To reap the benefits of learning to use your signature strengths, use them every day. The benefits of increased positivity make it worthwhile to consciously take steps to discover and use your signature strengths.
How Signature Strengths Helped With Goals
Are you using your Signature Strengths? Do you know what they are? Here is an example of how using their strengths helped some college students meet their goals.
In the United Kingdom, researchers recruited 240 college students to participate in a study on goal-setting.
Each participant took a strengths assessment to identify their Signature Strengths, the five or six strengths they scored highest in out of a total of twenty-four. Then, they listed three goals they had for the semester, for example, “Don’t drink during the week” or “Make the school football team” or “Attend most lectures”. The students were then asked to think about how much they had used their signature strengths so far during the semester in their day-to-day lives. Finally, they wrote down how they had used their strengths specifically in pursuing their three goals.
After six weeks, the researchers and students met and the students were asked the same questions about how they were using their signature strengths. Then they reported on how they were progressing on their three goals.
Four weeks later, they met again and went over the same questions. The students who had used their signature strengths reported making greater progress toward reaching their goals. Not only that, using their signature strengths appeared to be connected to an overall feeling of well-being as well. These students reported that they were more engaged with their goals and had more energy for pursuing them. [Kageyama]
Why Learn To Use Signature Strengths?
We are prone to spend time and energy thinking about and trying to improve our weaknesses. However, research shows that developing our strengths is a more direct route to success. [Milotich] As the UK study points out, using our signature strengths in goal pursuit increases our ability to reach our goals. But the effects of using strengths go far deeper than that.
Scientists tell us that our brains are wired with a “negativity bias”. A positive event and a negative event do not have the same weight. [Grenville-Cleave] We are more likely to remember an insult than a compliment. We see all the “bad” drivers we encounter during our daily commute but seldom notice the “good” drivers. And this has an evolutionary basis. We were more apt to live and procreate when we noticed the dangers and risks surrounding us.
But this tendency to focus on the negative, which helped our ancestors survive, does not allow us to thrive. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading researcher in the field of Positive Psychology, has identified a positivity to negativity ratio of 3:1, three positive experiences or interactions to every negative one, as a “tipping point” to move from languishing to flourishing. [Fredrickson] Consciously using your signature strengths is one method to increase positivity,
Our particular combination of strengths makes us unique. The number of various combinations of strengths is so large as to be practically infinite.
If you want to see the impact your strengths have in your life, do this thought experiment.
Select one of your signature strengths.
Pinpoint ways this strength has helped you at work, at play, in relationships, etc.
Now, imagine you cannot use this strength for the next month. For example, if your strength is love, for the next month you cannot show or feel love for anyone. No words of love to your spouse, children, family, or friends. No physical shows of affection – no hugs or loving pats.
What would that be like? how would you feel? [McQuaid]
How Can Learning To Use My Signature Strengths Help Me?
Learning to use your strengths more intentionally can have an uplifting effect on your life. Consider the goal-setting example in the opening story. Not only did the students who called on their signature strengths make better progress on their goals, their overall feeling of well-being and being engaged in their lives improved.
Research shows that when you do something you’re good at and that you enjoy doing, for example, using one of your strengths, you are more confident, more energized, more engaged, and your sense of well-being increases [McQuaid]
Learning To Use Signature Strengths
To be clear, you are most likely using your signature strengths now, but you may not be aware of them. So learning to use them may simply mean becoming more conscious of ways to draw on them.
One way to be purposeful about using a strength is to create a strengths habit. Here’s how.
- Pick one of your signature strengths and develop a way you can use it during the course of your day.
- Create a cue to remind you to do your selected behavior or tie it to an existing habit.
- On cue, use your strength for at least 10 minutes.
- Reward yourself immediately after you do the behavior.
Suppose you want to develop your strength of zest. Living with zest means you approach situations with enthusiasm and energy. So to improve your energy, you decide to do 10 – 15 minutes of activity first thing in the morning. Getting up is your cue. After you get up, put on the coffee, then do some light calisthenics, stretching, or yoga for ten or fifteen minutes. Then reward yourself with that first cup of morning coffee.
Or you might want to try the ACE approach, as developed by Sonya Tinsley-Hook at All Our Strengths. [Tinsley-Hook] ACE is the acronym for Attention, Conversation, Exercise. [Tinsley-Hook]
Attention: Pay attention to your signature strengths and learn more about them by taking the strengths assessment at the VIA website.
Conversation: Talk with others about your strengths. Share your signature strengths with the people you are close to and ask them: “How have you seen this strength in me?” Encourage them to take the VIA Strengths test as well and discuss their results.
Exercise: It’s helpful to know your strengths but they are designed to be used. For ideas on how to use your signature strengths, check out “Strengths Basics” on the VIA website.
Lesser Strengths Are Not Weaknesses
It’s important to remember that the strengths at the bottom of the list are not weaknesses, they are your “lesser strengths”. These are still available for you to draw on, but require more thought and conscious effort to use them.
There may be one or more of your lesser strengths that appeal to you and that you’d like to use more consistently. If that’s true for you, use the habit exercise or the ACE exercise to improve your use of the strength(s).
You can also use your existing signature strengths to develop your lesser strengths. For example, suppose you want to improve your strength of teamwork. One of your signature strengths is perspective, the ability to see the big picture, to listen carefully, and to offer wise counsel. Bring this strength to your team, perhaps to bring its purpose into clearer focus and to be supportive of the other members.
Putting Ideas Into Action
Naturally, the first step in learning to use your signature strengths is to take the VIA Character Strengths survey if you have not already done so.
Then, once you know what your signature strengths are, try this exercise from Martin Seligman’s Flourish:
- Designate a time in your schedule to exercise one of your signature strengths in a new way.
- Be sure to create a clearly defined opportunity to use it. For example,
- If your strength is kindness, set aside one day a week to do three random acts of kindness.
- To use your strength of self-regulation, create a tiny habit to begin working out in the mornings.
- If you identify love of learning as a strength, join a book club.
- Write or journal about the experience. These questions from Dr. Seligman can help:
- “How did you feel before, during, and after engaging in the activity?”
- “Was the activity challenging? Easy?”
- “Did time pass quickly?”
- “Did you lose your sense of self-consciousness?”
- “Do you plan to repeat the exercise?”
The Path To Flourishing
To reap the benefits of using your signature strengths, use them every day. To some extent, you may be doing this already. as these are the strengths that come most naturally to you. However, the benefits of increased positivity make it worthwhile to consciously take steps to discover and use your signature strengths.
Becoming a happier, more positive person changes how your mind works. It widens your perspective so you see more possibilities. You become more flexible in your thinking. It helps you be resilient and allows you to bounce back more quickly from disappointments and difficulties. You’ll have more energy and more friends. Happier, more positive people are more productive, better leaders, and tend to make more money. They have stronger immune systems and are physically healthier.
Learning to use your signature strengths is not something you do once and then move on to other things. To get the full benefit, find ways to incorporate them into your daily pursuits. It’s one step in embracing your Excelerated Life™!
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.
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.
Kageyama, Ph.D., Noa. “Why It’s Important to Know (and Use) Your ‘Signature Strengths’.” Bulletproof Musician. Bulletproof Musician,. Web. February 19, 2022.
McQuaid, Michelle. “Develop Your Signature Strengths in 4 Steps.” Live Happy. Live Happy, LLC, November 6, 2017. Web. February 19, 2022.
Milotich, Mark. “Put Your Signature Strengths To Work.” Claxus. Claxus Management Consulting, August
30, 2013. Web. February 19, 2022.
Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Flourish. New York: Free Press, 2011.
Tinsley-Hook, Sonya. “So You’ve Taken the VIA Survey to Find Out Your Signature Strengths…Now What?”
All Our Strengths. Sonya Tinsley-Hook, April 24, 2020. Web. February 19, 2022.