How Leaning Into Your Strengths Can Lead to Success
Imagine you just graduated high school and all you’ve ever dreamed of was competing in Olympic figure skating. So much so, you rebel against your parents, drop out of college, and spend all your time at the rink practicing spins, jumps, and (hopefully) landings. Then your big moment to prove yourself arrives – trying out for the US Olympic figure skating team.
But once the event finishes and the Zamboni rolls out, it’s all over.
You have been cut.
Your dream – and what seemed like your biggest strength – have both melted away.
Now, what if I told you that was a true story, and that woman just pushed harder to make the Olympics another year? It would be an almost predictable clichè, right?
Yet that’s not the case at all.
That woman never competitively skated again. Instead, she ended up fighting through depression, finding her real strength, and eventually becoming one of the most famous clothing designers of all time.
Her name is Vera Wang.
An age-old question
If you happened to be a fairly mediocre athlete growing up in the ’90s (like me), you may have also felt like Vera.
At the time, all I dreamed about was making it to the NBA. My basketball coaches told me to get better at my weaknesses. Dribbling, toughness, and well…height.
So I tried.
I spent all four years of high school attempting to improve my weaknesses. Yet after thousands of hours of practice, I still sucked. My senior year was capped with less than 2 minutes of playing time per game and the worst win/loss record in the school’s 80-year history.
It makes you think.
What if my coaches had given me the opposite guidance? Would it have been better to ignore my weaknesses and double down on my strengths?
The answer (according to psychology)
Turns out the answer is: it depends.
If your goal has a significant mental component, say sticking with a new eating plan, changing a bad habit, or performing well at your job, then leveraging your strengths can help you succeed.
Behavioral psychologists like the talented Dr. Jacinta Jiminez and Gotivation’s own Dr. Ed Hansen share this sentiment.
“We need to play to our strengths,” Dr. Jimenez told me a few years ago.
Strengths are personal traits or characteristics in which you have already demonstrated proficiency. You may be organized, disciplined, determined, or curious. Each one would be a strength.
What we are not talking about is your height, speed, flexibility, or anything physical.
Admittedly, this can feel counterintuitive. With so many advertisers, coaches, and even spouses telling us to fix our shortcomings, what is the benefit of leaning into your existing strengths?
The strengths of strengths
There are several studies that highlight the benefits of using (and knowing) your strengths.
First and foremost, leveraging your existing strengths can help you achieve quicker and better results.
Remember Vera Wang’s impressive shift?
Once she stopped focusing on her weakness, she found her strengths: detail and design. From there, she quickly became the youngest editor at Vogue, and over time, grew a world-renowned fashion empire.
Let’s say you are trying out a new healthy meal program.
You are more likely to stick with the program if you leverage your organizational skills to plan out meals in advance. Or if your strength is optimism (instead of staying organized), try a program that prepares the meals for you.
Another positive side effect from playing to your strengths?
Each time you rack up a new success, your self-confidence increases. As we tirelessly profess at Gotivation, self-confidence is one of the most important factors in making lasting change.
Simple awareness of your strengths brings another interesting plus: recognizing the support you need to reach your goal becomes exceedingly clear. For example, if you’re a hard worker but really struggle with details, guess what? There’s undoubtedly a coach, training program, or app that can handle the details for you.
Lastly (and not to be minimized over the past few years), those who stop focusing on their weaknesses are less stressed, more content, and lead happier lives.
Turning a new page
You have strengths.
Some may be outlandishly conspicuous (we see you extroverted empaths). Others may require a little self-discovery. Whatever the case, recognizing and playing to your strengths can lead to new levels of success in your health, career, and life.
So the next time you feel like you’re fighting yourself and your weaknesses, try approaching it differently—lean into your strengths.