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Are Your Strengths Making You Unhappy?

Are Your Strengths Making You Unhappy?

BY Michelle McQuaid

When it comes to doing more of what you do best each day at work are you missing the mark? Although an ever expanding body of research is finding that using your strengths each day at work can improve your wellbeing and performance, the truth is this approach can sometimes fall short. So what’s the best way to put your strengths to work?

“Optimizing the use of your character strengths can help you feel happier, solve problems and work more effectively,” said Robert McGrath, Professor of Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and senior scientist for the VIA Institute on Character when I interviewed him recently. “However its important to regularly ask yourself: How much of the time am I underusing my strengths? How much am I overusing my strengths? And how much am I optimally using my strengths?”

For example, researchers have recently found that both underusing and overusing your strengths can have negative consequences for your wellbeing by heightening your social anxiety. For example, overusing the strength of humility can put you at risk of closing yourself off from others in an effort to avoid evaluation.   And underusing your strength of humor may mean that you’re seen as too serious, underusing zest can dampen down enthusiasm for social contact, and underusing self-regulation can lead to self-indulgence of your social anxiety.

In particular the researchers suggest that the underuse of your strengths is more likely to undermine your wellbeing than overusing them. This may be because underuse can indicate less active engagement and fewer mindful choices about aligning what you do with your values. Whereas overusing your strengths still brings your best qualities forward, despite the negative outcomes.

It appears that when it comes to putting your strengths to work, your goal should be to consistently find the optimal use of your strengths in different situations to produce the outcomes you want. Just like Goldilocks, you’re looking for that ‘just right amount’.

Of course this starts with knowing what your strengths are, and an easy way to figure this out is to take the free VIA Character Strengths survey.  “Your character strengths can point you in the direction of what you want to develop and nurture in yourself to be a better person,” explained Robert. “And making a commitment to boost the ones you may be underusing can help you show more care and consideration to yourself and others.”

How can you use your strengths optimally to flourish more at work?

Rob shared some exciting new approaches from the VIA Institute to help you find ways to use your strengths for their optimal benefit.

  • Discover Which Strengths Are Essential To Your Identity – Complete the free Global Assessment of Character Strengths (GACS) to explore which strengths you find essential to your identity, which ones uplift and energize you and which ones are natural and effortless. How do these compare to your past VIA Survey results? Just click here to get started.
  • Ask for 360 Strengths Feedback – asking for feedback can be uncomfortable as it leaves you open to both negative and positive comments.       However using the VIA character strengths in a 360 degrees feedback framework can be uplifting as it gives you a chance to gauge how others see you at your best. You may want to use the Signature Strengths Survey to help others easily identify your top five strengths and let you know how they see these being used well, or overused or underused at times in your work.
  • Avoid under and over using your strengths – a new measure called Overuse, Underuse, Optimal-Use (OUOU), can help you find how much and how often you may be underusing, overusing or optimizing each of your twenty-four character strengths. Click here to learn more.

What can you do to better understand how to use your strengths optimally at work?

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