As humans, it’s often easy for us to focus on the negative – what we lack, what we can’t do, our inability to feel a certain way. But the reverse of celebrating and using personal strengths has a positive impact on mental health; there’s even a therapy approach for this, Strengths-based therapy! This approach encourages people to look on the brighter side, change their perspective, and find value in what they can do.
Identifying personal strengths - even strengths that seem “ordinary”or “common” – gives people another tool to use as they journey towards better mental health by shifting the viewpoint towards the positive.
Read on to learn more about strengths-based thinking, how to identify your personal strengths, and how to use these strengths in your daily life.
Personal Strengths Exercise
Being able to leverage your strengths begins with being able to identify them. Follow the steps here to identify your personal strengths – and learn how to use these strengths to your advantage in your mental health journey!
1. Choose a starting domain
Because our lives are multi-dimensional, you’ll have different strengths in different parts of it. To get specific about your strengths, start with one domain (and plan to look at the others later!). This will narrow your focus to give you more bite-sized strengths to think about.
Here are three domains, though there may be others to pick from as well:
- Relationships: As social beings, we have different types of relationships with others: friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, sexual relationships, and more. Perhaps you may want to look at your relationship with your partner or your siblings - you’ll find different strengths depending on the connection, which gives you plenty to think about!
- Professional/career: This domain could include your job, your overall career trajectory, even past or present education. Many people find fulfillment through work, so if they aren’t happy in their jobs, unhappiness leaks into their personal lives. By focusing on the positives of the work you do, you may be able to change your viewpoint about career success - and find greater comfort in your personal life.
- Areas of personal fulfillment Take a look at your hobbies, your favorite things to learn about, what you do in your free time. These are the things that make you you! If you find fulfillment from things outside of your job or studies, this might be a great area to focus on.
2. Ask yourself exploratory questions
Once you’ve picked your domain, it’s time to get thinking! Reflect on the following questions to further your understanding of what you’re good at or what comes naturally to you.
- What are you good at doing in this domain? What comes easy to you that might not come easy to others?
- Why are you good at it? Have you always been good at it? What made you good at it? How do you know you’re good at it?
- What do you enjoy about this? How does it make you feel when you do it? What gives you energy or motivation?
- What is it about you that makes you good at this thing? What characteristics or qualities do you have that make you good at it?
- What moments in your life within this domain do you feel proud of? How does being good at this impact your success in life?
- What was the best experience you’ve ever had? What makes a day a good day for you?
- What are your goals for the future? What do you hope to accomplish?
When answering these questions, think of core strengths rather than specific skills. For example, you may be good at basketball, but your core strength is athleticism or dedication to practice.
As another example, you may be excellent at making other people feel comfortable around you, but the core strength could be kindness or patience.
By calling out the core strength rather than the skill, you’ll attribute the success or achievement to yourself, not to your actions. You’re identifying the pieces of your core that make you special.
3. List your strengths
After spending time with these questions, list out your strengths either on paper or aloud. By putting your strengths out in the open (rather than floating around your head), you’re explicitly taking responsibility for them. You’ll also be able to reference a lengthy list of what makes you special whenever you need!
Here are some example of what a list of strengths might look like:
Examples of strengths for relationships
- I have a great sense of humor and can make people laugh
- I’m strong because I open up to people and make myself vulnerable with my partner
- I’m good at finding the best in people because I’m forgiving
Examples of strengths for professional life
- I’m ambitious because I want the best for myself
- I’m a good listener for my coworkers
- I’m really skilled at graphic design because I’ve worked hard to be artistic
Examples of strengths for areas of personal fulfillment
- I’m a good runner because I’m mentally tough and don’t give up
- How far I hiked shows my dedication to adventure and nature
- I love learning about British literature because I value history’s lessons
By making a list like this, you’ll not only identify things that you’re good at but why you’re good at them. Your strengths list isn’t just a list of accomplishments, it’s a collection of what makes you unique.
4. Notice bodily sensations and emotions as you reflect on these strengths
As you write down these strengths, pay attention to anything that comes up for you. Do you feel excited about these strengths? Do you notice yourself feeling more awake or find yourself smiling? Are there still lingering doubts at the back of your mind? Is it difficult for you to feel connected to these strengths?
Part of this exercise is to begin feeling comfortable with this new, positive perspective. It may feel awkward or boastful at first, however spending time appreciating who you are is a great step towards feeling more comfortable in your skin - and may be a protective factor as you take more steps down your mental health road.
5. Practice spotting and reflecting on your strengths on a regular basis
Now that you’ve practiced reflecting on and writing out your strengths, take this exercise with you as you go through your daily routines! Take a moment every hour to identify other strengths or become mindful about appreciating when you accomplish something.
You could put this list on your mirror, next to your desk, or in your diary so you see it every day.
Positivity - and strengths-based thinking - will then become a habit, giving you perhaps a much different perspective on yourself and what you do.
6. Develop steps to further develop your strengths!
Once you’ve made this a habit, it’s time to think about how to take these strengths one step further. Here are a few ideas to try out:
- Spend time noticing other people’s strengths
- Share your strengths with a loved one to further process through why these strengths are important to you
- Make an artistic representation of your strengths
- Make goals related to your strengths
Benefits of reflecting on your strengths
There are many benefits to practicing strengths-based thinking – which is why so many therapy styles include strengths as a main factor. These benefits could be physical, emotional, psychological and thinking in this way might even impact your relationships or work life.
One major example comes from psychologist Martin Seligman. His research team asked study participants to reflect on themselves “at their best.” The participants thought about their strengths and told stories about their strengths in action. At the end of the study, their reported happiness and their depressive symptoms decreased.
Another study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people using their personal strengths in the workplace found their experience to be more meaningful.
In thinking about strengths, having positive self-talk in your head leaves less room for negative self-talk, which may help boost your mood and self-esteem. You may also find yourself using your strengths from one domain (such as patience in relationships) in other domains (like patience in your sewing).
Other resources to explore
If you found this exercise to be helpful, consider checking out a few other strengths-based exercises:
- Best self visualization This exercise asks you to think about yourself down the road and how you would like to be. For example, “In five years, I would like to be a manager at work and have a dog.”
- Reflected Best Self By figuring out what your strengths are, you’ll be able to showcase those strengths more easily - and by using your strengths, you’ll find yourself reaching a higher potential than if you focused on what you lack. This is a great exercise to consider implementing in the workplace.
- Strengths Finder A popular choice for those interested in personality assessments, Strengths Finder is an excellent program to figure out what components of your personality are more pronounced than others. With this information, you can play to these strengths across multiple environments.
- Write your story. What made your strengths what they are today? Reflect back on or journal about formative experiences or how your strengths manifested throughout time.
- Positive mindfulness. Find a meditation that focuses on self-love or gratitude. Share thanks for what makes you a great person!
- Strengths-based therapy. If talking through your strengths sounds like a good way to learn more about yourself, finding a therapist that focuses on strengths-based modalities might be a perfect way to process your strengths aloud.
Whatever your strengths are, take a moment to celebrate them! You likely use these strengths every day, so it’s time to acknowledge them and recognize that your strengths make you a unique person - and they might even make you happier!
- Research Gate, https://bit.ly/2PLYzsO
- Jobzology, https://bit.ly/2OrGAY4