Identifying your strengths and building your life based on them are essential for success. Without knowing how to recognize your strengths and maximize them, you may waste a lot of time doing the wrong things. Can you imagine spending years of hard work only to realize at the end that you have poured your time and energy (not to mention money) into the wrong things?
That’s why I believe these 12 lessons on maximizing your personal strengths are important. I summarized these lessons from the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. Rather than writing a review of the book, I’ll directly give you the gems in the form of these 12 lessons.
First of all, let’s be clear about the definition of strength used here: a strength is consistent near perfect performance in an activity. You have strength in something if you consistently achieve near perfect performance in it. This definition is important to bear in mind, as we go through the lessons.
So here are the 12 essential lessons to maximize your personal strengths:
1. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses
You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. Capitalize on your strengths, and manage around your weaknesses. Managing around your weaknesses will free you up to hone your strengths to a sharper point.
2. An ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully
Besides consistently performing it successfully, you should also derive some intrinsic satisfaction from the activity.
3. Organize your life around your strengths
Organize your life around your strengths so that these strengths can be applied. Find or carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. This will make your life more productive and fulfilled.
4. There are three raw materials of strengths: talents, knowledge, and skills
Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior (more in lesson #6).
Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned (more in lesson #7).
Skills are the steps of an activity (more in lesson #8).
It is the combination of talents, knowledge, and skills that creates your strengths.
5. The most important of the three raw materials are talents
Talents are the most important because they are innate whereas skills and knowledge can be acquired through learning and practice.
6. Your talents are enduring because they are somehow “hardwired” into your brain
Basically, your talents are the strongest synaptic connections in your brain. It is the path of “least resistance” in your brain which makes you naturally tend to go that way.
7. There are two kinds of knowledge: factual and experiential
Factual knowledge is content. For example, when you start to learn a language, factual knowledge is the vocabulary. Factual knowledge won’t guarantee excellence, but excellence is impossible without it. It gets you into the game.
Experiential knowledge is the knowledge that can be acquired only through experiences. It teaches you what works and what doesn’t. It cannot be taught in classrooms. Instead, it’s something that you must discipline yourself to pick up along the way and retain.
To build your strengths, you need both kinds of knowledge.
8. Skills bring structure to experiential knowledge
A skill basically is the formulation of all the accumulated knowledge into a sequence of steps that, if followed, will lead to performance – not necessarily great performance but at least acceptable performance.
It enables you to avoid trial and error and incorporate the best discoveries directly into your performance. A skill is designed to make the secrets of the best easily transferable.
9. The key to building your strength is to identify your dominant talents and then refine them with knowledge and skills
It’s essential to understand how to distinguish your natural talents from things you can learn. The first thing you should do is identifying your natural talents. After that, you should acquire the required knowledge and skills to refine your talents.
10. Practice doesn’t (necessarily) make you perfect
You can’t reach near perfect performance in any activity you choose just by practicing. It also requires certain natural talents. While you can always improve your performance with practice, it might not take you to consistent near perfect performance. Unless you have the necessary talent, your improvements will be modest.
11. A sure way to identify your talents is stepping back and watching yourself for a while.
Watch yourself for a while when you try an activity. See how quickly you pick it up. See whether you become absorbed in the activity to such an extent that you lose track of time.
12. There are four clues to help you identify your talents
More specifically, look for these four clues to identify your talents:
- Spontaneous reactions
What are your spontaneous, top-of-mind reactions to the situations you encounter? These top-of-mind reactions provide the best trace of your talents because they show where the paths of “least resistance” in your brain are.
For example, when you hear that your employee cannot come because his child is sick, what is your first reaction? If your first reaction focuses on the ill child because you care about her, you may have a talent of empathy.
Your strongest connections are irresistible. They exert a magnetic influence, drawing you back time and again. These stronger connections will keep calling out to you, demanding to be heard. If you want to discover your talents, you should pay them heed.
- Rapid learning
The speed at which you learn a new skill provides a telltale clue to the talent’s presence and power. Whatever the skill is, if you learned it rapidly, your talents may be at work.
Your strongest synaptic connections are designed so that when you use them, it feels good. So, if it feels good when you perform an activity, chances are that you are using a talent.
Having read all the lessons, there are two questions you should ask yourself:
- Do I currently build my career on top of my talents?
- Have I organized my life around my strengths?
If your answer to any of these questions is no, you’d better take action before it’s too late.