A reoccurring theme that has been appearing the last few weeks for me, and those that have had sessions with me, has been the topic of strength vs. weaknesses when trying to grow, change, and improve.

The opposing positions are on the focus of whether to devote time and energy into fixing our weaknesses or nurturing our strengths. It is important to note that the position I support is specific to certain people who tend to put themselves down in order to improve. It is an entirely individual, circumstantial and unique experience. For some it may be imperative to change a major “weakness” in their life as it is causing major disruption to their quality of life, relationships and self perception - before they can begin to build on their strengths again. An example of this personality may be an inflated faith, confidence and focus on their selected strengths - forgetting to occasionally address or accept their weaknesses. And when conflict arises in their strengths (i.e. loss of job, lack of compromise in relationships, etc.) they are out of sorts on how to do or adjust to anything different, for it may have been all they have known about themselves. They are then forced to address their weakness from ground-zero.

That is a different path and a different conversation. I believe it is more common in our society to beat ourselves up over what we are not and forgetting to appreciate our already beautiful and amazing selves; and so, I’ve divided this into a macro and micro perspective. The macro addresses on the broad idea of focusing on our strengths and the micro focuses on how to avoid motivating oneself through negative means (criticism versus encouragement).

 

The Macro Point of View:

What does a person sound, behave, or feel like when they focus on their negative selves? They will most likely beat themselves up on their weaknesses and pour all their energy into trying to changing them. Thus, forgetting to be grateful, confident and to put value in their strengths; not acknowledging them as assets for changing the negative, believing they are not enough.  They may tell themselves, “You’re not smart enough. You’re not compassionate enough. You’re not confident enough. You’re not working hard enough” – to instigate self-improvement. This is a habitual thought process that needs to be rehabilitated to focusing on our positive selves, and there are simple steps one can take to begin to change this.

Focusing on our strengths for real improvement requires several things:

  1. It requires honesty with oneself. Humility is a praised trait and it can be difficult for one to acknowledge their strengths without feeling like they are conceited. There is a fine line between knowing your self-worth, and defending an insecurity of your assumed strengths.
     
  2. Acknowledging yourself and your strengths requires true appreciation of your abilities – this means to really see the value in what you are already good at – even if you feel like it is small or insignificant to your overall success. Every bit of your capabilities count and accumulates to make up your amazing self.
     
  3. Putting this realization into practice is what will actually allow you to understand and accept all this to be true. Some use positive affirmations, some write it down in a gratitude journal (which I highly recommend), others remind themselves by practicing their strengths everyday. Ultimately, you need to make a conscious choice of effort, commitment and understanding to erase old patterns and instill a new habit on celebrating and appreciating your strengths! This will require time, patience, persistence and perseverance – it is easy to fall back into our old ways and to overcome ourselves is the greatest obstacle. But remember your determination to do so is already a strength, and have an end goal in mind each time you improve!

 

The Micro Point of View:

It is all great and dandy to say, “Focus on your strengths!” It is even easier to turn this into a cliché quote on social media – but it is not enough. In an era with great emphasis and readily available advice on holistic self-improvement, I feel that it is important to break apart commonly said and partially understood motivational sayings, clichés and quotes. In order to really pull away the detailed and useful message that will truly inspire us to implement real change in our lives. With such inspirational sayings, the message lies in the subtle and quiet.

As mentioned above, a person who focuses on their negative will end their self-talk with “… not enough.” But did you know that people who focus on their strengths do this too? That a person who knows they are compassionate will often speak to themselves in the same way; which then puts a shadow over their strengths, making it appear to be a weakness or less in value.

There is a very subtle difference in the way we must address ourselves when we say to ourselves, “Focus on your strengths!” Most importantly, we need to come from a place of encouragement, not criticism. Criticism regarding your strengths as “not enough” is just as detrimental as criticism on your weaknesses as not being enough. To avoid this, consciously re-word the way in which you motivate yourself. Expand the message to reveal the strength of encouragement. Instead of “You’re not outgoing enough,” you can change the criticism into encouragement: “I am more outgoing that I was before, and it was always enough; I am thankful to be able to continue to grow and build on my extroverted self.”

It may sound strange or seem wordy at first, but write in your own honest way with words that speak to you; you deserve to give yourself the detailed explanation of who you truly are. That is why a gratitude journal is one of my favourite recommendations, as you have only yourself to “impress,” it is like looking in a mirror. Each thought you have slows down through the pen into a carefully chosen word, or a passionate scribble; you become honest with yourself. There you can learn to focus on speaking to yourself more positively and can read your daily encouragements when you are struggling. Reminding yourself of all the days you focused on your strengths. Appreciating yourself for all that you already are.

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