Think Multidimensionally to Maximize Your Strengths
Once you recognize the categories of strengths, you can start noticing strengths in yourself and others and even begin to blend your strengths to elevate your contributions, increase your engagement, and improve your well-being.
Written by:Tara A. Collison, Ph.D.
Early on in life, we start to hear about the dichotomy of strength and weakness. While there is a time and place to focus on both, research in the field of positive psychology teaches us about the immense power of knowing, focusing on, and developing our strengths.
Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson, authors of Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, define strength as, “a combination of talents (naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feeling, and behavior), knowledge (facts and lessons learned), and skills (the steps of an activity).”
But you can break it down even further. Once you recognize the categories of strengths –– its many hues, so to speak –– you can start noticing strengths in yourself and others and even begin to blend your strengths to elevate your contributions, increase your engagement, and improve your well-being.
Five Categories of Strength
Researchers debate on how to separate or combine categories of strengths. And while there is quite a bit of overlap, there is also value in their distinctions, particularly when it comes to helping us recognize and enhance our strengths.
- Personality strengths. These are perhaps the most well-known and frequently referenced strengths, They are the aspects of who we are that govern how we think, feel and behave - the indicators of who you are and how you show up. Some examples are openness, agreeableness and extraversion.
- Character strengths. These are qualities that represent what is best about being human –– our virtues. Society as a whole tends to value these qualities –– things like courage, creativity, humility, forgiveness, and humor. The VIA Institute of Character has done extensive research in this space and has identified 24 character strengths.
- Values. They’re similar to character strengths but much broader, for example, hard work or focus. These are not necessarily the things you choose to excel at but rather that you discover you have an aptitude for or tendency toward. Your values may be driven in part by your personality traits, but not exclusively. You can also inherit them from your family based on your upbringing or the culture you grew up in. All of these things influence values.
- Talents/skills. These strengths are the things you do naturally well. They sometimes emerge from biological or genetic strengths, and are strengths that you cultivate over time. It could be that you're naturally flexible and agile and you cultivate that skill through years of practice and become a skillful dancer.
- Interests/passions. We all have topics or activities that motivate and excite us. You might also call these passions. Interests often inform our skills, but not always –– think of the skilled athlete who doesn’t love the sport they play.
Identify and Focus on Your Strengths
It’s easy to limit our perception of strengths and associate it with something that is “natural,” but that can create false limitations. The truth is, with effort, dedication, and a willingness to learn, you can cultivate and develop your many strengths.
First, identify your personal strengths. Need some motivation? Research suggests that if you’re able to pinpoint and use those strengths every day, it increases levels of happiness.
- One way to identify your strengths is by using personality, strengths or other assessment tools. I like Predictive Index and the VIA character inventory.
- Ask 5-10 people what they believe your strengths are. Then, identify the patterns in their feedback.
- Reflect: What gives you energy? What do people ask for your help with? What are you most proud of? Who are your role models and why? What is your favorite quote and why? What things or activities, if taken away, would make life unbearable and why? What do you perceive as your strengths?
Once you’ve identified your strengths, focus on developing and blending them. Just remember, you can “overuse” them. For example, forgiveness is a strength but, if overused, it can lead to repeating patterns and mistakes that don’t serve you. If this was one of your strengths, and you found yourself leaning in too far, you might want to try and blend it with another strength –– an aptitude for confidence or self-love, maybe? Or perhaps you’re a talented public speaker… You could turn all of your experiences, both good and bad, with forgiveness into motivation for others.
Take a Broad Approach
Consider taking a broad and multidimensional approach to strengths, focusing on how it can help you be the best version of yourself. The more you live and work in alignment with its different types –– personality, character, values, talents/skills, interests/passions –– and the better you become at navigating its pits and peaks, the more fulfilled and energetic you will be.