I often reflect on what my strengths are and whether they have changed. But what has become clear is there was a time when I didn’t have the language, nor the confidence, to share my strengths. I used to notice that with the students too. When I asked them what they were good at, they would automatically share their talents, getting them to share a strength was much more difficult. If they had heard the strength validated or confirmed by another person, then it became much easier for them to recognise it themselves.
It is always helpful to define the difference between a talent and a strength but the definition I found the most helpful was on the Gallup website. They define a talent as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied” and a strength as “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity”.
At a school where I worked, we wanted to be more proactive when dealing with wellbeing and with students’ confidence and connectedness, so we spent time focussing on strengths, not just with the students but with the staff as well. If we, as teachers, could articulate our strengths, develop them and allow the language of strengths to come through in our feedback and teaching, we knew the students would benefit too.
Character Strengths is an area under the Positive Psychology banner, which came from Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson’s research. They found that in order for us to truly flourish in life, we need to be aware of and utilise our strengths. Thus, they identified 24 Character Strengths through their study of people from different countries and of various genders, religions and cultures. This led them to a list of strengths that are universally understood and acknowledged. To further enhance how we understand the strengths within ourselves, they also grouped them by virtue (head, heart, others, self, community and spirit).
To identify your particular Character Strengths, there is a 120 question survey on viacharacter.org which will take about 15-20 minutes to complete. Based on your responses to the questions, it ranks the Character Strengths from 1 to 24. I’ve done this survey multiple times over the years and it is always interesting to note that my top five generally didn’t change. It was only when I was progressing in my career and the skills I required were different that I saw two of my five strengths change. For my bottom five, it was a bit different. The first few times I did it, I kept getting creativity and bravery at the bottom. Initially I accepted that, noting that I didn’t think I was creative and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself brave. However, by the second and third time I decided I wasn’t happy with that; I was creative (not artistic but definitely creative) and I needed to become brave and take risks. So, I actively started working on the self-talk about these two and engaged in activities that developed them. These methods worked and they haven’t been in my bottom five since.
You must be wondering why I am talking about the top five and bottom five strengths and not really about the middle. According to the research, we each have all of the 24 strengths, but at different times and in different phases of life the way we utilise them changes. To better ensure that we understand our strengths and how we use them, we focus on our top five Signature Strengths (the ones we use all the time) and the bottom five (the ones we need to actively build on). This helps us not just in our personal goal-setting but also with understanding ourselves: how and why we respond in certain ways. Once we understand our strengths, it also helps us to identify strengths in others (strength spotting).
The language of Character Strengths gives us (and our students) the confidence to articulate what our strengths are, encourages us to utilise them and set goals to grow and, just as importantly, helps us identify strengths in others.
Why not try it? Complete the via survey and have a look at your results; see if you notice how you use your top five all the time and whether the bottom five are the ones you have limiting beliefs about.
Sapna Sachdeva 2018