arnoldYou cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” – Tom Rath, Strengthsfinder

A view negative outlook on life is toxic. It’s toxic to every aspect of life. Focusing on weaknesses in ourselves and in other people is ineffective and a waste of time. Of course the opposite end of this coin is positivity and focusing on strengths. By installing a strengths-based outlook on life our relationships will be better and our work more fulfilling.

How I Apply My Strengths

This very blog is an example of how I apply my strengths. I am good at organizing, making processes more efficient, and thinking about how to do more with less, so I write about those things here. Plus blogging is a great way to become a better writer, which I hope I’m pretty good at already.

Naturally these are the skills I try to use most in my career. When a task is presented to the team that requires these skills I am naturally a good fit for it because I am good at it and like doing that type of work. Not realizing your strengths is an easy way to be unhappy in work. If you are looking for work, I highly suggest highlighting your strengths regardless of the job: you will talk about them more enthusiastically and be better to sell yourself as a good fit for the job.

A Few Reasons To Ignore Weaknesses

If you really think about it, there is a good reason why we have strengths and weakness as people. Sure we are naturally good and bad a certain things, but psychology is also in play. A weakness usually stays a weakness unless you put in a lot of hours to practice and improve. But since it’s a weakness, progress is slow and discouraging. When you practice a strength though, progress is easier to seem which creates a positive feedback cycle of continued motivation. In other words, strength building is more efficient (requires less time) and more effective (produces better results) than weakness improving. If you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it requires 10,000 hours to be world-class at something, you will never reach that number with an inherent weakness.

The story of Rudy Ruettiger is a great example of someone that put all their time and energy into improving a weakness with a very modest outcome. Rudy was 5’6″ and 165 pounds but wanted to play football at Notre Dame. After being rejected three times to the school he finally was accepted and earned a spot on the football practice squad. In his senior year, after two years of daily practices and not joining his team on the sidelines during games, Rudy was finally invited to suit up in the last game of his senior season. With the game essentially over and with the help of his teammates, the coach put him into the game for one play. In the last few seconds of the game he tackled the other team’s quarterback. As Tom Rath said in his book Strengthsfinder (where I took this story from), I too wonder why our culture tries to overcome major challenges. As Rath says, “this is taking the path of most resistance.”

There is an economic concept that is quite similar this conversation of strengths and weaknesses: comparative advantage. Comparative advantage is the idea that even if I am better than you are at say, typing speed and filing, it is more efficient for me to delegate a task to you, the one you have a comparative or relative advantage in. This is why trade between countries exists and why so many entrepreneurs outsource much of the their work.

Applying Strengths-based Thinking to Relationships

One last topic I want to look into is relationships. Often we are critical of our friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses shortcomings. We point out when they aren’t doing something or do something that is annoying, while never fully appreciating all the things they do well. I do this with my girlfriend and I’m sure you do it as well. It’s an unfair thing most of us all do. To change this we need to look at what the people in our lives do well and focus on those things. Not only will they be happier because we won’t nag them for being who they are, we will also be much happier for not being a nagging pain in the butt.

I loved this excerpt from Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, which highlights this concept so well:

When thinking about happiness in marriage, you may have an almost irresistible impulse to focus on your spouse, to emphasize how he or she should change in order to boost your happiness. But the face is, you can’t change anyone buy yourself. A friend told me that her ‘marriage mantra’ was ‘I love Leo, just as he is.” I love Jamie just as he is. I can’t make him do a better job of doing household chores, I can only stop myself from nagging — and that makes me happier. When you give up expecting a spouse to change (within reason), you lessen anger and resentment, and that creates a more loving atmosphere in marriage.

Do you think with strengths in mind?

Cameron Plommer is passionate about organization, productivity and most of all growing better everyday. As a new graduate he is developing a few entrepreneurial pursuits and figuring out how the real world operates. He writes at How to Be Extraordinary and is always reachable via Twitter.

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