What are your strengths?
What is best about you?
What qualities make up who you are?
Too many times in my work as a clinical psychologist these questions would be met by blank stares from the person in front of me. And, when the question was answered at all, the response was something vague like “I like baseball” or “I’m good at cooking.” This is consistent with survey research that has found that 2/3 of people do not have a meaningful awareness of their strengths.
A good way to jump into learning about and working with strengths is the practice of strengths-spotting. Strengths-spotting is a skill that improves with practice. This article is part 2 of 2 on strengths-spotting. The previous article focused on spotting strengths in others while this one will focus on spotting strengths in oneself.
There are many ways to practice spotting strengths in oneself. Consider the 5 exercises below:
Take the VIA Survey
This survey measures your character strengths and offers free results with a rank-order listing. Looking at those character strengths toward the top of your results page is a way to begin generating greater awareness of strengths in yourself.
Self-nominate your strengths
If you don’t feel like making time to fill out the VIA Survey, take a look at this comprehensive list of character strengths found around the world. Check off the strengths that you believe best describe who you are at your core. Then, go through the list again and check off those strengths that you bring forth most strongly in your present life. Are there any discrepancies?
For example, you might feel as if you are very creative but perhaps you don’t get to show that strength strongly at work or with your family. Or, you might believe that you bring humor and playfulness to your daily life with joke-telling and laughing a lot, but you don’t feel that strength is core to your identity.
What action might you take to resolve one of these discrepancies?
Monitor yourself for a day
Choose one ordinary day in your life. Go about your day as you typically do but with one change. Set an alarm or smart-phone alert to signal you every 30 minutes. When you hear the alarm, pause, and ask yourself: “What character strengths was I just using?”
Keep a log for one day or a half-day in which you write down the strengths and how you were using them, along with the time of day.
What stands out to you as you review your log? What patterns emerged?
An instance of greatness
Whether we play the “humility card” or not, we all have times in our life when we have done something really well. In other words, we have all performed “better than ordinary” at one time or many times in our life. Write down one experience. What happened in the situation? What role did you play? What did you do that was particularly successful or useful to someone? After you write out this experience, go back and read through the story; as you read it through, circle the words or phrases that relate to the use of one of the 24 character strengths.
Someone who “gets” you
Think about a time when someone shared something good about you in which their observations took you completely off-guard. This person really seemed to “get you” in a way that made you feel totally understood.
What did this person see in you? What did they “get” about you? Also, ask yourself, what character strengths were they seeing? What impact did this have on you? This exercise allows you to spot strengths in yourself, but through the eyes of another.
When I lived in St. Louis, I went to breakfast once a month with a wise friend who was a 70-year-old nun named Sr. Marilyn. We had wonderful conversations about spirituality, living life fully, and expressing meaning and purpose in life. In each conversation, Sr. Marilyn found a way to comment on a positive quality I was expressing or that she had witnessed in me in the previous months. These comments always addressed one or more of my signature strengths in some form. I was often quite surprised when she made these observations about my character, even though I was quite familiar with my signature strengths.
To hear someone directly express such observations offers a different angle or perspective, as well as carries weight in terms of validation of the behavioral aspects of one’s character.
Gratitude: I would like to thank Donna Mayerson for inspiring the idea of creating the exercise above titled, “someone who gets you.” I would like to dedicate this blog post to my dear friend, Sr. Marilyn Wussler, who is mentioned above.
Interesting in learning more?
Sign up for one of the VIA Institute’s online courses on character strengths! Click here to choose and learn more.