I’m often asked about the relationship between strengths and habits, especially as it relates to strengths assessments like Clifton Strengthsfinder and Virtues In Action (VIA). So let’s cut to the chase--Excellence and success are the product of both your strengths and your habits. Strengths without positive habits are just dormant talents; signature strengths habits will turn your talents into excellence.
Why do I say that? Well, first, it’s in the very definition of “excellence” and “strength.” Second, there is an overwhelming body of research that clearly demonstrates that strengths need to be habitually applied in order to have a positive impact on any metric of success--happiness, well-being, productivity, success at work, you can name the outcome.
There is a HUGE Difference Between Talent and Strength
Let’s tackle the definition first. There is a lot of confusion surrounding “strengths” assessments. Let’s be clear--none of them actually measure a ‘strength.’
Take the Clifton Strengthsfinder. It measures talent and potential; the parts of your personality--your recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors--that research or theory predicts are most strongly associated with “success,” typically success at work.
But that is different than a strength. Gallup defines strengths as “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity.” (great read here). It is the application of your talents--your Top 5--that produces “strengths” and excellence.
So, how do we get to “near-perfect performance”? We need to practice, practice, practice! We have to develop habits of using our talents regularly and in positive ways; we have to focus on signature strengths habits.
The Difference Between Talent and Strength is Habits
When habits meet talent, you get exponential growth and the emergence of true excellence.
That is the sweet spot we need to focus on and help others to focus on--discovering talents and then make a habit of developing and positively using those talents. What would the world look like if we did that?
It would be full of people like Ronaldo, LeBron, Musk, Buffett, Robbins--people who are excellent at what they do because they discovered their talents and passions and then built habits of excellence to grow and develop those talents into strengths.
Talent + Habits = Strength and Happiness
I love this message and it sings to my heart. It’s beautiful. But I’m a scientist. I need evidence. So what does the research say?
The research completely supports the need for signature strength habits. Study after study shows the same finding--just becoming aware of your signature strengths is not enough to produce any lasting difference, it is only in the repeated application of signature strengths, in the development of signature strengths habits, that positive effects were seen.
Take, for example, a seminal study by the Father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Selgiman, and colleagues. (This study has over 4800 academic citations! The average citation of a scientific study is less than 1 citation. This paper is a pretty big deal. Read it here.) In this study, the researchers had participants engage in a number of different interventions that were, at the time, being used to improve happiness levels and depressive symptoms.
One of these interventions was identifying signature strengths. This is similar to what you do when you read a book, attend a seminar, or even have an intro coaching session. You discover your signature strengths, learn what they mean, and get an idea of how they can improve your life. They were NOT given any aid or instruction to use their signature strengths habitually.
Another intervention similarly identified participants’ signature strengths, but then took it a step further. It instructed participants to use their signature strengths in a new way every day. Basically, the researchers asked them to build a habit of developing their signature strengths. They essentially taught them how to build signature strengths habits.
So what happened?
Sadly, just identifying signature strengths had no long-term effect on happiness or depressive symptoms. It did not do better than a placebo. Although participants reported a mood boost immediately after taking the assessment, which is cool, but not the outcome that most of us want for ourselves or our clients.
What’s really cool is what they found when habits met strengths. Compared to a placebo group, participants who identified their strengths and then practiced using them in new ways were happier immediately after the assessment, one week later, a month later, and three months later! In FACT, THEY WERE STILL GOING STRONG SIX MONTHS LATER! When researchers stopped the study at 6 months, the people that had built signature strength habits were still happier.
How awesome is that?
And it gets cooler!!! Not only did it help them become happier, but it also improved their depressive symptoms. They didn’t just have better ups, they also had fewer downs. And this effect also carried through the end of the study.
When signature strengths meet habits, good things happen!
So How Do We Develop Signature Strength Habits?
This is the hard part. But it is also where the magic happens. When habits meet talents, good things happen. In later posts, we will discuss concrete methods to develop habits, after all, that is what we do at Habit Tech. As anyone knows who has ever tried to break a bad habit or even gain a new good one, it is not easy. But it can be done. So, subscribe to the Habit Blog and get regular updates on the all things habits, strengths, personal development, and positive psychology. Our goal is to make the world a better place, one habit at a time.
So join us! And remember, signature strengths habits will turn your talents into excellence.
P.S. If you are a coach, speaker, trainer, or consultant who applies strengths-based interventions in your work (or would like to), then check out Habit Technologies new habit-building and online course platform (Architect). (check it out at www.habittechnologies.com).
Architect is a smart platform that helps you scale your business, have more impact, gain more insights, and do it in less time. It also comes preloaded with an awesome signature strengths habit program that your clients can use TODAY to turn talents into success.