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At some point in our lives, each of us has experienced what using a strength – those things we’re good at and actually enjoy doing – can feel like. They’re the moments at work that you find yourself looking forward to, which completely absorb you, and leave you feeling more confident, energized, and satisfied.

For most of us, these moments in our jobs are completely accidental. A lucky set of circumstances and opportunities that allow us to do what we do best. But what if they didn’t have to be? What if you could intentionally develop your strengths each day at work – no matter what your job description said?

You see, a strength is a strength because it represents the way your brain is wired to perform at its best. Over time you’ve spent so much time practicing these particular thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you’ve built up neural pathways through your brain that make it easy, effective, and enjoyable to show up at work in these ways.

As a result, studies have found that people who regularly use their strengths experience more confidence and less stress, enjoy more energy and are happier, and are more creative, engaged, and satisfied at work. Not only is developing our strengths good for our individual wellbeing and performance, but in teams where most people have a chance to do what they do best each day, studies suggest they are more productive and have happier customers and lower turnover.

A great way to discover your strengths is by taking the free, 10-minute Values In Action Survey at www.viacharacter.org. Created by a team of leading social scientists who scoured the world for ways to identify, measure, and develop what is “good” in people, the survey ranks your 24 character strengths under six broad virtues, including:

  • Wisdom (strength of head): Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment, Love of Learning & Perspective
  • Courage (strength of heart): Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty & Zest
  • Humanity (strength of others): Love, Kindness & Social Intelligence
  • Citizenship (strength of community): Teamwork, Leadership & Fairness
  • Temperance (strength of self): Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence & Self-Regulation
  • Transcendence (strength of spirit): Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor & Spirituality

They are “how” you like to go about your work, regardless of whether anybody pays you or recognizes you for it, because they’re aligned to the values you hold.

In the past researchers suggested just focusing on your top five strengths – your “signature strengths” – as these were the ones most likely to help you feel more engaged and energized, particularly if you were feeling low in meaning and purpose at work.

But your strengths are buildable and changeable so new research suggests that it may be helpful to take a more balanced approach to your strengths. For example, your middle strengths, usually number six to nineteen, can be great ones to draw on in different situations or to build up capacity in if they are strengths you want to cultivate. And cultivating your lesser strengths – your bottom five – seems to be more beneficial if you score highly across all the other strengths.

Becoming more strengths focused is about tuning into which strengths might serve you best for:

  • The situation you’re facing
  • The outcomes you want
  • The energy and commitment required (tip: things that require shorter bursts of energy are great opportunities for developing lesser strengths, but things requiring longer periods of energy are better suited to developing top strengths).

From trying to overcome your tendency to only see your weaknesses, to quickly adapting and growing bored of positive changes, or just being too darn busy… finding the time, never mind the energy, to develop your strengths can feel like far too much hard work! We get it.

That’s why we’ve tried to find busy-proof ways to make developing your strengths as easy as possible, by working with your brain rather than against it. You see when it comes to developing new habits in your life, researchers have discovered there’s a very simple neurological loop you can harness that involves: a cue, a routine and a reward.

We’ve found that by using this loop to create a small daily strength development habit for even just one week, you can feel more engaged and energized in your work. Here’s how we’ve helped people to do it:

  • 30 second cue – Make it easy to get started by anchoring your habit to a cue you already have so you flow seamlessly from one activity to the next (i.e. arriving at work each morning). You can embed it in your environment so you can’t avoid falling into the habit (i.e. leaving something across your keyboard). Or use a “when/then” statement to prime your brain so it knows what it’s meant to be doing (i.e. “When I arrive at work, then I’ll develop my strength of curiosity by reading”).
  • 10 minutes routine – Find a way to develop your chosen strength for at least ten minutes (or longer if you have more time). Your routine might be doing more of what you do best or dialing a strength up or down depending on what will serve you best.
  • 30 second reward – Whether it’s checking it off a list, sharing your good news, noting it in a gratitude journal, or making yourself a tea, rewarding your efforts releases feel-good hormones that helps to accelerate your habit creation.

We know it can hard to imagine how you can create a daily strengths habit around forgiveness or prudence. That’s why we’ve created a strengths habit database to inspire you. Feel free to simply try one of these ideas or improve upon them to make it work effectively in your job. Just make sure your habit is actually something you really want to do, not just something you think you should do.

Make sure your routine is really something you want to spend your time doing. Think of this as a small gift you are giving yourself each day to prioritize something that is really important to you.

If you like the routine but are worried about fitting it in or remembering to do it each day, then play with the cue you’re using. You can create a cue by anchoring it to a habit you already have (i.e. travelling to work), embedding it into your environment (i.e. putting your alarm on top of your running gear) or using a when/then statement to prime your brain (i.e. when I have lunch, then I will read one article). Starting early in the day and sticking to a regular time will also make your cue easier.

If you’re worried about your self-discipline then be sure choose a reward that’s so good you will complete the routine just to get to it—the most popular reward we’ve found people choose around the world is their morning cup of coffee! We’ve also heard of people using their morning shower, eating their lunch, opening their email, going home and getting into bed as truly compelling rewards that set up a craving in their brain to perform more of the habit.

If you feel like your strengths habit is making a positive difference in the way you feel and deliver your work then please continue it beyond the Challenge. If after a while you find your strengths habit isn’t providing you with the same joy or satisfaction then don’t despair, it simply means you’ve started to adapt to this routine and it’s time to spice it up. After all our brains thrive on novelty.

You can continue working on the same strength but try a different routine. Or it could be time to try a different strength altogether, just apply the same approach of cue, routine and reward to get yourself started.

Yes. As we’ve come to understand people’s strengths better we’ve learnt that it’s not enough to just “use” your strengths more, instead your goal should be to “develop” your strengths so you can start to understand how different strengths, in different amounts, might serve you best in different situations. This way your strengths become an intelligent tool that helps you to create the personal and professional outcomes you want.

While it’s important to know when your strengths are serving you well, it’s also worth reflecting on when your strengths might be:

  • Underplayed – those moments when you lack confidence or procrastinate and put things off.
  • Overplayed – those moments when you feel on the verge of burning yourself out or no one seems that grateful for all your hard work (tip: most of the “weakness” or “improvement” feedback you’ve ever been given may be strengths you’ve overplayed).
  • Just right – those moments when you feel like you’re in the zone, completely absorbed in what you’re doing and feeling energized and satisfied.

After all it’s this kind of self-awareness that fuels your confidence and makes it possible for you to be up to six times more engaged in your job.

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