What are your top 5 strengths?

I read an article about the negative effects of positive thinking. Yep, you read that right, positive thinking doesn’t always work. You’re probably wondering the same thing I did, how can that be?

I admit, I was a self-help junkie. I read all kinds of material on ways to better yourself, browsing the shelves at the bookstore, looking for that magical answer that would make me a better person. But I always left feeling emptier and more unhappy than I did going in. I finally stopped going back to those familiar shelves and something strange happened. When I stopped reading about positive affirmations, tips and tricks to being awesome because you aren’t already, and 10 ways to improve your flawed self, I started feeling better.

You see, using “positive thinking” implies that there is a negative to overcome. It sounds logical. You are essentially trying to wipe out negative with positive, but the problem lies in always pointing out that the negative exists.

Why waste energy on the flaws when you already have some amazing talents?

Focus on the strengths you already possess. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a project that needs to be “fixed”.

Instead, explore your inherent strengths.

Use the qualities that come most naturally to you to improve your life
 and begin thriving.
~ VIA Institute of Character

For most of my life, I have felt like a fish swimming upstream. As a social introvert, I struggled to find balance between wanting to go out with my friends and needing time to recharge. I would tell myself that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. If I could just change!

But I couldn’t, and believe me, I’ve tried. And why should I have to change? It makes me angry to think that I’ve wasted so much time trying to meet someone else’s expectations. After talking to my amazing friend Stacey about it, we started talking about strengths for the billionth time. Then, something broke inside me.

I love the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Her prose is pure poetry. She has a passage that I have loved, but this time, I felt it. “Something fell off the shelf inside [me]. Then [I] went inside there to see what it was. It was the image of [myself] tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it [I] saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of [my] dreams. Just something [I] had grabbed up to drape [my] dreams over.”

It was the expectation of myself laying in a thousand pieces on the floor, but instead of being sad that it was broken, it was amazingly beautiful. I went home that night with a feeling of peace that I haven’t felt for a long time. I felt more open and free.

I have value just the way I am. And you do too.

Using your strengths means that you can focus on things you are naturally good at and enjoy doing. Maybe you are terrible at organization but excel at public speaking, and your colleague is a neat-freak and terrified to give the next presentation. You would both benefit from swapping duties. Your employer would also benefit from having two much more productive and happier employees.

What about at home? I am forgetful with the laundry, but my guy is great at remembering time-sensitive tasks. He swaps the clothes from the washer to the dryer and brings me the clean, dry clothes to fold. I am a MUCH better cook than he is and he is great at eating whatever I feed him without complaint. Win-win!

I can tell you first-hand that this also works with parenting. I have two step-sons, ages 12 and 11 and I had been struggling with my own expectations of them for a long time. Things like dirty socks left in the living room, or peanut butter fingerprints on the refrigerator would drive me crazy. Now, I focus on building them up instead of holding them to an expectation that was never mine, and certainly isn’t theirs.

Allowing people to shine is a gift that can benefit everyone involved. When you’re always striving for something you lack, you’re always losing. When you use your gifts that come naturally, you always win and so does everyone around you.

Wondering what your strengths are? Take this quiz to find out. Basic results are free.

Now over to you, dear reader. I would love to hear from you.

What are your strengths? How do you use them on a daily basis? What strengths do you wish you could use more regularly?

Originally published at crushedviolets.wordpress.com on September 1, 2016.