Seeing Your Strengths
If you haven’t identified your super power yet, keep your eyes open to what other people don’t excel at. “The more time you spend hanging out with other people, the more you realize there are things that come easily to you and not to others. Comparison is fine as long as you’re doing it to understand yourself,” Markman says.
Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist and the education director at the VIA Institute on Character, which developed the VIA Inventory of Strengths, a free online survey to help people identify their character strengths. VIA lists 24 character strengths, culled from research that shows that certain virtues are shared by all cultures worldwide. The list includes honesty, creativity, judgment, bravery, curiosity, humility, social intelligence, forgiveness, humor and love.
“Character strengths are the core capacities within us for how we think, feel and behave. It’s who we are when we’re at our best,” Niemiec explains. “I think of character strengths as super powers. But most people aren’t aware of their strengths. We’re wired to know what’s wrong. We focus on the bad over the good.”
He calls this unawareness “strength blindness.” You might have an exceptional capacity for kindness, gratitude or perseverance and not realize it. Perhaps you’re too consumed with traits you want to change to see the ones that make you great. Or maybe you assume that everyone is just as kind, grateful or perseverant as you are. (Newsflash: They’re not.)
For example, Markman points out, “we all know people who are good at being good, encouraging friends. Not everyone can do that.”
Researchers in the field of positive psychology have shown that using one of your core strengths in a new way every day can lead to months of greater happiness and less depression.
Assemble The Superfriends
Now how do you harness something you don’t realize you’ve got? Ask for help.
Niemiec (naturally) recommends taking the 240-question VIA survey online. You can get a basic ranking for free. (Apparently I’m heavy on curiosity; “zest”, however, is not my strong suit.) A more detailed accounting costs 20 bucks. The results may tell you a lot of things you already know, but it may also spit out attributes in an order you wouldn’t have anticipated.
Step up the self-exploration by bringing in some outside perspective. Print out VIA’s descriptions of the 24 strengths from your report and give it to ten friends, family members and coworkers. Ask them to go through and pick out the ones they see in you. You might be surprised: Those who know you best may define you very differently than you define yourself and may cherish you for qualities you rarely think about.
Engaging others can also be a potent antidote to self-doubt, says Markman. People who are prone to feel down on themselves tend to not be very accepting of their strengths. Having someone else validate their successes can be a valuable check on that emotional Kryptonite.