One of the strongest of our cultural myths is how we grow in virtue, how we become “strong,” how we develop “strong” people. It goes something like this: unless it’s a struggle before you have achieved it, it really doesn’t mean a lot.
What’s the myth? The myth is that strength and strengths are wrought from suffering. You really have to suffer. Research tells a different story.
Courage is wrought from strengths, and strengths are wrought from knowing what they are, not suffering through life trying to find them. Great men and women have come into their own greatness by circumstances and times that were right for them to grasp their strengths, to rise up and use their strengths.
What if that just happened every day? What if every day, here’s another day for you to grasp your strengths, here’s another day for you to use your strengths. Grow them and develop them. We want you to go use and try what you are naturally good at. That’s very hard to get people to do; it’s very hard to get people to apply that to their life.
The use of strengths, when you really get into using strengths, is intrinsically satisfying. That is what’s called “autotelic,” the simple appreciation and joy of using our own strengths. Strengths are self-reinforcing. But you have to believe that using a strength is going to help you, that it’s going to change you, that it’s going to be effective.
What keeps people who know their strengths from using them and from being in flow?
It is for sure the learned patterns of anxiety, fear, anger, and blaming, as a result of learning and living in our weaknesses and being trained in them before we discovered our strengths. We simply haven’t had as much training and experience with our strengths as we have had with their opposites, our weaknesses.
The most powerful motivator of using a strength is someone outside of us, consistently recognizing the strength in us. That’s what we do as coaches. Second is the intrinsic satisfaction of using the strengths that our clients begin to understand and use. This is the research of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his work on psychological “flow.”
Suffering in and of itself has defeated more people in trying to find their strengths than it has ever enabled those who have grown from it and accidentally learned what their strengths are in the process. No pain, no gain? How about less needless pain, more positive emotion, more knowledge of strengths?
How about if we get into our minds that strengths and intrinsic satisfaction and flow are stronger motivators than fear and suffering and pain! The growth of strengths and the confidence to use strengths are fostered in an UpSpiral of positive emotion. That’s what we have to create.
Let’s say it again. The growth of strengths and the confidence to use strengths are fostered in an UpSpiral of positive emotion.
© Dr. William K. Larkin