It’s clear from the recent research studies out of positive psychology that a fundamental component of purposeful growth should be our personal and unique strengths. This term gained popularity with Dr. Martin Seligman’s landmark book, Authentic Happiness, which introduced the concept of unique personal strengths and called them signature strengths.
At Seligman’s request, prominent psychology researcher and professor Christopher Petersen, PhD (A Primer in Positive Psychology) led a study of strengths resulting in a model of 24 strengths based on six fundamental and ubiquitous values of most cultures. A popular online site followed, where we could take a self-assessment questionnaire and receive an immediate profile of our signature strengths. This was an extremely useful tool for personal growth, as research studies indicated that when we utilize our signature strengths we’re most productive and creative; we produce work of high quality; and we’re happiest.
Recently, researcher and entrepreneur Dr. Alex Linley released new information further extending and expanding the study of personal strengths. Linley’s Average to A+ expanded the discussion of benefits of using our strengths. His most recent book, The Strengths Book goes even further, describing a four-quadrant model of strengths and introducing another online self-assessment questionnaire, Realise2.
Linley’s strength model includes 60 character traits. His online personalized profile described my results in four categories when I recently completed the 20 minute exercise: Realized Strengths, Unrealized Strengths, Learned Behaviors, and Weaknesses. Two important new concepts from Linley are significant for those interested and committed to personal (and purposeful) growth:
1. We have our greatest opportunity for personal growth by focusing on our Unrealized Strengths. These are characteristics which produce good results for us when we use them, but we tend to under-utilize these strengths. Increased awareness and utilization of Unrealized Strengths can provide significant personal growth. As with Realized Strengths, Unrealized Strengths not only give us good performance, but they’re energizing behaviors, too.
2. Heavy use of the characteristic Linley calls Learned Behaviors can lead to burnout. This is because we’ve learned to use certain capabilities effectively, producing good results with them. BUT, Learned Behaviors are energy draining—we’re exhausted after using them. Dependence on Learned Behaviors can lead to burnout, not a good outcome for someone focused on personal or professional growth.
To better understand strengths, what they are and how best to utilize them in personal growth plans, I recommend reading Average to A+ and The Strengths Book; these too are written for the layperson.
Then take the free online self assessment of signature strengths and Linley’s Realise2, four quadrant self-assessment. Unfortunately, Linley’s questionnaire is not free, but is modestly priced at 15 English pounds, about $23.
For more information on Linley’s strengths model and how to apply it to your personal and professional growth, see Personal and Professional Development Plans Build upon Strengths for a discussion of building your plan on strengths and Professional Career Development Planning to Prevent Job Burnout for more on job burnout and how to avoid it.
See this Sample Personal Development and Growth Plan for an example of a comprehensive plan incorporating strengths.