Why is it so important to feel like we’re doing what’s truly in line with ourselves?
Because doing so makes us feel incredible and leads us to perform at our best.
To live life well, Aristotle said we must “strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us”. In other words, we live our lives at their best when we live in line with our strengths.
Why does using our strengths matter so much? According to strengths researcher and psychologist Dr Alex Linley, the answer’s really quite simple.
When we use our innate capacities, we feel authentic – like we are being our truest selves – and that influences our sense of fulfillment. It also energises us. Like a car alternator, using our strengths actually tops up our batteries.
Linley’s research found that when people use their strengths they have higher levels of vitality and a greater zest for life. They also don’t burnout, unlike when we’re working hard without tapping our key capabilities.
Such fulfillment and energy leads us to perform at our best. We’re at the top of our psychological functioning, feeling more alive, engaged and in flow. We learn better, because it’s easier to put down neural pathways where they already exist than to forge new ones. Naturally then, we also perform better.
The beauty of fully using our strengths is that doing so is actually the path of least resistance to reach our greatest potential.
It’s exciting to recognise the win-win nature of using our strengths. Of course, we must first know what they are, and there’s a good scientific reason for that. In his illuminating book, Average to A+, Linley asks us to run an experiment. Look at these words and notice how you feel:
BAD – SORROW – ASSAULT – LOSS – DEATH – PAIN – WEAKNESS
Now notice how you feel when you read these words:
GOOD – JOY – LOVE – GAIN – LIFE – PLEASURE – STRENGTH
You probably feel somehow reduced by the first line of words, but elevated by the second. Words have a powerful impact on the way we feel, which in turn affects our thoughts and actions.
The power of such labelling is well known in psychology. When we label something, we pay it attention and treat it as real (good or bad). That’s why we need to identify our strengths so that we keep them in the forefront of our minds. Then we can really harness them. As Linley says,
“Without the capacity to describe them, it is easy for our strengths to fall between the cracks of our existence, becoming lost and forgotten rather than identified, nurtured, celebrated, and fully realised”.
When we realise our strengths – as in, identify them and fully understand them – we can then also ‘realise’ them in the sense of bringing them fully into being.
There is another good reason to identify our strengths:
“When someone has a strength, and we reflect it back to them, they have a eureka moment of realisation and recognition. They feel understood, validated, and valued. They feel appreciated for who they really are”.