As the end of the year fast approaches, I’ve been aware of things being not quite right within myself. I’ve been trying to check in with myself more and sit with how I’m feeling rather than pushing things back down and keeping on moving.
This coincided with some research I was undertaking for my new keynote address on Disrupting Yourself for Better Self-Care and I re-looked at the importance of using your strengths. The great thing about doing the work I do is that I often learn so much about myself whilst working with others to help them understand how to perform and their best and thrive.
What’s been revealed? Unsurprisingly my feelings of anxiety and discontent are linked with not being true to myself and compromising on one of my key strengths. I’m not being me enough!
One of the very practical tools I find really valuable to help understand strengths is the VIA Character Strengths tool (Peters and Seligman, 2004). It’s a free, online assessment that’s worth doing if you haven’t looked at it before. They define character strengths as being, “the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave.” They reflect who you are at your core and are key to you being your best self.
The researchers discovered 24 Character Strengths that fall under one of six broad Virtue Categories, which are universal across cultures and nations. We all possess all 24 character strengths in different degrees. The six Virtue Categories are:
Even though I’ve used this tool many times for myself and for clients and teams, I still have many blind spots. Whilst I was researching for my keynote and was re-visiting some of the material, a blinding flash of the obvious hit me.
I haven’t been using one of my key strengths across the whole of my life. I’m out of balance. So what’s the result? As my model below shows, I’m experiencing the phenomenon known as feeling “flat as a tack”. How good would it be in 2020 if you could be feeling in-flow and fabulous more often? How do you do this? The secret is to be more you!
Please read on to discover how to get in the Mojo Zone of feeling in-flow and fabulous and how to get out of the Misery Zone of feeling flat as a tack.
Feeling in-flow and fabulous – This is the Mojo Zone! You’re able to be you. You’re aware of your top strengths and what you’re like at your best and you’re applying your strengths daily in your life, at work and at home. You feel engaged, energised and you enjoy what you do. Positive psychology expert Michelle McQuaid references the work of Dr Robert Biswas-Diener. She says the secret to using your strengths effectively is to ensure you’re choosing the right strength, in the right amount and at the right time. Dr Biswas-Diener calls this the “golden mean” of our strengths i.e. we’re not underusing our strengths nor are we overusing them (which can also be detrimental to ourselves and/or others in our life).
Feeling flat as a tack – This is the Misery Zone. You lack self-awareness about your strengths and what you’re like at your best or you have a blindspot. In addition, you’re not regularly using one or more of your key strengths. It’s easy to become stuck when you’re in this zone and feel like there’s something not quite right or to feel low on energy. You’re unaware that to turn things around you need to find ways to understand or reconnect with your strengths and apply them regularly in your life i.e. you need to find ways to be more you! There’s so much positive growth ahead of you if you accept the challenge to do the inner work and to develop your understanding and get really clear about what you’re like at your best. Doing the VIA Strengths survey would be a great start for your development and to proactively search for ways to apply your strengths at work and in your personal life. It might be picking up a new hobby in your personal life. You might decide to have a conversation with your boss to identify ways together that you can apply your strengths at work more often and have your workplace’s support along the way.
Feeling frustrated – This is the Malcontent Zone. You’re self-aware enough to understand the importance of using your strengths, you’re aware of what your top strengths are but you’re not able to find enough ways to apply them regularly or you’re holding them back and dimming your light. My encouragement to you is to re-visit your strengths (perhaps through the VIA Strengths tool) and remember times where you were in the Mojo Zone. What were you doing then? What could you learn from what worked in the past and apply to today? What’s holding you back from using your strengths?
Feeling Flippant - This is the Mindless Zone. You’re able to use your strengths regularly so you feel good but you take this for granted and are oblivious as to the reason. Therefore if something changes and you can’t use your strengths you’ll quickly move to the Misery Zone and won’t understand what’s happened or how you can get yourself back to feeling good. In this zone, you might also be missing out on some opportunities to feel even better by using your strengths in the right amount and at the right time. Your opportunity right now is to do some work to develop your self-awareness and understand your strengths. Taking the VIA Strengths Inventory and some of the reflection activities they recommend would be a great start.
So why have I been in the Misery Zone? One of the key strengths in the VIA is Vitality/Zest – it’s under the Virtue Category of Courage. Courage describes strengths that help you exercise your will and face adversity. Ironically for this year, my theme for myself was Courage and I have these words written on a sticky note on my computer to remind me.
The VIA Strengths definition of Vitality/Zest is approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things half-way or half-heartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated. Zest is directly related to physical and psychological wellness. If you have Zest you are more likely to view your work as a calling in life, in that the work is deeply fulfilling, meaningful and purposeful.
For those of you who know me well, you will understand I do bring a lot of Vitality and Zest to my work. However, I realised my blind spot was that I haven’t been applying the strength of Zest enough in my personal life recently. When I think back to when I last had Zest and Vitality it was when I was being really physically active, doing boot camps, raising my heart rate regularly. I was also less of a hermit on the social front and more of an organiser.
The great thing about understanding more about your strengths and thinking about applying them in your everyday life is that this process helps you make decisions about what to focus your precious time and attention on.
So this week I made a decision. I want the Zest and Vitability back. So off to boot camp on a 37-degree day I went where I puffed my little heart out - and felt so fabulous as a result! And I’ve booked into Strength Camp tomorrow. I’m also considering a big life decision through the lens of adventure and not doing things half-heartedly to be more true to myself.
So in 2020 what would be different for you if you could apply your strengths more regularly and be even more you? What would life be like – for you, for those important people in your life? What’s one action you could take to get you closer to the Mojo Zone? What’s the cost if you do nothing?
Onwards and upwards!