Thursday, April 20, 2017

Discovering and Nurturing the Best Within You

A couple of week's ago, I promised a post about strengths. I wish I could remember everything I hoped to say in that post, but I waited too long. I'm going to try to summon those thoughts as best I can today.

There are a couple of things that made me want to write this post. 

The first was my practicum, which helped me become more familiar with the positive psychology movement. Until recent decades, psychology focused heavily on what was wrong with people. It was about diagnosis and treatment - fixing people, if you will. In recent years, psychology has become more involved in researching human strengths, life satisfaction, and happiness.

While researching my practicum, I came across this concept from Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the prominent researchers in positive psychology, and it has been at the forefront of my thoughts ever since:

(Sorry for the blurry image - I took it from my slideshow presentation)

Let's pretend that you have something weak within you. Maybe there's a bad habit you keep going back to, or maybe you have some mental or emotional struggles. 

It can be very easy to hone in on our weaknesses. There are many reasons for this, but I think a big one is that we feel like we are being humble when we bring attention to our faults, as if announcing them to everyone makes us more noble and modest. 

Another reason I believe we focus on our weaknesses is to protect ourselves from being "caught." If I tell you everything I'm bad at and every area I'm weak in, then I beat you to it! You get to know about my weakness because I pointed it out to you. You don't get the glory of discovering my fault on your own! am in control.

I could give more reasons, but suffice it to say that, for many of us, it is our nature to focus on our weaknesses when it would do us a great deal of good if we focused on our strengths.

The second thing that got my thoughts flowing on this topic was General Conference, which occurred the first weekend of April. 

Several years ago, I started hearing people say that they struggle with General Conference because they feel like it's a run down of everything they're doing wrong. I'd never experienced such guilt during General Conference, so, while I felt sad for these individuals, I didn't understand why they felt that way. But then, in time, it happened to me. I started feeling like General Conference was a guilt trip. And the social media culture surrounding General Conference added immensely to that feeling.

This was new to me, I'd never felt that way before, and I didn't like it. I decided to actively battle this feeling by applying the same tactic I used a few years ago to tackle mom guilt. Instead of worrying about everything I am doing wrong during General Conference, I now try to focus on things I am doing right. I listen for statements that validate good choices I am already making, and when it comes to progress, I focus on messages that inspire me, and I don't worry about the ones that make me feel guilty. If I feel inspired, I am ready to act. If I feel guilty, I am not in a place to tackle that particular issue.* 

This is something I've been trying to do for the past few years, but it was only this time around that I was aware there was research to back this up. In essence, I had learned a way to nurture what was best within me. 

I'll try to bring this all together now.

Part of overcoming our faults and weaknesses is nurturing our strengths, and to do that, we need to know what they are! 

This is so hard for many people. In my workshop, I had the participants fill out a sheet to help them become familiar with some of the best parts of themselves. Some people handled this well and were pleased to make some new  discoveries about themselves, and others refused to write anything good about themselves. It was difficult for me to witness people I love feel incapable of acknowledging their own strengths. 

But anyway, back to the point - we need to know what some of our strengths are, because no matter what faults we have, there are good things within each of us. 

Just in case you need some help in that area, here are three ways you can discover some of your strengths:

You will need to create an account to fill out the questionnaire, but it is free, and once you have an account, you will have access to several other surveys.

This is a great exercise for those who struggle to name their own strengths because the program will do it for you. 

2. Fill out this "My Strengths and Qualities" worksheet

(Just for the record, the worksheet comes from Therapist Aid, not The Rapist Aid).

This one might be harder because you have to name your strengths on your own, but I like this worksheet because it has you go beyond just listing your strengths.

3. Ask someone you love and trust what they think some of your strengths are

Ooooooo! That's a tough one. But it's also a good one, because another person is going to see strengths in you that you might not see in yourself. 

Do it! I dare you!

And as a bonus, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have received a patriarchal blessing, I encourage you to look there for strengths.

Once you've identified some of your strengths, it's helpful to make a list of the ways you can use each strength (you may also include ways you have used that strength in the past). 

How can your strength bless your own life as well as the lives of others? How can you further develop that strength? 

As a religious person, I believe the cultivation of our best qualities can be accomplished through prayer. It is one thing to learn of our strengths, but it is another to develop and use them for the best purposes. Acknowledging our strengths may seem to be at odds with the commandment to be humble, but there is room for humility in the best parts of us as we use those strengths for righteous purposes and for serving others. 

Research has shown that doing a kind deed is one of the most effective (if not the most effective) ways to boost happiness, so I encourage you to acknowledge your strengths and use them to help others. In doing so, you will have a greater capacity to overcome your own weaknesses. 

*I would like to add here that I sustain the leaders of the Church, and I do not believe that it is the intent or purpose of general Conference to make us feel guilty. Feeling that way is, perhaps, one of my own weaknesses.
**According to my most recent completion of the survey, my top 5 strengths are spirituality, love of learning, humor and playfulness, creativity, and gratitude. 

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