One of the things that regularly strikes me in conversations with mums, is that so many of us are reluctant to acknowledge our own strengths.
We’ve created some clever strategies for avoiding it. We deflect with humour, point out the things that are wrong with us, minimise our impact or effort, put it down to luck or chance, attribute it to someone else or even just change the subject.
Even at the best of times, we often don’t recognise, acknowledge or accept our own strengths. And then, in this phase of life where so much of our attention is dedicated to others, they can be even harder to see. You may not even feel like you really know who you are right now. In that case, you may wonder, how you can know your strengths if you don’t know who you are?
Some people feel that focusing too much on your strengths is prideful or elevating yourself above others. I’m not at all suggesting you need to do that. This is about knowing and accepting who you are and what you bring to the table.
Of course you have areas that need work. We all do. I believe there is value in knowing our “weaknesses”, especially if they are getting in our way, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s important for you to know right now is that we don’t need to be good at everything. NO ONE is. And there’s a whole school of thought out there that suggests we focus too much on our weaknesses. Instead, it’s suggested that we can succeed by focusing on and leveraging our strengths. By knowing what we bring to the table and bringing it!
What exactly is a strength?
Marcus Buckingham, a global researcher and thought leader on a strengths based approach, defines strengths this way:
Strengths are NOT the things we are good at, but they are the things that strengthen us. We look forward to doing them and they leave us energised, rather than depleted. This is different to the things we are good at, but hate doing.
When you do the activity, you feel effective and focused, you are drawn to it, and afterwards you feel fulfilled and authentic.
I love this definition, because, it shows the impact of our strengths on our lives. They energise us, motivate us and they come from passion. They feel natural, authentic and time flies when we do them. It’s not just about slaving away at something we don’t enjoy to become good at it (I’m imagining my school age self practicing the piano every morning as I type this). That’s a skill we’ve learned through practice and focus but it’s not a strength if we feel depleted by it (trust me, I felt totally depleted by piano exams!).
The other reason that I find this definition helpful, is that it encourages us to think more broadly that specific skills. You might be great at playing tennis, decorating cakes, cooking amazing meals for your family or keeping your garden beautiful. These are wonderful! But you might also be a great communicator, be particularly empathetic, be an avid learner, be great at creating harmony or be able to take charge of situations confidently.
Your strengths are the things that make you YOU. That you already have (and you have plenty). Not what you wish you were or what you admire in others. They are ways of thinking, feeling or behaving that are natural for you.
Why it’s a good idea to know and accept your strengths
Why is this all so important?
Well, I believe that self awareness is always a positive thing. The more you understand yourself, the better you can manage in the world. But let’s dive a little deeper into the benefits of knowing and accepting your strengths.
1. Improve your relationship with yourself
Focusing on your strengths helps you build a much more positive, loving and generous relationship with yourself. You are affirming yourself and it feels better.
Think about it in terms of your relationship with your partner. What happens when you spend all your time focused on your partner’s flaws? Does that help the relationship flourish? Of course it doesn’t. It makes problems “grow”, the connection weaken and fuels dissatisfaction. When you focus on your partner’s strengths, your relationship is stronger, more loving, connected, appreciative and more resilient. In the same way, it’s beneficial for us to focus on our own strengths.
2. Grow more
Contrary to popular belief, you grow the most in your areas of strength, not weakness. This is partly because you already have more “connections” in your brain around these areas, and also because want to use your strengths, which leads to practice and improvement. This doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to deal with your weaknesses, but your most significant growth opportunities are in your areas of strength.
3. Feel better daily
When you use your strengths daily, you will feel more confident, motivated, energetic and less stressed. You will be more resilient and creative. Once you are aware of your strengths, you can find opportunities to use them more often and this can create a much more fulfilling and satisfying life for you.
4. Connect authentically
Your strengths are part of the real you. When you are comfortable with them, you can authentically live and use them. You bring them to your relationships, and people get to know who you really are. I also firmly believe that the easiest way to be in relationship, is to just be yourself. That way, you don’t have to worry so much about what you say, how you say it, what the other person thinks or how you “should” present yourself. You are just consistently you.
5. Give your best and have a greater impact
Since your strengths are where you are most effective, you can give you best and increase the positive impact you have on the people around you by using them. You are most effective, productive and impactful when you are using your strengths.
Let me give you an example. One of my strengths is empathy and if you ask my step daughters and my husband, they will tell you that, over the years, I have often helped them understand their dad’s perspective better, and vice versa, by using this strength. This has helped us, as a family, navigate through disagreements, conflict and tension, and become so close and respectful of each other’s perspectives. Now, I’m not saying that I did this singlehanded. Of course, everyone had a role to play in that outcome, but I was able to bring my strength to the table (as the person who could often see both sides) and it helped!
How to identify your strengths
I’m pretty sure you’re an expert at finding your weaknesses. (Am I right?) However, many people find it challenging to identify their strengths. So, here are some options to get you started. You don’t need to do them all, just start with the one that feels most inspiring.
1. Write a Love it / Loathe it list
I love this approach from Marcus Buckingham. Just grab a piece of paper and make two columns – one called “love it” and the other called “loathe it”. As you go about your day (or even week) write down in the “love it” column, all the things you do that you look forward to, feel energised by and that feel natural. Write down in the “loathe it” column, the things that you dread, that you can’t seem to focus on or that leave you feeling depleted. You can also brainstorm this list on the spot, but if you allow yourself to add to it over time, you may find some strengths that you hadn’t thought of.
Try to look below the surface of some of these activities. For example, you may love meal planning, but not because it has anything to do with meals. Rather, being organised or planning could be your strength.
Use these journal prompts to reflect on your strengths:
- What are the things you love about YOU?
- What comes naturally to you?
- What are the personality traits that seem to help you along in life?
- What are the things you are doing when you lose track of time and feel like you are in flow?
- What are you doing when you’re at your best?
- What energises you?
3. Ask others
Even though Marcus says that we are the best judge of our own strengths, we all have blindspots, and many of us have been taught to focus on our weaknesses instead. So, it may be useful to collect and consider some feedback from people who know you well.
Select a number of people who know you well and have your best interests at heart, including your partner, kids, family members, friends or colleagues. Ask them to share with you what they think are 3 of your strengths. This may feel a little uncomfortable but it can be a very humbling and positive experience, so I encourage you to give it a try.
You have SO many strengths, lovely. Even if you can’t see them right now. And identifying and accepting these strengths as part of you, can be so beneficial. I truly desire for every mum to know how amazing she is and believe in herself, and understanding your strengths is an important part of this.
Do you know your strengths?
If yes, how you can find more opportunities to use these strengths everyday, for the benefit of yourself and the people around you.
If no, which of the above activities will you use to identify your strengths?
And lastly, if you need some examples of strengths to help you complete the activities, you can download a list here. Remember, this list is intended to help you gain clarity, and it is not at all exhaustive, so don’t be limited by it!