One of the most important lessons I have learned in my studies of positive psychology is about playing to your strengths. Like many people I have spent most of my life trying to “fix” my weaknesses and imagining that if I could only overcome my character deficits I would somehow be happier. Positive psychology teaches us that this is a back to front approach and that it is much better to discover what your character strengths are and to use your top strengths every day in new and interesting ways. So how do you go about discovering where your true strengths and talents lie? One way is to use your own judgement, another is to ask a group of people who know you really well what they think your top 5 strengths are. It is a good idea to take both of these approaches but it is important to be aware when you are assessing yourself that we tend to think that because we find something easy to do that this does not constitute a strength. Another option is to try the range of character strength surveys which are available online. They are either free or very cheap to use and the small investment in time and money which is involved in doing these tests is time well spent.
I have tried two of the currently available strengths surveys and have found them invaluable. The first one I tried is the VIA Survey, created by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman who have looked at the strengths that were most valued historically and cross-culturally. The final list contains 24 strengths and the VIA assessment has been taken by over 1.3 million times by people around the world. A VIA report will give you insight into your ability to access all 24 strengths.
Another strengths assessment which I have tried is the Clifton StrengthsFinder from Gallup. StrengthsFinder is slightly more relevant to your strengths at work but there is an overlap between the 2 surveys. You can purchase a book which provides you with the code to take the test online and the assessment provides you with information about relative strengths of 34 talents themes. The Gallup researchers, Donald Clifton, Marcus Buckingham, and Tom Rath, created the list of talents based on studies of human behavior in organizations that occurred over 40 years. The StrengthsFinder report gives you an insight into your top 5 talent themes that become strengths when you bring them into play in the real world.
There are other surveys such as Realise2 developed by the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) in the United Kingdom and StandOut from The Marcus Buckingham Company which is both an individual and team assessment tool for the workplace. I will cover these assessments in future blog posts but the VIA Survey and the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment are a good starting point to establish your strengths.
My new creativity tool – a kitchen timer.
One of my strengths is creativity and although I was aware of this before I took the tests I had lost the habit of using this strength in my daily life. I discovered other strengths which I had not been aware of so even though you think you know your strengths I would encourage you to take the surveys as they are very revealing. This great video by the super creative John Cleese has some great lessons on how to bring more creativity in to your life and how to make sure you make time for creativity:
One of the lessons I have learned from this video is that you need to make time for creativity – this sounds obvious doesn’t it but it is easier said than done. John Cleese makes the very valid point that you need a clearly defined space and time for creativity to happen. You should sit down in your allocated creative space for ideally 90 minutes at a time and not move until you have really got your creative juices flowing. Any longer than 90 minutes and you start to tire, any less than 90 minutes and you are not giving yourself the chance to become really creative as your mind tends to wander for the first 30 minutes and only really starts to focus in the last 60 minutes of your allocated time. Hence my recent purchase of a kitchen timer, which is my new creativity tool of choice. It keeps me focused and aware that time is ticking. My “appointment for creativity” has a beginning and an end and if I don’t make the most of my allocated 90 minutes my time will be up and I will have to move on to less pleasurable pursuits which require my attention.
Using this technique in the last week I have tried out three creative pursuits which I used to enjoy but which I have not made time for recently: bread making, mosaic art and dressmaking. I have managed to fit all three pursuits in to one week when previously I couldn’t begin to see how creativity could fit in to my busy life.
2 new Liberty print blouses which I made this week
The happiness bug spreads to my kitchen as the PIG of HAPPINESS takes over!
This week I have chosen to express my “creativity strength” by making items which are creative in the physical sense. You can also express you creativity through finding new ways to solve problems, taking up writing or music making or embarking on a whole myriad of different creative pursuits. Another great creative tool I have found is the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – it is a 12 week programme to help you rediscover your creativity and I can highly recommend it.
I will end this blog post with a wonderful, inspirational video on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love.
A new way to think about creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert
Creativity is one of my top 5 strengths according to the surveys I have taken and I think that this is an accurate assessment. Even if creativity does not feature in your top 5 strengths I think it is important that everyone works at expressing their creativity in any way they can. I hope that this article has give you some food for thought.
Posted by Shona Lockhart, 24th July 2012