At this time in the year, people often mention feeling a bit flat and uninspired. Those Christmas holidays feel like a distant memory, as do those New Year’s resolutions about the type of person you were going to be and the things you were going to do this year. So now’s a great time to shake things up again and give yourself a new challenge and sense of purpose! One great way to get yourself back on track is to identify your own signature strengths and how to apply them to your day-to-day life.
Signature strengths are those individual strengths and qualities that come naturally to you and feel like a “good fit”. The research into signature strengths shows the benefits of utilising our signature strengths; more time using these strengths has been associated with increased job satisfaction, lower perceived stress, increased wellbeing and positive emotion, and increased self-esteem.
The work on character strengths has identified 24 signature strengths which we may have to varying degrees. These 24 strengths have been identified as belonging to six different categories of strengths relative to different areas of our lives, such as interpersonal strengths or emotional strengths. The categories, and individual strengths within them, are:
- Cognitive strengths relating to the acquisition and use of knowledge. Includes individual strengths of creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning, and perspective.
- Emotional strengths relating to courage and the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of challenges. Includes individual strengths of bravery, perseverance, honesty, and zest.
- Interpersonal strengths around humanity and relationships with others. Includes strengths of love, kindness, and social intelligence.
- Strengths related to justice and civic responsibility, contributing to healthy community life. Includes strengths of teamwork, fairness, and leadership.
- Strengths that promote restraint and protect against excess. Includes strengths of forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation.
- Strengths that help to provide greater meaning and connect to the broader universe. Includes individual strengths of appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, and spirituality.
Keen to use your signature strengths more? Try this exercise. Think back over the last one or two weeks at work. What has been your least favourite task that you have to do at least semi-regularly? Now thinking about your top strengths as an individual, how could you bring these strengths to bear on this least favourite task? If you re-designed this task to showcase your signature strengths, what would you be doing and how would you be approaching the task? What effect do you think this might have? Now, next time you do this task, approach it in this new way by maximising your strengths in the situation.
Martin Seligman, a prominent psychologist in the area of positive psychology, gives the example of a grad student who had a part time job packing bags at the grocery store, and she hated it. Her top signature strength was emotional intelligence, so she reframed the task of packing bags as an opportunity to have the best social interaction possible with each customer.
Take another example common in some offices. Matt’s team have a lot of meetings, and often these meetings are dull and dominated by one or two people’s opinions. One of Matt’s signature strengths is fairness. Reframing these previously boring meetings as an opportunity to use his signature strength, Matt made it his mission to help others in the team to express their thoughts and opinions in these meetings. This new purpose helped Matt to feel more engaged, less bored, and more valuable to his team. Others noticed that they were more able to contribute, and therefore their engagement also increased.
Have a think about how you might apply your signature strengths, it may take a bit of creativity!
What about those of you who lead teams and manage others? What are the signature strengths of your staff? Can you support them to maximise these at work? Can you reframe important targets or performance indicators to fit with their strengths – knowing that in doing so, you are likely to increase their job satisfaction and engagement, and reduce their perceived stress.
Not sure what your strengths are? Have a go at the Values in Action Character Strengths survey at www.viacharacter.org/survey.