagues describe your performance? What would it feel like to go to work and come home each day? Spend 15-20 minutes, for at least three days in a row, getting clear on what your strength-fueled future looks like.
- Know how to use your strengths each day - Most big changes occur as a result of small, regular efforts. I found even using my strengths for just ten-minutes a day was enough to turn a job I loathed into a job I liked. Best of all the chance for others to consistently see me performing at my best, was also enough to eventually see me promoted to a job that was much better suited to my strengths (and paid more!). Try creating a daily strength habit to get your workday started. Grab this free e-book for more than 70 different strength-development habits you can create in just 11-minutes.
What could you achieve if you focused more on using your strengths at work each day?
Join me for this free webinar, if you'd like a step-by-step, busy-proof plan to be more engaged, energized and happier at work.
This article first appeared on Psychology Today.