When I interviewed for medical school, about thirty years ago, I was asked, “What are your weaknesses?” As this was a common interview question, I was well prepared. As in any job interview, when asked about weaknesses, reframe them as positives. “I tend to be too conscientious, too honest, and too forthright.” “I don’t take off enough time for myself.” “I work too hard.” “I don’t take enough vacation time.” “I am a perfectionist!” Yup, that ought to get me into med school—and it did. But did it help me improve myself or become a happier person? No.
Those were the days of working on weaknesses; where our goal was to strive toward balancing strengths and weaknesses. After identifying shortcomings, you would try to improve them. The goal was “balance”.
Balance is still something for which we strive: balancing life, balancing our time, balancing work and home life, yin and yang. However, the need to work on our weaknesses may be something best left to our past. The field of positive psychology has redefined for us the relative importance of strengths.
There are hundreds of research studies demonstrating the benefits of focusing on strengths. Two of the most popular proponents of this concept are the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder tool and the Positive Psychology-based VIA (Values in Action) Survey. There are some commonalities as well as some important differences between these two strength assessments. A great description of the two types of assessments can be found in a Psychology Today article written by Dr. Ryan Niemiec. Dr Nimiec focuses on which of these assessments to use. He also has a great blog that I recommend for those interested in delving deeper into the world of character strengths.
Here’s my very brief summary of the differences—I have personally used both tools and find some benefit in each:
StrengthsFinder 2.0 focuses on thirty-four work-related talents and skills. Their for-profit organization does not release their in-house data which is based on polling and surveys.
VIA Survey focuses on twentyr core character or personality strengths irrespective of location (the top 5 strengths are known as your Signature Strengths). This survey, based on reliability and validity studies has both withstood and benefited from greater scrutiny in terms of research studies in scientific journals.
I would like to focus on the similarities and why you should do an assessment in the first place. Both of these assessments focus on positive contributions, virtues, and qualities of individuals, not on making up deficits. They both ask, “What’s right with you?” Science supports this approach. In fact, this is one of the most researched areas in Positive Psychology. Oftentimes it is difficult to make conclusive evidence-based statements in psychology. So prepare yourself because here comes a FACT:
One of the surest pathways to happiness is the identification and utilization of your highest character strengths. Using your Signature Strengths in unique ways gives you a happiness boost and decreases depression.
It makes sense. We each have abilities, talents, skills, and personality characteristics in which we excel. We have grown up using those strengths to accomplish our greatest achievements. These are typically innate aptitudes; incorporating them into our daily routine not only comes easily, but it comes with an incentive; internal and external rewards! Using these strengths are the sources for which we have received our greatest accolades. People notice us. We show proficiency. We strive for excellence and often achieve it. We are participating in activities that bring out the best in us. Could there possibly be a better way to spend your time?
Rather than devoting time to skills and characteristics that you don’t enjoy and are not fulfilling to you—i.e. your weaknesses, your time is valuable, focus on your strengths. This is a great way to facilitate positive relationships, goal-setting, work engagement, resilience, and find significant meaning in your life. If your weaknesses are not endangering your job, your relationships, or your health, or limiting your ability to excel in something that you care about, spend your time on your strengths. Get the most bang for your buck.
I too like the concept of yin and yang. However, when it comes to happiness, I say, “Screw balance! Let’s put a little more weight on the flourishing end of the stick.”
So let's begin by asking, "What is RIGHT with you?"
Be Well and Be Happy,