We just taught a class on “Art Therapy and Positive Psychology” with graduate art therapy students so we are warmed up to the topic. One of the assignments we give the students is to notice their strengths in action for a week.
Values In Action Survey
To start, we have them take the Values In Action survey, aa assessment which identifies their top 5 signature strengths. This includes qualities like creativity, curiosity, perseverance, teamwork, gratitude, humor. We highly recommend you take this as well to discover yours (click here to access the free VIA). After teaching this class for well over 10 years, several things invariably happen.
Reactions to Learning Their Signature Strengths
First, oddly enough the students always get preoccupied with the bottom of the list. Because they are therapists-in-the-making, they get especially concerned if kindness, honesty, or bravery are in the bottom half. They interpret that then they must be mean and deceitful cowards–completely unacceptable for someone in the helping professions!
Signature Strengths Energize Us
What’s important here is not that we have a deficit of those qualities–they are not necessarily weaknesses–just that we are most authentic and congruent when we are operating out of our signature strengths. When we engage those qualities, we feel energized and alive, we are in our stride, on top of our game, etc.
More Room for Growth with Weaknesses
Most of us assume that there’s more room for growth trying to overcome weaknesses than focusing on something that is already functioning fine (our strengths). That appears to be more draining than it is effective.
We Take Our Strengths for Granted
In addition, we often don’t even see our strengths as anything unique or special but rather as ordinary, mundane, the way the world is (this is what is called a form of Strengths Blindness). So, for example, our students usually score high in love and compassion and assume that everyone has those characteristics, not realizing that many people not only do not have those strengths but they might not even considerthem as important as other priorities (e.g., efficiency, achievement).
The Difference Between Strengths and Values
This is also because strengths and values are closely related. The difference is that although we may highly value something, like being honest, we might not act on it because it because it is not our signature strength. Not only that, but we might instead have social intelligence and judgement as signature strengths and decide that being honest might not best for the situation at hand.
Why Strengths Matter So Much
The reason to prioritize working on strengths is that people who put them into action:
- Are happier
- Are more confident
- Have higher levels of self‐esteem
- Have higher levels of energy and vitality
- Experience less stress
- Are more resilient
- Are more likely to achieve their goals
- Perform better at work
- Are more engaged at work
- Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals.
So How Do You Identify Your Strengths?
First you can ask the people around you, especially people that know you well and you trust, they will tell you what your strengths are. Second, take the VIA or other strengths assessments. That will give you some language to begin to identify your strengths are others. Third, think back to what activities and interactions have been most energizing and rewarding. It is likely that they relate to your strengths.
Once We Identify Our Strengths We have To Put Them Into Action
That’s not the end of it though. as our business coach, Strengths expert Robert Biswas-Diener, used to say, we have to put them action. Some of the most effective ways of doing so appear to be the following:
- Use them in new and different ways.
- Spend less energy trying to fix weaknesses and instead partner with others to work around them.
- Become a Strengths Spotter, notice other people’s strengths.
- Identify the social impact and context of strengths and temper them to fit the situation.
Positive Ethics in Action: What It Really Means To Be Strengths-Based Training
Also, if you’re a therapist, we will be doing a couple of Ethics trainings (one Oct 15, 2023 and the other Nov 12, 2023 both 10-5 ET) that focus on putting strengths into action and what it really means to be Strengths-Based. Click here to get more information.