Each of us comes to this life with a unique purpose and a unique combination of strengths. To give your best in Service to the world, learn your Signature Strengths then find ways to use them to benefit yourself and to benefit others. When you use your strengths to help others, you leave your personal mark on your world.
Strengths On the Job
I spent a good many years in my second career working in customer care for a software company, providing technical support for customers who were using our software. Sometimes, they called because they had a problem, sometimes, they just needed help WITH how to use a certain feature. During my time at that job, I saw lots of people come and go. Many burned out. Others decided that software support was not for them.
I stayed with that job in one capacity and another for over twenty years. A major reason that I lasted so long was that I simply loved the job. And I believe that a major factor was that it tapped into some of my Signature Strengths.
Two of my top strengths are Love of Learning and Perspective. Love of learning of course means I like to study and learn about new things. I used that strength to learn about the different features of our software and how to use them. I used it as well to learn about the best techniques of customer care and how to troubleshoot and solve problems.
Perspective allowed me to put myself in my customers’ place, listen to them, and at the same time, come up with solutions. Because, as the VIA website states: “this ability to look at systems as a whole, or to think in big terms, helps you to offer good advice.”
Your strengths not only help you, they can also help you help others as well.
What Are Character Strengths?
“Character strengths are the components of a good life. These are qualities valued across time, across nationalities, and across religions as elements of strong and virtuous behavior. They are qualities that we value in ourselves, our friends, our children, our colleagues, and our leaders.” [Polly and Britton] An aspect of character strengths is that they are valued for their own sake as well as for the desirable outcomes they produce. [Biswas-Diener and Dean]
In Positive Psychology, a strength is typically something you’re good at because you practice it – but not necessarily. You can be good at something but doing it drains your energy instead of building it up. [Grenville-Cleave] This isn’t a true strength.
For example, consider Helen. Helen is a strong leader in her organization. She can lead a team to succinctly identify goals and inspire the different team members to work together. But she finds the work draining and goes home exhausted on those days. She is really good at leading a team, but it isn’t one of her strengths.
Helen’s leadership ability is a skill but not a character strength. Using a character strength isn’t a chore [Grenville-Cleave], it’s a joy. It’s a want to do, not a have to do.
Why Use Strengths?
But why use strengths? What are the benefits?
For one, we like to do what we’re good at. When we do, we get a boost of energy and positive feelings. [Biswas-Diener and Dean]
People who use their strengths daily are more able to flourish; they are “more alive, creative, and resilient. . . [they have] stepped up to a whole new level of life.” [Fredrickson] These people enjoy increased resilience, higher energy levels, with increased confidence and self-esteem. [Grenville-Cleave]
Using strengths not only makes us more effective, but when we use our strengths to help others, it positively affects them as well. [Biswas-Diener and Dean] Research shows that when we use our strengths with others, we often inspire them. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls this emotion “elevation”. [Biswas-Diener and Dean] Elevation makes us more optimistic and more likely to help others. Using your strengths is a way to help make your corner of the world just a bit brighter.
As you become aware of your character strengths, you are likely to use them to benefit others, as well as yourself. [Polly and Britton] Research shows that people using their strengths are more involved in their work and in their families. [Polly and Britton] Contributing your strengths helps shape the impact you can make [Fredrickson] and helps you to give your best in Service to the world.
Guidelines for Using Strengths
As you begin to think about new ways to use your strengths, including how to use your strengths to help others, keep these ideas in mind.
Find ways to use your strengths in a range of thought and actions [Biswas-Diener and Dean]. Don’t get in the habit of only using one strength in a particular situation. One of my top strengths is Gratitude and to practice it, at the end of the day I write in my journal three things I am grateful for and why. But I also look for other ways to express gratitude as I go about my day.
As we saw earlier, using your strengths gives you a boost in positivity, energy, and confidence, among other good things. And to get more than a “temporary high” [Fredrickson] craft your work and your daily life to apply your strengths more often. [Fredrickson] Ready to start using more of your strengths?
Take A Step Forward
Research shows that learning about your strengths gives you a “significant but temporary” increase in positivity while finding new ways to employ your strengths gives your a “significant and lasting” boost in positivity. [Fredrickson] So let’s first look at how to learn about your strengths, then look at ways to put them to use, to help you, and to help others.
- If you haven’t completed the VIA Signature Strengths assessment, take the VIA Strengths Survey here to find your own personal ranking of the 24 character strengths. (The survey is free but you have to register. It takes 20 – 30 minutes to complete.)
- If you have completed the VIA Signature Strengths assessment, find it and dust it off. Refresh your memory regarding your top strengths.
- Determine your signature strengths, the ones you use most naturally and are strongest in you. These are typically the top 5 – 8 on your list of strengths.
Make a Plan
Now that you know what your Signature Strengths are, here’s a way to put them to good use. [Grenville-Cleave]
- Think of an issue you are currently dealing with.
- Write one or two sentences describing the issue.
- Next, list your top strengths (your Signature Strengths).
- Look at each strength, one at a time, and think about ways to use that strength to work with the problem you’re facing.
Here’s how it might work:
- I want to devote more time to my work and not be distracted by lesser activities.
- My top three strengths are gratitude, love of learning, and perspective.
- Gratitude: I can be thankful that I have time to give to my work and that I have a choice about how to spend my time.
- Love of learning: learning is a major part of my overall work so it’s a good motivation to do more and to stay focused.
- Perspective: perspective is the ability to see the big picture, so when I’m tempted to go off task, I can use perspective to remember what is really important in the long run.
Now, you try it.
My issue: ____________________________________________________________________
My top strengths: ___________ __________ __________
1st. strength How can I use it with this issue? __________________
2nd. strength How can I use it with this issue? __________________
3rd. strength How can I use it with this issue? __________________
“Leave the World a Bit Better”
“Nowhere is your uniqueness clearer than with your signature strengths. The concept of signature strengths is an important part of the VIA Classification. These are the strengths that are strongest or most prominent in your own strengths profile. With over 5.1 million possible combinations in your top five strengths, these are the elements of your character that warrant your closest attention. They hold great potential. Ultimately, they are likely to be the strengths that matter most to you” [Niemiec and McGrath]
Each of us comes to this life with a unique purpose and your unique combination of strengths gives you the wherewithal to perform your unique purpose, to give your best in Service to the world in the way that you are uniquely prepared to do. (And that, I promise, is the last time I’ll use the word unique in this article.)
Learn your Signature Strengths, then find ways to use them to benefit yourself and to benefit others. When you use your strengths to help others, you leave your own personal mark on your world. And that’s how you embrace your Excelerated Life™!
Have you used one or more of your Signature Strengths in the aid of someone else?
How did it go?
Share your experience by leaving a comment below.
Excelerated Strengths™ — discovering and using your Signature Strengths — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Biswas-Diener, Robert and Ben Dean. Positive Psychology Coaching. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009.
Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012.
Niemiec, PhD., Ryan and Robert E McGrath, PhD. The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality. Cincinnati, Ohio: VIA Institute on Character, 2019.
Polly, Shannon and Kathryn Britton. Character Strengths Matter: How To Live A Full Life. Positive Psychology News, LLC, 2015.