A Focus on Strengths

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By Petra Walker

Working with your strengths and encouraging clients to identify and utilise their strengths well lies at the heart of positive psychology coaching. The last two years have been tough years for most people, and I have felt my personal resilience slip a little as continued uncertainty regarding personal and community safety, and the ability to travel have disrupted the way I normally live and work.

Positive Psychology Interventions (or PPIs) are actions or exercises that are designed to improve wellbeing in an individual or group. They have been described as “a psychological intervention (training, exercise, therapy) primarily aimed at raising positive feelings, positive cognitions or positive behaviour as opposed to interventions aiming to reduce symptoms, problems or disorders”. One such PPI is discovering your strengths. 

So, what are strengths?

Put simply they are “positive traits that a person owns, celebrates and frequently exercises”.   Just identifying your own signature strengths can have lasting positive effects as recognising what is good about yourself increases positive emotions, leading to increased happiness and decreased symptoms of depression. When you consciously use these strengths, these positive effects may increase in duration from a few weeks to a few months. So, they are a powerful PPI. When businesses focus on strengths rather than using the deficit model of identifying weaknesses, they find they gain increased confidence in their employees, which leads to increased engagement. In fact, working on improving strengths can even act as an accelerator for improving weaker areas. 

This week I have been exercising my strengths a lot. 

I favoured using my Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence and Creativity over my Self-Regulation or Judgement when I ordered some heavily scented shrub roses for my new, incredibly overgrown garden. I did this because I knew they would bring me joy (thereby exercising my Kindness and Love towards myself). When they arrived, my Self-Regulation kicked in as I knew they needed planting soon, however the ground was hard and stony and therefore heavy going, so I had to pull my Perseverance into full use, adding Teamwork as my father was roped in to help me by fetching full watering cans, for which I expressed my Gratitude.  Finally, the whole experience was an exercise in Hope – any kind of planting exercises hope and vision for the future as there is no guarantee that the weather or pests will be kind. The roses are already giving me joy as I can see how they are attracting bees and birds into the garden and the scent is heavenly. 

How can you discover your strengths?

You could visit https://www.viacharacter.org and take their free VIA Character Strengths Survey. The VIA strengths are not the only strength scale: Gallup also has the Clifton Strengths assessment, which is more work focused; and Strengthscope (https://www.strengthscope.com) also has an evidence-based strengths profiler.  You could try using your top strengths in a new way each day for a week or do as I have done and spot the strengths you are using. You may be surprised at the strengths you use each and every day. 

To understand more about the research, theory and practice of strengths and how they can be applied for positive psychology coaching, check out our ICF-accredited Positive Psychology Coaching and the Strengths-Based Approach course.

Petra Walker

Petra is a passionate and vibrant Positive Psychology Coach, who has worked in Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Poland, UK and Dubai. As well as coaching at the IPPC, she is also an Associate Coach with NEO Leaders at INSEAD, the Business School for the World.

She is also a researcher, writer and speaker, presenting her research into Posttraumatic Growth, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Scuba Diving at international conferences and is currently co-authoring a chapter on Adventure and Posttraumatic Growth for a forthcoming book on Adventure Psychology.

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