For most of us, discovering our strengths – those things we’re good at and actually enjoy doing – sounds like a good idea. After all a growing body of research suggests doing what we do best each day at work may help to improve our confidence, our performance and our happiness. But what happens if you complete a strengths assessment like the VIA Survey or Gallup StrengthsFinder, only to find that your results are neither what you want or need in your job?
“I sound like a nun!” complained a recent coaching client. The truth is there’s no guarantee that just because you’re good at something and enjoy doing it, these will be the strengths you’re excited to have. Repeatedly I see people who feel disappointed about how boring their strengths are, worried their strengths have nothing to do with their job, or just want completely different strengths like “self-regulation” to draw upon.
But if you don’t like your strengths is there really anything you can do to change them?
It appears researchers now agree that both our talents and character strengths are capable of change. You see while our strengths exist within us they are also shaped by the situations that we find ourselves in.
This is why people who take the free VIA Survey on an annual basis often find that while some strengths stay consistently high, others will move around. For example, the strengths of “Creativity” and “Curiosity” always rate highly for me, but over the last eight years “Zest” will move up and down depending on how well I’m physically looking after myself.
Neuroscience has also found that because our brains are capable of learning right throughout our lives that with enough regular practice it is possible to build new neural pathways that help us to become good at and enjoy doing new behaviors. Let me be clear there’s still hot debate over how long this might take and some popular estimates suggest it might be as high as 8,000 to 10,000 hours of practice, but it is possible.
For example, eight years ago “Love” was my twentieth strength. Wanting this to feature more prominently in my life I decided to start taking small daily actions to bring more love into my life. And slowly but surely, this strength has climbed up in my results until recently it featured as my number one strength.
So what can you do to change your strengths?
Here are the three things I recommend when people tell me they don’t like their strengths:
It’s an important reminder that as Professor Chris Peterson, the creator of the VIA Survey, once counselled me: “Surveys are tools, not a magic oracle.” So trust what you and the people who know you best identify as your strengths.
My coaching client who feared her strengths made her sound like a nun, did reluctantly agree that the results were an accurate representation of who she was at her best. It was only when we started exploring all the different ways her strengths like “Honesty”, “Kindness” and “Perspective” showed up in her work and the positive impact they helped her to have that she conceded her strengths weren’t that bad.
What can you do to re-discover the joy of your strengths and do more of what you do best?