Where are your strengths?
I’ve had a good life, I have fantastic, loving parents who gave me a multitude of opportunities and crafted my being so well they are still very much my best friends. I’ve travelled, I’ve worked my way up the career ladder to a leader with a real talent in creative marketing & run my own business. I’ve competed at a high level in sport and thrown myself off some pretty high cliffs – both physically and metaphorically! Those around me would have described me as gregarious, confident, kind and very much a driven doer, always striving for challenge.
I was terrified of pregnancy, not only because of the pain but because I had seen so many of my friends go from being ‘them’ to seeing themselves as ‘someone’s Mum’. I felt they had lost themselves and what makes them unique through motherhood.
Motherhood is hard
Motherhood and the changes it brings hits hard. One day you’re pregnant, the next, you’re in charge of a life with zero experience. It’s the CEO of jobs and you’ve got it without an interview.
After all my judgement of friends, I lost myself. I forgot the key ingredients in making me great.
– I wasn’t confident in any of my motherhood decisions which led me to doubt other decisions
– My gregarious-self became my withdrawn-self
– My drive to do things became stale
– I avoided any challenge.
I needed to get back to my gregarious self.
I realised I wasn’t tackling situations the way that felt natural to me like I used to. I’d lost energy in my thought processes and tried to please others in the way I should behave as a Mum – which really wasn’t working for me. I needed to find my character strengths again.
How are character strengths relevant?
It comes down to what defines you as a person in how you react, behave and feel in different situations. If you can recognise your strengths as a person, you can learn to engage them to be happier and tackle situations you find difficult.
For those interested in the academic angle, a character strength is defined by Alex Linley as “a way of behaving, thinking or feeling that enables optimal performance which is both authentic and energising”.
I have deliberately highlighted ‘authentic & energising’ as this REALLY speaks to me. You know that you’re drawing on a strength because the experience not only feels natural but it also energises you. Energy is basically the difference between a strength and a learned behaviour – you may learn to be good at something but if it doesn’t energise you, it’s not an authentic strength.
The beauty of looking at strengths like this also reflects on your response to a perceived ‘weakness’. Rather than weaknesses, identify them as traits that don’t energise you. I found this helped me recognise that I wasn’t failing, I just needed to find a different way of tackling them.
If you can engage these strengths regularly – not only has research proved you experience greater well-being, higher levels of self-acceptance, a feeling of purpose and better physical & mental health but in practice, it genuinely feels good to exercise the powers within you.
Discovering your strengths
To discover your strengths, you could simply spend time thinking about your positive character traits, but I recommend taking a trying the free VIA Strengths test.
My top 5 strengths:
I took this test at one of my lowest times as a Mum and it lit something inside of me. I recognised myself in each of them and the instant adrenaline rush convinced me I needed to call on them more often. My first reaction was to use bravery and do something I’d been too frightened to do for years – I cut my hair short.
Now, I try to look at every situation with a different view. How can I use my creativity to overcome this? How can I show bravery today? Who needs my kindness? I know that empowering myself to use these strengths will improve how I feel – because using your strengths has been proved to increase positive emotions and in-turn; your well-being.
So how can I start using strengths more often as a Mum?
Firstly, grab a journal and write down a list of the strengths you have.
Have you been using them recently?
Do you feel they reflect the authentic you?
Write a story of when you used each of those strengths BEFORE and AFTER baby. As you do this, you’ll remember more stories – keep writing them down to reinforce the power of that strength in your mind.
What can you do to put each of your top five strengths into action? For example, in every decision, I think “What other ways can I look at this?” to exercise my creativity. I’ve also vowed to try something that scares me each month to flex my bravery – whether it to try something new or simply to dye my hair!
How can you use these strengths in new ways?
One of the key factors to happiness is finding new ways to apply your strengths – so this may be using your kindness to volunteer or your zest to discover new things to do with your child. Exercising your strengths reinforces what you’re good at and improves your confidence.
Look at how you can use strengths to solve problems.
My 2-year-old likes to throw tantrums. I find it incredibly frustrating. By using my strengths, I can identify new ways to tackle these tantrums so the experience energised, rather than exhausted me.
Using my strength in creativity I found new ways to distract her. Using my strength in bravery, I stood firm when I needed to and kindness helped me realise she doesn’t understand the emotions she’s experiencing.
1. List your top 5 strengths
2. Write 5 other talents/gifts/experience/knowledge that you have. (Writing, sport, speaking, etc.)
3. Write down the problems you’re currently dealing with as a Mum
Use the formula below to see how to apply your strengths, combined with talents and other positive characteristics to find unique solutions:
I’ll use my strength(s) in:………………………………………………………………….
And my talent/gift/knowledge (remember ALL the things you were good at before children too!) in:………………………………………………………………….
For example, I’ll use my strengths in bravery & creativity and my talent for explaining/presenting and ideation to tackle the tantrums by a) being clear and concise in my communication b) finding new and exciting ways to distract her.
Your strengths are what make you, you. So, remind yourself what they are and exercise them regularly.
This blog post is in relation to my MAPP university course. The references for the post are below:
Akhtar, M. (2012). Positive Psychology for overcoming depression. London: Watkins Publishing
Clifton, D.O. & Anderson, E.C. (2002). Strengthsquest. Washington: The Gallup Organisation & Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.
Korotkov, D., & Godbout, A. (2014). Personality, motivation, nature, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 60, S65.
Leontopoulou, S. & Triliva, S. (2012). Explorations of subjective well-being and character strengths among a Greek University student sample. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2 (3), 251-270.
Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+. Coventry:CAPP Press
Linley, A., Willars, J., Biswas-Diener, R. (2004). The Strengths Book. Coventry:CAPP Press
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2008). The cultivation of character strengths. In M. Ferrari & G. Poworowski (Eds.), Teaching for wisdom (pp. 57-75). Mahwah, NJ:
Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2009) Strengths use as a predictor of well- being and health-related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583-630.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. Handbook of Positive Psychology, 3–9. http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004
Seligman, M. E. P., Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61(8), 774–788. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003- 066X.61.8.774
Strengths test – The VIA (Values in Action Classification of Character Strengths; Peterson & Seligman, 2004) available at www.viacharacter.org
Image illustrated specifically for this blog post by Mark Sanderson at www.marksanderson.art
In a study of character strengths, big 5 personality traits, contact with nature, and well-being, it was character strengths that had the biggest impact on wellness (Korotkov & Godbout, 2014).
Character strengths were highly correlated with well-being subscales of self-acceptance, purpose, and environmental mastery, as well as good physical and mental health (Leontopoulou & Triliva, 2012).
Individuals who use their character strengths experienced greater well-being, which was related to both physical and mental health. Strengths use was a unique predictor of subjective well-being after self-esteem and self-efficacy were controlled for (Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2009).
The strengths of the “heart” (e.g., love, gratitude) are more strongly associated with well-being than are strengths of the “head” (e.g., creativity, open-mindedness/judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence; Park & Peterson, 2008; Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004).
The practice of gratitude (counting blessings) is linked to fewer physical symptoms, more optimistic life appraisals, and more time exercising and improved well-being and optimal functioning (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).