Personal Strengths

Personal Strengths Exercise: You at Your Best

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A key way to get more out of your job is to understand and consistently use your personal strengths.  One informal strategy for assessing your personal strengths is to think carefully about a recent situation when you were at your best. Give it a shot.

A Personal Strengths Exercise

First, start by identifying the situation, a specific event within the last few weeks in which you felt you were clearly at your best. Got it? Now, replay it in your mind a few times, focusing carefully on the details of the moment. In a journal or on a piece of paper (because you will need space for this), write out answers to these questions:

  • Using a step-by-step account, how did the events of this situation unfold?
  • What did you do well?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Thinking back on it, what specific strengths did you show in this situation? List as many as you can.
  • Circle or highlight the top five. In which other situations have you observed these strengths?

A Personal Strengths Experiment

Once you have those top five personal strengths, try this experiment: Make a conscious, deliberate effort to use these strengths more often, and in new ways, in your job (or in other areas of your life, if you are not currently employed) every day for the next week.

Over the course of that week, as you do this, what do you notice or experience? In what ways has using these strengths changed the way you feel about your work?

Reflecting on Your Strengths

Martin Seligman and colleagues have shown that people instructed to write about a “you at your best” experience, reflect on their personal strengths illustrated in the story, and then review the story once a day for a week to further reflect on their personal strengths were significantly happier and less depressed compared to people in a control group at the end of that week.[1]  However, these effects didn’t last into the weeks and months that followed.

Why not? One explanation is that merely reflecting on your personal strengths is not enough; you have to use them. Another finding from the same study supported that interpretation: Individuals who were given feedback on their top strengths, and who were then instructed to use one of their top strengths in a new and different way each day for a week, were significantly happier and less depressed not just at the end of that week but even six months later!

Of course, these participants were instructed to use their personal strengths generally, not only at work, and happiness and depression are not the same thing as meaning. However, another study demonstrated that when people use their personal strengths at work, they are in fact more likely to experience their work as meaningful.[2]

To summarize, (the obvious conclusion) don’t stop at merely identifying your personal strengths, use them!


[1] Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60.5 (2005): 410–21.

[2] Hadassa Littman-Ovadia and Michael F. Steger, “Character Strengths and Well-Being among Volunteers and Employees: Towards an Integrative Model,” Journal of Positive Psychology 5.6 (2010): 419–30.

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