Updated: Feb 9
When we are hard-wired to look for weakness and threats finding where you have the greatest potential for brilliance can be a challenge. This blog will help you understand how changing your mindset can yield incredible results.
Designed to focus on threats and weaknesses.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with where we are deficient. Where we don’t quite hit the mark or where we need to improve.
From our first days in education and right through into our working lives, those involved in our development feel they have a responsibility to point out where we need to improve. The big red pen that our teacher used to mark up our work would highlight areas where we went wrong with little comment on where we are really strong.
This graduates into the workplace, in the traditional feedback setting of the annual appraisal. Once a year (maybe twice) we sit down with our managers and while some focus will be placed on achievements, we go into far more detail on where we need to improve, what we need to work on.
In every bookstore across the world, the self-help section is more often than not focused on where we are fundamentally flawed and a step by step lesson on how to fix us. There is a deep fixation on where we are weak and it’s creating a thriving self-help industry worth billions of dollars.
This deficit mindset goes way further back than the present day. As humans, the success of our species has depended on focusing on threats. That sense of danger and awareness of threats literally helped us to survive daily threats in the wild.
Isn’t focusing on weaknesses a good thing? It helps us improve, right?
Threat focused mindset doesn’t serve us well in the modern world. Think of it as an appendix. Thousands of years ago it served us well when food was scarce and tasty tree bark was the catch of the day. As we evolved and our lifestyles changed, food became more abundant, our appendixes became somewhat obsolete. Now it serves little purpose. In our modern form, the appendix even poses a threat to rumble and burst and cause us serious harm. Just as the useful beneficial life of our appendix has run its course, so too has the benefits of focusing on threats and weaknesses. Arguably our obsessive focus on weakness is far more destructive.
Neuroscientists tell us that when we focus on threats and weaknesses our brains contract, we enter survival mode, our brains think we are under attack and so will prioritise information based on how to survive the current threat. As a result, learning and creativity completely shuts down.
If we spend our time and energy fixing getting to an acceptable average level of competence on something that doesn’t come naturally to us, it saps our energy, it feels like a lot of effort, it takes more time. It's a chore. Think about when you procrastinate the most (and we all do it from time to time) it’s usually the things that you dread, you know you won’t enjoy it, it will be a challenge, but not in a good challenge where you get a sense of achievement, the only satisfaction will be you have ticked a box.
Focusing on strengths.
Focusing on strengths sparks inquisition, our minds open up, learning increases, we build confidence, build better relationships and we start to thrive. We are happier.
To have a strengths mindset means that you understand where you have the most potential for greatness. You are seeking to shine a light on all the opportunities available to you.
A strengths-based mindset whether for an individual, team or organisation means that you are intentional about developing a deep understanding of your talents and strengths and using it as a framework for increasing engagement and performance. It is a tool that creates awareness of your talents and strengths in such a way that you can leverage them and develop them every day to thrive.
It is a very effective tool to start a conversation, to get to know each other and ultimately create a happier more engaged employee or team. According to Gallup organisations that focus on strengths will have
10% to 19% increased sales
14% to 29% increased profit
3% to 7% higher customer engagement
9% to 15% increase in engaged employees
The elephant in the room - weaknesses
A fierce and unrelenting focus on strengths and positivity is all well and good but strengths-based thinking must allow for examination of what isn’t working and what is holding us back. The key is to prevent negative spiralling. The aim is to flip problems to find solutions so that whatever is holding you back is successfully managed and no longer gets in your way. It facilitates action to remove barriers to success.
Even strengths can have their blind spots - think of someone who is constantly positive and seeing the bright side, while they can be perceived as having a contagious enthusiasm a blind spot could be being perceived as superficial. Someone who wants to make a huge impact may be perceived as needing attention. Deep awareness of your strengths and how they can work for you as a superpower and where the blindspots may be can yield significant results.
So what can you do to start focusing on strengths?
There are many tools and assessments that help you to identify your strengths to start the strengths thought process, some free, some paid for but here is a little exercise to get you started.
Exercise 1: Identify your strengths
Turn off all notifications and take 20 minutes to yourself for the following exercise. You will need a pen and some paper.
Step 1: Write down at least 10 things you are good at
If or when you start to get stuck, use the prompts below.
Prompts: Think about what you do in work, what you bring to a relationship, what do you bring to friendships, what do you do for family.
Step 2: Write down at least 10 things you are proud of
If or when you start to get stuck, use the prompts below.
Prompts: What have people complimented you on? Think right back as far as a child. Are there challenges you have overcome that you are proud of? What achievements are you most proud of? Look to all aspects of your life.
Step 3: Are there particular patterns you see in your notes? What jumps out at you?
Keep your notes for reference and build on it over time.
Keep up the good work
Book Now for the Strengths Discovery Programme beginning March 8th 2022 for 5 weeks. Limited to 12 places.
This blog is written in partnership with Margaret Kennedy, Kennedy Insights