There was a time when you used to dream of all that life would hold for you. The white picket fence, lazy days, fun and laughter, and maybe even vacations to sunny skies and white sandy beaches every year. But now you simply dream of getting through the day intact, so that you can regroup and do it all again tomorrow. For a while, you asked yourself what went wrong, but now you don’t even bother doing that. What’s the point? This is just life. Suck it up, dig in, and get on with it.
Except that isn’t life. It’s existence. And you were not made to exist through life, you were meant to live it. To the full. But, when everything seems to be stacked against you, how do you do that? Well, that’s a big question to answer, but it starts by discovering and acknowledging the greatness within – the things that already exist in you, and make you the incredible human being that you are. And you do that by exploring, and tapping into, your strengths.
Now, you can go deep – really deep – into the subject of strengths. You can spend thousands on assessments, courses, books, and more besides, to help you identify, lock into, and use your strengths. And you may want to do that – you may even need to do that to achieve what you want to in life. But you don’t need to do that to begin to build the future that you want, and to live life to the full. In fact, all you need in order to do that is to apply some simple principles that will help you to unlock the strengths you have, identify how they can help you achieve what you want to achieve, and put that knowledge to work for you.
So, here are five of those simple principles, that you can get to work on right now…
1. Focus on you at your best
Think of a time when you were at your very best. No, not when you were the ‘best version of you’, or anything like that – simply a time when you were at the top of your game. Replay that time in your mind. What were you doing? How did you feel? And, as you think about who you were when you were at your best, how do you feel about that person?
Now comes the really important question: what strengths were you using when you were at your best? How did you use those strengths? What part did they play in you being at your best? How do you know that those strengths were present – what evidence do you have? Now, ask yourself this: how much do I currently use those strengths in my day-to-day life? Chances are that, if you feel like the life you are leading is not even close to where you want it to be, the answer is ‘not all that much’, and that has to change, if the future, and the life, you dream of having are to stand any chance of becoming a reality.
So, if those strengths helped you perform at your best, what action can you take right now to use them more and more in your day-to-day life, so that you can enjoy the boost they’ll give you in how you tackle life, and make the progress that your increased performance promises?
2. Be inspired
Don’t be shy to draw inspiration from others either. Different people, for different reasons, will have inspired you in the past, and maybe continue to inspire you today. And they will have inspired you for all sorts of reasons – success in business, on the stage, or on the athletics track, their activism or politics, or tireless charity work, for example.
And all of that’s fine, but if you are feeling like your life is not ‘all that’, and, as a consequence, you aren’t really all that you could be either, the ‘greatness’ you see in those people may actually be counter-productive, compounding those negative thoughts, as you realise you ‘can never be like them’. But, if you focus not on their visible ‘greatness’, but on the things that sit behind their success – their strengths – then, far from crushing your hope for the future still further, those people become a catalyst for boosting it.
So, think of just one person who truly inspires you, and consider why they have that effect on you. And, as you think about what it is about them that inspires you – maybe their incredible success in whatever field they are in, for example – dig beneath the surface and search out the strengths that brought them that success. Do you see some of those strengths in yourself? Do you have some of them, but you don’t use them? Do you wish you had some of them, but you’ve never taken the time to see if they are there, locked away deep inside you?
As you consider the strengths that person has, and identify those you share with them, and those you wish you did, identify just one action that you can take to build one of those strengths – whether it’s one you have never, before now, realised you possessed, or one that you are aware of, but know you could use better. And, as you follow through on that action, you will inevitably begin to see positive changes in how your life unfolds.
3. Assess the impact
When your hope of ever having the future, or the life, that you want is at a low point, the last thing that’s likely to be on your mind is your strengths. Which is bad news. Because, when your hope for the future has deserted you, the very first thing that should be on your mind is your strengths. You see, there simply is no better way to stop the disappearance of hope dead in its tracks, than reminding yourself of the things that make you the amazing human being that you are – the things that are an innate part of you: not learned or acquired, but at the core of your very being – your strengths.
So, I challenge you to put aside your sense of despondency, and identify just one of your strengths. It could be any one (and there will be many), but I encourage you to pick one that you particularly value. Consider how you use it, how it contributes to your successes, and the part it plays in helping you to build the future, and the life, that you want. And, as you think about it, consider these questions:
- How did exploring this strength affect your energy levels?
- How did exploring this strength affect your sense of self-worth?
- What was your overriding emotion as you explored this strength?
- What did exploring this strength do for your confidence levels?
- And, how did all of that affect your sense of hope?
Finally, with your responses to those questions clear in your mind, how can you capitalise on all of the positives that strength gives you – what can you do right now to make that strength even more prominent in your day-to-day life? Identify one action you can take, and commit to doing it today.
4. Carry out an audit
Having strengths is all well and good, but they only benefit you if you use them, and use them well. So, how well do you use your strengths? Well, if you apply this principle, you can easily find out, and then take the necessary action to ensure that you get the most from them, each and every day.
So, think of one of your most prominent strengths – one that you value, and (hopefully) use, the most. Then, using a scoring scale, where zero is “not confident at all”, and ten is “completely confident”, make a note of how confident you are in your ability to:
- Use this strength at work
- Use this strength in many situations
- Find ways to apply this strength in your everyday tasks
- Accomplish a lot using this strength
- Use this strength to succeed
- Use this strength to help you achieve your goals in life
- Use this strength at any time
- Use this strength without any struggles
- Practice this strength in areas where you excel
Then add up your scores. The lowest you can score is ‘9’, and the highest is ‘90’. A score of 9 to 29 suggests that you really aren’t using that strength as well as you could. Somewhere between 30 and 69 suggests you are using it, but could be using it more. And a score of 70 or above suggests that you are applying that strength pretty well.
Finally, what action do you need to take? Even if you scored highly, things can always be better. And, if your score was low, things need to be better. So what can you do to increase the presence of that strength in your life? How can you use it in new and different ways? How can you create opportunities to use it more in the ways that you currently use it? Pick one of those actions you come up with, and start doing it today.
5. Exercise some tough love
This last principle is actually focused on your weaknesses. Few things give you a sense of hope that you really can build the future, and the life, that you want than taking a weakness to task, and either removing it, or reducing its impact. It’s a double whammy: the more you see your weaknesses at work, the more your sense of hope, and belief, is eroded; so when you remove or reduce their presence, you benefit not only from halting that erosion, but also from the boost you your sense of hope and belief that comes from dealing with something negative in a positive way.
So, identify one area that you consider to be a weakness for you, and put it front and centre. Think of the ways that weakness interrupts, or maybe even derails, your progress. Then, think of two situations that you will soon be faced with where that weakness could be an issue for you. Now, think of how you could actually use that weakness in a positive way in those situations.
For example, say you hate taking any kind of risk, and that really holds you back. For you, risk-taking is not only not a strength, but it is also a definite weakness. In a couple of days, you have a meeting at work to discuss a new project that your company is considering investing in. The project represents a huge opportunity, but you have a sneaking suspicion that it brings with it a significant amount of risk, too.
In the past, you’d have shied away from going against the popular view (in this instance to invest), especially as everyone else is always so bullish and eager to take a risk. But, your aversion to risk could actually be beneficial here, if you resolve to ask the questions that no-one else will ask (which, in itself, feels like a risk), as they will serve to either help highlight previously unconsidered risks, or to confirm that there are solid reasons for pursuing the project. And, with each question you ask – with each ‘risk’ you take – you take that weakness to task, and your confidence levels begin to grow, as you see what previously held you back actually push you forward.
Some final thoughts
All that may not seem like a lot. And some of it may seem a little contrived. But, trust me, each of those principles is proven to help you build your strengths. And, building your strengths is proven to boost your confidence. So, put it to the test, and put an end to procrastination, avoidance, excuses, and all the other obstacles that dented confidence lay across your path.