Foundation Habit 3: Living strong [a quick guide to finding your strengths and knowing how to use them to stay resilient]
NB: This article forms part of a series on habits for happiness to help you live your best life. The initial 3 habits are foundations for a happy life and set the framework for the 12 habits of happiness.
It’s likely, if you are a reader of this site, you are a woman working hard in a profession. You may be a mother of one or many children. You are a high achiever. This probably means you use your brain and thoughts in high level ways, setting goals and analyzing how well you are doing.
In this process of planning, doing and thinking, it’s possible you may come across areas you want to improve. These are things you want to stop doing or things you want to do more of to build your life, success and happiness.
The problem with success
Somewhere in this process, we begin to notice the things we don’t do so well and want to get better at. This is ok when we want to learn and grow in an area of life or work. But when we stay in this zone of the ‘what’s not right’ versus the ‘what is good’, we notice the creep of defeat and exhaustion swimming through our emotions and thoughts.
If this creeping worn out feeling of ‘not quite successful enough’ envelops your day, let’s consider a different way: finding and using your strengths.
I’m reading a book at the moment by Rick Hanson titled ‘Resilient’. The book is about positive neuroplasticity and developing 12 vital inner strengths. If you would like to take a look at Rick Hanson’s work, you can view his website here.
With my article this week I’d like to encourage you with the following words from the book’s summary:
These Days it’s hard to count on the world outside. So it’s vital to grow strengths inside such as grit, gratitude, and compassion- the keys to resilience and to lasting well-being in a changing world.Citation: Resilient by Rick Hanson, PhD
How your life becomes happier and hopeful when you live with a focus on the best of you.
Being strong in the assurance of your personality, and what is working, allows weaknesses to tag behind. Mistakes and shortcomings are in your peripheral vision. You give them a cursory hello and set off with purpose and joy.
The habit of finding and using your strengths: making the best of who you are, what you have, and your ability to use this for your best life
This is a habit that wakes you up with hope. It brings joy. It gives contentment. It clarifies what you love and aim for. It removes the clutter from your thoughts. It simplifies your life. It brings peace to the day.
This habit requires thinking and doing to benefit your life. The thinking part is becoming aware. The doing is using the habit.
The habit of living to your strengths is a way of living. But what happens if our minds are pre-occupied with our weaknesses?
The problem of purely focusing on our weaknesses
Traditional psychology has focused on resolving weakness and healing pathology. There is merit and importance in this for mental illness and dysfunction in daily life, however the discipline of positive psychology promotes wellbeing and adds to traditional psychology. Positive psychology asks questions such as;
- What makes people resilient?
- What makes life worth living?
- What makes people thrive?
- What leads to wellbeing?
Positive psychology posits that simply removing suffering doesn’t automatically create wellness and happiness.
I think we need awareness of weakness and strength. When we acknowledge our weakness, this makes us human and people relate to us. We notice our suffering and find ways to relieve it. We Seek the professional help we need for trauma and distress, and at the same time, we build happiness habits that grow the activities and abilities we have to increase our wellbeing and love of life. This is where strengths come in. The beginning is preparing our minds for strength.
Living from a mindset of strengths
Rick Hanson describes strengths as “mental resources like determination, self-worth, and kindness” which make us resilient.
He explains the impact of using our mental resources is strong because we can’t control our bodies or world as well as we can our thoughts and metal capacities.
An article at positive psychology program defines our strengths as:
inherent potentials that influence our thoughts, emotions and actions. They define who we are and determine our uniqueness.
A summary of strengths:
- They are your innate abilities. If you try to emulate someone elses strengths, your ship may travel off course. By using your strengths, you will have more chance of choosing a course that works and makes the best of your personality.
- Strengths impact on the way we think, feel and behave. This is huge. Your thoughts and emotions can be steered in healthy ways when you know your strengths. They are the unique you, for the purpose of building your best self, life and relationships.
- Knowing your strengths allows you to sit close to your resources and skills and not as close to your weaknesses.
- They are the time saving you who wastes less time feeling bad about weakness so you have room and time for enjoying your strengths.
3 steps to a strengths mindset (give power to your strengths so there are less surges of power directed to weakness)
- Become aware of your strengths so you can use them.
- Accept weakness as a strength because they remind you of your humanness.
- Live to your strengths in daily simple ways.
But why do this?
We may understand in our heads we have strengths and potential for living as the best version of ourselves. We’ve achieved academically and constructed a career with our best effort. But living aware of this can be challenging when we are busy or stressed. We need a heart awareness of our strengths. This is not just “I’m good at…” but “I’m inherently gifted for …”. It’s is a deeper understanding of our innate “who we are” versus only the “ what I can do”.
My hope is when you bring your strengths to the surface, you will live with greater purpose, clarity and hope.
4 benefits to defining and using your strengths?
- You feel happier with daily tasks because you reach into your bag of strengths to tackle the day. In short, you have more confidence. This is because you’re not trying to be someone else to get the job done.
- By using your unique strengths, you will become aware of your purpose and then add meaning to each day. You are less likely to negatively compare your life purpose to the lives of other people.
- You gain clarity and are better able to design your preferred life, set goals, and take action to reach your goals.
- You develop patterns of thinking and feeling that are in line with your strengths and values. Your life is authentic and meaningful. Your thoughts are inspiring because they line up with your unique self.
Wellbeing in hard times using your strengths (what research can tell us):
In 2016, researchers at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands looked at what preserves wellbeing during times of stress, anxiety or depression. This is what they found about the benefits of using strengths to stay resilient and happy:
- Personal strengths provide a buffer against emotional pain and provide a way to preserve mental wellbeing. These strength that stood out the most was humor.
- When people experience depression or anxiety, planning external strengths, such as social connection or time with pets, preserves wellbeing.
- Being involved in meaningful work or activity added to resilience and wellbeing, even when adverse psychological states were present.
The problem is, when we are battling negative emotions it’s harder keeping our sense of humor, maintaining our activities, and enjoying people around us. But the research above suggests these are the things we need to keep doing. To help with this, aim to discover your strengths.
4 questions to ask for becoming aware of your strengths
- What are your outer resources? Who do you have around you for support and friendship?
- How have you coped in the past with difficult experiences and emotions? What actions did you take to lift you up and out? For example, a friend criticized you but you talked yourself around with encouraging thoughts and went for a relaxing walk.
- Were there times in the past when you could have experienced a decline in your happiness and wellbeing but managed to stay happy? What was happening at that time? What supports did you have? Examples here could be you have a good level of insight into your emotions and engaged in gratitude journaling or called a friend for a chat.
- Can you recall a time you had a bad day or failed at a task but managed to laugh about it with someone close to you?
- What is a situation recently that upset you and how could you see the humor in it. This may not always be appropriate in immediate trauma, but for a broken dishwasher, a poor presentation at work, or being stuck in traffic, humor can work well.
A list of strengths to consider
An article from Positive Psychology Program describes strengths as your areas of opportunity discovered through the challenges of life. Below I have adapted my own list based on my life and things I’ve found to build my own hope and effort. But I have added in some from the resource above. This is not exhaustive and I encourage you to add to your own list of strengths.
- Courage to takes risks and try new things.
- Humor and seeing things lightly to loosen the heaviness
- Adventurous exploration of the world around you. A willingness to learn and see beyond what is only physically seen. To imagine and dream.
- Perseverance and steadfastness
- Joy ( versus happiness which is dependent on outer circumstances. Joy is persisting in hope during trials)
- Love, despite conflict and misunderstanding
- Self awareness of what is triggering and upsetting. Of what sends you down not up. Of what sends you up not down.
- Self control to think before you speak and imagine future consequences
- A pioneering spirit to plan, believe, hope and take action.
- Optimism that you’ve survived before and will thrive again. That pain is surmountable and pain brings lessons of what to do and what not to do.
Journaling for the week:
- Add a title to your journal on a new page “Strengths”. Freely write for a few minutes. To do this, think of your biggest instances of difficulty and how you are able to approach them with joy and confidence.
- What innate biological personality strengths do you have? Things such as gentleness, kindness to rude people, hard working, peaceful, energetic. Etc.
 Bos EH, Snippe E, de Jonge P, Jeronimus BF (2016) Preserving Subjective Wellbeing in the Face of Psychopathology: Buffering Effects of Personal Strengths and Resources. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150867. doi:10. 1371/jorunal.pone.015867
 https://positivepsychologyprogram.com (for other articles on strengths)