This is another post in my “Understanding Strengths” series. In the last post, I wrote about the different terms like skills, talents, interests and strengths and how they differ from each other. You can find the post here: Understanding Strengths: What is What? In this post, I want to talk about strengths moderation.
Strengths and Weaknesses
We have heard the phrase or a similar one, “His biggest strength is his biggest weakness”. But how can that be? Shouldn’t strengths and weaknesses be completely different? I mean if something is my strengths it always is right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t. When we speak about strengths and weaknesses, we speak about behaviour. Sure, I can be very creative and come up with all kinds of ideas and solutions in my head but as long as it is not expressed or acted upon, it doesn’t really count as a strength. And action can also mean talking to other people about it and maybe inspiring them. So the hurdle is not too high.
Okay, strengths and weaknesses are both visible through behaviour, then there is appropriate behaviour and inappropriate behaviour. Let me give you an example to illustrate the point. Imagine you want to start a new phase in your life, like changing jobs or moving abroad. And imagine one of your strengths is hope. You could just tell yourself that everything will work out and blindly dive into this new adventure. You could also inform yourself and prepare as best as you can and then dive into the adventure still thinking everything will be fine as long as I do my part. The first one could be seen as ignoring the inherent risks of such a decision and therefore a weakness and the second one is more easily seen as hope as a strength.
Overuse and Underuse
In the example, the first scenario can be seen as an overuse of your strength of hope. There are other examples of strengths overuse. Maybe you are curious, and you classify it as one of your strengths. However, if you are too curious, you might become nosy and violate someone’s privacy. Or imagine your say one of your strengths is forgiveness. If this is overused, you might be too permissive. It is the same with almost everything in life. We are looking for balance. Too much of something good will eventually turn into something bad. And I challenge you to give me an example of something where there is no restriction to the amount of “goodness” one can consume/experience/…
A strength can also turn into a weakness when it is underused. But Stephan, I hear you say, how can something we underuse be considered a strength in the first place? That is the beauty of strengths. We have all of them in us. And we definitely demonstrated all of them at one point in our lives. Sure, we have strengths that are closer to our core (Signature Strengths) and that are more readily available to us, but if you’d say you are not creative, I’d challenge that. You might not use your creativity often and maybe you don’t feel the need to, but if I’d give you a challenge to win something or help a loved one, I bet you would come up ideas and new solutions.
So we are looking for the sweet spot. But what can we do to get there? First, a good idea is to start reframing your strengths into an overuse or underuse of a particular strength. On the one hand, this will help yourself to look more favourable on yourself and might be another way to calm your inner critic. On the other hand, it will help you to be more understanding toward other people. You might even change your view of people from what is wrong with them to what is right with them.
Now, it makes sense to identify your strengths. A wonderful tool for that is the VIA Character Strengths Test. This can give you a better idea of your strengths that have the potential to be overused (those at the top) and that have the potential to be underused (those at the bottom). However, this is just a first starting point. Sometimes we might overuse a strength that is at the bottom of the list and underuse one of our signature strengths. It depends on the context. Maybe it makes sense to look at your areas of life and evaluate if you use all your strengths in a similar way and to a similar extent. I can imagine that is not the case.
If you identified a strength that is frequently overused, try to come up with ideas how you can limit yourself. This can be done by creating a reminder that is visible for you or speaking with someone to set boundaries. It can also be a good idea to use one of your other strengths to help you with that. For example. If you are very spiritual, so much so that it borders or even crosses the border to fanaticism, maybe use your strength of fairness to see the point and benefits of a different spiritual practice. And if you have questions how to manage strengths overuse or you need help coming up with an action plan, write me a message.
In case you identified a strength that you constantly underuse, you might want to train it. There is a lot of research freely available on the internet on how to train a specific strength. Or you need to wait until I am done with my book where I write about different ways how to train our strengths.
Let me end with a question. What is a strength that you overuse and what is a strength that you underuse? And what will you do to bring into the sweet spot?
Have a wonderful day, Stephan