Home » How-to » How to use your strengths to pursue your dreams

How to use your strengths to pursue your dreams

Text over a picture of mountains. Text says 'Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined. Henry David Thoreau'
Reading Time: 8 minutes

It's that time again: everyone is talking about New Year's Resolutions

It’s traditional at this time of year to think about what has been, and look to the New Year as an opportunity for a fresh start (perhaps even more so than usual, given what 2020 was like for so many people). And this reflection and desire to start afresh often manifests as a set of “New Year’s Resolutions”. They are aspirational goals of who we want to be and what we want to achieve in the fresh and shiny new year.

Are you giving up, measuring up or levelling up?

New Year’s Resolutions often take the form of “giving up” or “measuring up”. In “giving up”, we try to reduce/stop something. It could be something we eat or drink (e.g. coffee, sugar, alcohol) or something we do (watching TV, gossiping, complaining). In “measuring up”, we try to achieve something that can be measured externally. That could be losing weight, changing jobs, achieving a sporting goal, completing a project etc.

Setting goals can be a great way to focus our efforts and behaviour on what matters to us. But goals can distract us from what’s going on inside, or morph into monsters that drive us away from joy and connection. They also tend to have a pass/fail format. You either achieve the goal, or you have “failed”. There is no room for progression, development and setbacks on the way to mastery.

Levelling up

I believe that focusing our energy and attention on what is happening inside ourselves (mind, heart, soul, spirit or whatever other term you are comfortable with) can be a powerful way of aligning our time, efforts, money and passions. This leads to us “levelling up” as we pursue our dreams.

A new take on New Year's Resolutions

I’m not saying that the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions is bad. Although, judging by the nubmer of people who quit their resolutions by February, I don’t think the process has a great track record!

It’s fair to say that a number of our traditions and “normal” approaches have been challenged in 2020. So, in that spirit, I encourage you to take a new approach to this new year. I’d like to invite you to consider how you can apply your strengths in pursuit of your dreams.

What you need to know about strengths

A strength is defined by Cappfinity (the owners of Strengths Profile) in three parts: performance (you are good at it), energy (you enjoy using it) and frequency (how often you use it). If you are good at something but it doesn’t energise you, it’s not a true strength.

When you find something you are good at AND it energises you AND you use it all the time, it’s a “realised” strength (you’ve made it “real” by using it). If you don’t often use it, it’s an “unrealised” strength.

Unrealised strengths are like a personal pot of gold. They’re things you are good at and love doing, but don’t do frequently. So, increasing the frequency of their use has the potential to add more “spark” and energy to your life.

I’ve written an article covering some easy ways to identify your strengths.

The most effective approach that I have found for identifying strengths and learning how to apply them effectively is the Strengths Profile. This approach helps you uncover your realised and unrealised strengths, along with learned behaviours and weaknesses. It teaches you how to weave your realised and unrealised strengths together in pursuit of your dreams, by developing an action plan to maximise your strengths in energising and beneficial ways, while ensuring your learned behaviours and weaknesses can’t trip you up along the way.

I am an accredited Strengths Profile practitioner – contact me to find out more, and get started on your strengths journey.

A bit more about strengths

Everyone has a range of different strengths. And they come in all manner of types and combinations.

Our unique combination of strengths changes, and is changed by our life experiences and the situations we encounter.

You’ll usually find that different strengths come out in different contexts. For example, you might love (and be really good at) at following detailed and precise procedures at work. But when cooking a meal, you prefer to be guided by intuition and taste. So, in one context you are demonstrating adherence, and in the other, creativity. Neither strength is “better” than the other, but if you decided to apply your creativity at work and make up a completely new way of doing things, you could create more problems than you think you are going to solve!
Some common types of strengths include: 
  • people (interpersonal) skills
  • knowing and managing yourself
  • how you relate to ideas
  • the way you process information
  • how you navigate challenges

Identifying your strengths

It can be tricky to identify your strengths, because they feel so natural and normal. It’s hard to believe that something so “easy” is unique to you.

And because they come easily, we sometimes don’t value them very highly. Our culture often emphasises hard work and “no pain, no gain”. The idea of being effortlessly good at something we enjoy doing goes against the grain.

But taking a strengths-based approach is an amazing way to work and live. It offers you opportunity to be at your best on a regular basis.

Click on the “How can I identify my strengths?” heading in the box to the left, and you’ll find a link to an article where I explain some easy ways to identify your strengths.

It’s worth re-visiting your strengths on a regular basis, as they can change over time, based on the ones you play with, and your context. I like to check in a couple of times a year, although a different frequency might work better for you.

Which strength(s) will you play with this year?

After you’ve identified your key strengths, you can select one or two to play with this year.

I use the term “play with” because we can get way too serious if we’re always “working on” things. I like the idea of being playful, of using our creativity to come up with new approaches. In play, we shift from a focus on rules to a focus on possibilities. We can learn to hold things lightly, rather than clutching tightly to the unhelpful success/failure binary. And the best bit is that the more we play, the more we develop our capability, leading to mastery.

Think about your dreams, then look at your strengths, and see if any of them jump off the page at you. These are the ones to focus on! If nothing jumps out, try a quick thought experiment. Ask yourself “What would my life be like this time next year if I spend 12 months learning how to apply this strength in new ways?” If you like any of the answers, consider selecting those strengths to play with.

Now comes the fun part – playing with those strengths! I encourage you to get in touch with your inner child, and embrace the learning process. It won’t always be easy or turn out the way you expect, but that’s OK. Perfection isn’t attainable, so we may as well have fun along the way.

Your Strengths Playbook

Just as any good sporting coach has a comprehensive playbook to help their teams face a variety of situations, you can create your own Strengths Playbook to help you develop your capability and mastery of each strength. You will fill it with ideas for how to play to your strengths and apply them in new ways.

Get brainstorming - old and new ways to play

Take each strength in turn. List all the ways you currently use that strength – at work, at home, with friends, in your hobbies. Now write list new ways you could apply the strength. You might apply it in a new situation. For example, pick something you do really well at home, and think of how you can apply it at work (or vice versa).

Or you could find ways to use your strength to help you with an area of weakness. For example, you aren’t great at having to check your work to fix mistakes and you have a real strength for making improvements to systems and processes. How can you improve your process so you make fewer errors, or increase the speed and accuracy of the checking process?

Overcoming barriers

Think about situations which might make it tricky for you to use the strength. What could you do to overcome the barriers? What other strengths could you use to help you out?

Who can you learn from?

And consider how you might learn more about the strength, and ways to apply it. Who do you have around you that is really good in that strength? Ask them about their experiences, and what they wish their younger self had known. Observe how they approach their life and that area of strength.

Or maybe there’s someone who is an amazing demonstration of the strength, but you don’t know them personally. You can still use them as a kind of mentor. Read about them (or, even better, read what they have written/said about themselves and their approach). What can you learn from them?

Build your Strengths Playbook

As you write down your answers to each question and prompt, you are creating your very own Strengths Playbook. Each time you choose a new strength to focus on, you can re-do this exercise. Over time, you’ll start to see links between different strengths. Some of your strengths will help you apply other strengths, creating a “shortcut” for completing your new Strengths Playbook – you won’t have to start from scratch.
And you’ll always be able to re-visit your earlier Strength Playbooks, to expand them further, based on the other strengths you’ve been playing with and mastering.

But what about goal-setting?

So far, I haven’t mentioned goal-setting in the context of strengths. That’s because it can be tricky to set an a measurable goal when it comes to many strengths.

For example, there is no externally-calibrated way to measure how strong your “relationship deepener” or “love” or “hope” strengths are. So, you need to create an internally-calibrated measurement system to check-in on your progress from time to time.

Internally-calibrated strengths measurements

Only you can know how much and how often you apply your strengths – they won’t always be obvious to others. And only you can create a personally-meaningful measurement to capture your progress.

You might give yourself a rating out of ten for how frequently you are using your strength, or how effectively you are deploying it. You could use a traffic light system where green means you’re using it wisely and well, amber means you are under- or over-using it, and red means you’ve strayed from the strength.

Once you’ve established your unique form of measurement, you can set yourself a goal based on that measurement system, and decide how frequently to check in. At the start, it’s probably worth checking in weekly (or daily if that makes more sense for you). Over time, as you establish the habit of working with the strength, you can push out the check-ins to monthly (or further apart if that seems like a better fit).

The main thing is to use the goal as a reference point for your progress, not as a judgement on your self-worth. If you show me someone who has never failed on their path to mastery, I’ll show you someone who either hasn’t been honest with themselves, or who set their sights way too low and hasn’t yet reached their potential!

Using strengths wisely

A final note before I finish up – getting really good at playing with your strengths also includes resting them from time to time, so that they stay “fresh”. Even elite athletes need time away from training and competing – in fact, failing to get proper rest is often a cause of failure.

It’s the same with your strengths – overuse of a strength can lead to burnout. So in your Strengths Playbook, you might like to add a section that defines situations when you’ll allow a strength to rest. For example, if you are always organising everything for everyone, you might ask a friend to organise your next catch-up – time, place and activity. Then you can show up with your other strengths to the fore, because you’ve given yourself some “time off” from your organiser strength.

Wishing you a strength-filled 2021

It’s still a strange old world out there – simply flipping the calendar over hasn’t changed many of the challenges that we face, as individuals, communities and as human beings. I am convinced that in every crisis lies opportunity, and that there is a solution to every problem, if we are bold enough to try new ways of doing things.

My wish for you, as we launch into this new year, is that you uncover some strengths you didn’t know you have, dust off some strengths that have helped you in the past, and “go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” (Henry David Thoreau).


1 thought on “How to use your strengths to pursue your dreams”

  1. Pingback: Work-life balance or work-life harmony? ~ Daria Williamson - Coach, Trainer, Facilitator

Leave a Reply