For Happier Self-Improvement, Focus On Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Brilliance | Dec. 16, 2017

If you're anything like us, then you practically put the "pro" in "Tony Hawk Pro Skater" back in the '90s. But when it comes to actually standing up on a real-life chunk of wood with wheels attached — well, that's a completely different matter. Here's the good news. Research has shown that working on your strengths makes you happier than trying to improve your weaknesses. So from now on, when we talk about getting back to the grind, we're talking pixelated darkslides only.

From Being Good To Feeling Great

Nobody likes being bad at something. So if there's a blank space in your skill set, then it's only natural that you'd want to work on it. And let's be clear: we're not trying to dissuade people from bettering themselves however they see fit. But it's worthwhile to remember the parable of the goldfish and the bicycle: as long as the fish measures her self-worth by her ability to ride a bike, she'll never be happy.

One 2012 study from the Ohio State University specifically looked into two different therapy models for people diagnosed with depression: capitalization (therapy related to their strengths) and compensation (therapy related to their weaknesses). After 16 weeks of this type of therapy, the subjects who had been able to capitalize on their strengths out-happied the ones who had been compensating for their weaknesses — that's based both on their self-assessments and those of their therapists.

Another study directed this line of questioning at the psychological states of job-seekers. Basically, unemployed people were given access to career-counseling. Some of these subjects experienced conventional counseling, while others got a deluxe model that included work focused on their strengths. In this case, both groups improved in the areas they were working on, but only those with a strength-based approach also demonstrated an increase in self-esteem. So the next time you feel yourself slamming against a mental wall, it might be worthwhile to ask if you really need to bike around when you can swim so well.

Identifying Strengths

It's all well and good to know that making your strengths stronger is better for your mental well-being, but what if you're not sure where your strengths lie? First off, give yourself some credit. Think of the things that you enjoy doing, or, if you're feeling less charitable, think of the things that you hate to see being done "wrong." You can probably come up with a few activities that you can reliably knock out of the park.

But let's think bigger. Assuming you aren't just trying to become the best Tony Hawk Pro Skater ever (that title's taken, thank you), it will help to identify the broader traits that shape your skills. Meet the VIA Character Strengths test. You can register for free, then take a 15-minute survey designed to identify exactly where you shine the brightest. Traits include Creativity, Humility, Judgment, and [cough, cough] Curiosity.

When you look at your strengths from this broader perspective, it's easier to fit your more tangible goals into a mold suited for your personality. So an aspiring pop star who's especially creative might focus their time on songwriting, one with a strong drive to persevere knows that stardom waits in the practice room, and a born leader can start recruiting back-up vocalists. Basically, they all have their own roads to success, as long as they also work on their ability to put different inflections on the word "baby."

Looking to zero in on your strengths? Check out "StrengthsFinder 2.0" by Tom Rath. The audiobook is free with a trial with Audible. When you listen or buy, your purchase supports Curiosity.

Watch And Learn: A Different Perspective On Self-Improvement

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