Positive Psychology: 5 Ways to Understand Your Strengths

Do you know what it takes to make someone go vacant (The Hard drive is busy processing kind of vacant…)?  All you have to do is ask them “Can you tell me what your strengths are?” Then watch. I give you permission to try it as an experiment.

Uh…” is usually the response. Interestingly, “Uh” is a real word. I did not know that. Uh is is defined as an “Inarticulate sound.” That pretty much sums up about half of my adult life, and just about every Friday night. Uhhhh.


Now try it yourself. Stop reading and write down 3-5 of your strengths. How easy was that?

Why are strengths so hard to identify?

Dictionary.com lists 12 different understandings of the English language word strength. The first is defined as the state of being strong; bodily or muscular power; vigor. A strength is something that you have ability for and that you enjoy doing, you have vigor while you complete the task.

“Knowing your strengths can help you make personal, relationship and career choices that lead to you being happier.”

Think about it this way. You may be able to curl 50 pound dumbbells the same way that I can curl a pound of butter. You may be physically strong, but what about if you hate exercising? Curls may not be your strength. You may have other strengths like being hard working, persistent and never sick. Knowing your strengths can help you make personal, relationship and career choices that lead to you being happier. Hmm, butter. Can you put butter on bacon? (Uhhh, focus may not be one of my main strengths…)


“We do too much self-criticizing and work too hard to just maintain the life that we have. Why is it so difficult to think about our strengths or about the ways in which we are doing well?”

People find it difficult to discover their strengths. I think it is because we do too much self-criticizing and we work too hard to just maintain the life that we have. Why is it so difficult to think about our strengths or about the ways in which we are doing well? Humans are the top of the food chain, we are innovators, we are creative, we can make meaning out of the worst circumstances… and yet ask most of us what we are good at and we go vacant, “Uhhh.”

We see bad news every day. Sadly, bad news is more familar than good news. When will your good news finally get the attention it deserves? Why not today? Is it possible that the more you look, the easier it is to see your own strengths?

Here are a few things that I have tried and they have helped me to know myself better. Taken together, the following can help you understand more about your strenghts:

  1. If you want to discover your strengths, pay attention to other people’s strengths. Tell someone each day one thing you noticed that was a strength.
  2. For seven days, spend 5 minutes and think about what you enjoyed about your day. It could be that you enjoyed being outside, enjoyed the company of a friend or family member, enjoyed laughing, enjoyed a hobby, enjoyed working on a difficult task.
  3. Pay attention when you have to work hard at a task. A few examples are when you are learning a new photo editing software, working at a specific style of painting, learning to drive, problem solving, or working to improve how you think about yourself.  When you have to work hard at something and it “clicks,” that is usually because you have found a way to apply your strengths. How did you figure it out? How did you learn the steps? How did you remember the steps? How are you at teaching others about what you have learned?
  4. Strengths also bubble up in relationships with other people. Ask two or three of your closest friends or family what they see as 3-5 of your strengths.
  5. Try a strengths test. The VIA – Values in Action values survey is a free online test that you can use to help you understand more about your strengths. Once you complete the test, you can get a free basic print out or a more advanced paid version.

Undersanding Your Strengths can Change Your Life

When you put all of this together, you should have better understanding of your strengths. Knowing and using your strengths can change you and can help you to make an impact on the world around you:

  1. You will be more happy – because you have a better understanding of your unique contribution. You will have more energy and more drive. Happiness follows decisions that are in line with your strengths, your values and your sense of meaning.
  2. You will improve how you problem solve – because you are clearer about what you need and where you can help.
  3. You will make different decisions – you have more information about how you work, about how you manage stress and about what is important to you.
  4. You will grow and expand – by exploring different ways to express your strenghts and being intentional when you do projects that are not within your primary strengths. Struggle is healthy when we know how it is contributing to our growth.
  5. You  will make a different difference – you will have more energy and more clarity about how you can improve a situation or about the impact you are having on others.
  6. You will have more fun – Life is too short. Working hard at what is important to you is how life matters. Research has shown that reading what I write can make you 25% happier. See, it is working already.

The Bed of Life?

We often hear the phrase, “On your death bed.” I am happy to report that most of us will not die in bed. There are many other strange ways we could die: bug bites, tornados, fireworks and lightning strikes. I don’t know about you, but I would rather die living life than dreaming about what I might do if I wake up again.

On your death bed, I hope you won’t open up and say “Uhhh.” A life you will be proud of is built one day at a time. It is a life built by understanding and developing yourself, and by making the world a little better every day.

Keep it real.

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