How to Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Most of us have lofty goals we seek to achieve during our lifetimes. Whether they are athletic, professional, financial, or deal with relationships, our goals are what drive us. When it comes to achieving such ambitions, continual progress must be made on our parts.

We must always be seeking to build upon the areas in which we excel and improve upon the areas where we fall short. For this reason, being able to identify our strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important in leading a successful life.

What are Strengths

Strengths are the areas in our lives where we excel. These are the skills and traits we are either naturally gifted in or have spent a great deal of time improving.

When we look at our strengths in terms of leading us down the path to success, there are two aspects we can examine: natural strengths and learned skills.

Positive psychology is the area that focuses on character strengths and behaviors that help individuals build a meaningful life. The leading figure in this area of study is Martin Seligman. Through his research, he concluded that strengths are a matter of virtue, not learned experience.

However, in the context of working on personal improvement in respect to a goal, I believe it is beneficial to examine both our natural strengths (virtues) and the learned strengths we develop through practice.

Natural Strengths

Our natural strengths are the characteristics we possess that seem to be ingrained in our personalities. According to Martin Seligman there are twenty-four character strengths we can have, all stemming out of six different classes of virtues.

The six classes of virtues are as follows:

  1. Wisdom: This includes creativity, having an open mind, being curious, a love for learning, and having a perspective on life of always wanting to learn.
  2. Courage: Having courage means being brave, facing life honestly, and being able to persevere when life gets tough.
  3. Humanity: Showing love and kindness for others, along with displaying high levels of social awareness.
  4. Justice: Seeking fairness in life, working well in a team, and seeking harmony with others.
  5. Temperance: There are two sides to this virtue, with one being about others and one being about yourself. With others, it means being forgiving and having mercy on them. For yourself, it means being self-disciplined and practicing moderation.
  6. Transcendence: This means being spiritual or religious, seeking out beauty, feeling gratitude, pursuing excellence, and appreciating humor.

I think it’s fair to say that these are some good qualities to have. We should all aim to display high levels of each one of these virtues. However, some of us will be naturally inclined towards some and struggle in other areas.

For example, you may feel that one of your strengths lies in wisdom. You are always ready to learn and have an open mind about different cultures and differing opinions. But maybe you’re not so great when it comes to working in a team environment or practicing moderation in certain situations.

Whichever ones resonate with you the most are likely to be the core values that guide your life. Understanding these is important, not only to build upon the ones which are your strengths, but also to be able to recognize areas that need improvement.

"Our natural strengths are the characteristics we possess that seem to be ingrained in our personalities."

Learned Skills

In terms of where you are right now in either your sport, your profession, or your schooling there will be strengths that you have gained through practice. While these differ from natural strengths in that you were not born with them, it is equally as important to examine these areas in terms of success.

Everyone gravitates towards certain skills that they seem to “get” better than others. It is very rare for an athlete to be balanced skill wise in their sport. Even the top performers have strengths that have revealed themselves along the way.

Maybe it’s because the skills were once a weakness that you spent a lot of time improving, and now the area has become a strength. Or maybe you were naturally more gifted in a certain respect and so it was more enjoyable to work on that part.

Whatever the reasoning, strengths begin to reveal themselves as we progress in life.

It’s important to recognize the strengths we’ve developed through practicing because they can be leveraged in a way to propel us towards success. We can also employ the same tactics that made those areas into a strength as we work to improve upon our weaknesses.

What are Weaknesses

While a lot of people will find it difficult to identify their strengths, it can be even harder to pinpoint your weaknesses. One of the main reasons for this is the threat it can present to our self-worth.

If you are someone who struggles with low self-confidence or low self-worth, then examining your weaknesses can be dangerous. You do not want to open that can of worms which may lead you down the path towards dark thoughts.

Or, perhaps you do not see yourself as having any weaknesses. That’s a possibility too, though a much less likely one then the previous mentioned reason.

Either way, it is important to always look at our strengths first. That way, you do not get caught up in believing you are full of weaknesses with no strengths to be found. Also, by first examining our strengths it can be easier to locate the areas of weakness.

As you might be able to guess, our weaknesses are going to be found in the same way as strengths, by looking at natural strengths and learned skills to help us get a proper picture of ourselves.

One important thing to remember when thinking about your weaknesses is, just because a certain area is a weakness for you, does not mean there is something wrong with you. As I mentioned, it can be scary to look at the areas we are not strong in and become depressed, thinking we have fallen short or are a lesser person.

You must always remember that a weakness is not a fault, rather, it’s simply an area we can either improve upon or not, depending on what we choose.

Having this mindset will help you to take an objective view of your weaknesses and not allow the knowledge of them to affect your self-worth.

Character Weaknesses

The title is a little harsh, but what I am referring to is simply the virtues from above which you are not naturally inclined towards.

While you may have the desire to work well in a team, have high levels of self-discipline, or always seek knowledge, the fact may be that they are not a natural strength of yours.

Having them as a weakness does not mean you dislike them, or do not believe in them. It’s just that they are not a virtue that comes easily to you. We may overlook such weaknesses because we don’t want to think we have a character flaw.

That’s why I made the title of this section “Character Weaknesses” because so many of us look at that and automatically assume it means something negative. All I am meaning is there are virtues we are not naturally inclined to present. This doesn’t mean they can’t be learned, but that’s only possible if you first identify them as a weakness.

For me, my character weaknesses lie mostly in working well in team environments (I prefer to work alone most of the time) and having an open mind.

While I like to believe I am open minded to other people’s points of view, I do struggle sometimes with being one-track minded. I can get my head stuck on one idea or ideal and I will stick with that.

These are not faults, but rather areas I have identified as parts of my personality I should seek to improve.

"Having them as a weakness does not mean you dislike them, or do not believe in them. It’s just that they are not a virtue that comes easily to you. We may overlook such weaknesses because we don’t want to think we have a character flaw."

Overlooked Skills

In terms of the learned skills that we present as strengths, the opposite will be the areas we often overlook. These will present themselves as weaknesses if we do not put effort into improving them.

Sometimes, these weaknesses can be old strengths that we did not focus so much on because we were busy improving our weaknesses at that point. Now, those weaknesses have turned into strengths and the old strong points are now lacking in respect to the new ones.

Also, the areas that we are weak in could have developed because we do not enjoy them. For example, if there is a part of your sport or of your job you don’t particularly like doing, then it is easy to put little effort into it.

After a while, these overlooked skills will turn into weaknesses that should be improved if we wish to elevate our performance.

Importance of Identifying Strengths & Weaknesses

Being able to identify our strengths and weaknesses is a necessary step towards improvement. Not only is it a necessary step, but it’s the first step. How can we build upon our strengths or enhance our weaknesses if we have failed to identify them?

One of the greatest assets we have is the ability to continually learn about and improve ourselves. Through the self-examination process that is required to find out where our strengths and weaknesses lie, we gain better insight into who we are. This in turn increases our level of self-awareness.

When thinking about the importance of identifying our strengths and weaknesses, we can look at the value in understanding each one individually.

Build Upon Strengths

It may be easier to understand the importance of identifying weaknesses rather than strengths, especially when thinking of ways to improve. We can get caught up in the idea that our strong points need little attention.

However, locating where our strengths lie is vital for multiple reasons.

First, we want to understand what parts of our personality or skill set are strengths so that we can ensure they do not become weaknesses down the road. All too often, we forget about our strengths and focus on the weak parts. This tends to result in the roles flipping.

Second, we must identify our strengths so that we can leverage them for success. If you discover you hold strength in certain skills you were unaware of, then you can use that to your advantage moving forward.

Third, we have to continually build upon our strengths. There is always room for improvement, so we should always be striving to become better. By focusing on building upon our strengths we can make them stronger and stronger.

Improving Weaknesses

The importance of identifying our weaknesses is a little more straight forward. These are the parts of our personalities or skill sets that we have determined are not our strong suits.

Once we’ve located them, we must decide on whether the weaknesses are areas we wish to improve upon. Just because we’ve identified a weakness does not mean we have to then work on it, unless it seems to be impairing our success.

But, even if we do not choose to improve the weakness, it’s important for us to identify it in order to build our self-awareness and understanding we have about ourselves.

"Just because we’ve identified a weakness does not mean we have to then work on it, unless it seems to be impairing our success."

How to Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Now that you understand what strengths and weaknesses are and why they are important, it is time to work on actually identifying them.

To do so, having a plan in place will help to keep you organized and ensure you identify them as correctly as possible.

The four steps to identify your strengths and weaknesses are as follows:

Step #1: Decide on Context

When we first begin to identify our strengths and weaknesses, there needs to be a context we are referring to. This is going to come in two forms, with one already having been decided for you.

As we examine our natural strengths, the context is clearly defined: we are looking at the values within ourselves that are either our strong points or where we fall short.

Our learned skills are going to really be where we must decide upon the context. Are you thinking about your strengths in terms of your sport, or maybe your profession? Once you have come up with the context, it’s time to move onto step two.

Step #2: Brainstorm

In this step, making a list is going to be the most helpful.

When compiling your list, break it up into four sections. Two for your natural strengths and weaknesses and two for your learned strengths and weaknesses.

Now it’s time to brainstorm. Go through the list of six values and think about each one. Come up with the ones you believe are your strengths and weaknesses.

Then, do the same for the learned skills in whichever context you’ve decided.

Step #3: Consult Trusted Sources

After you have come up with your own list, you want to consult with someone you trust.

It can be a parent, a coach, a friend, or anyone who knows you well. Go over the lists you have compiled with them. See which areas they agree with and which areas they disagree with.

The reason it is vital you choose someone you trust and that knows you well is to ensure the integrity of your list. You do not want someone who you distrust or someone who barely knows you to help identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Step #4: Field Test and Refine

As we move onto step four, you should have a good list of strengths and weaknesses put together with the help of a trusted source. Now it is time to test out your list and see if there are any adjustments that need to be made.

For your natural strengths, put yourself in a position where they will have to shine. For example, if you decided that courage was one of your strong points, then go into a safe situation where you have to be courageous.

That way, you can really tell in the moment if the value is truly a strength or actually a weakness.

With your learned skills, test them in a similar manner. If you decided that a learned weakness of yours in terms of your sport was your speed, then maybe you can go time yourself running to see if that holds true.

Mold this step to your personal lists, digging deep into each one of your strengths and weaknesses. After doing this, refine your list and then you should have a solid idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

"Mold this step to your personal lists, digging deep into each one of your strengths and weaknesses. After doing this, refine your list and then you should have a solid idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie."

Final Thoughts

Identifying our strengths and weaknesses is an important activity to perform on a regular basis. To understand what areas of our personalities and of our skill sets are strong points and which areas we fall short is a beneficial step towards success.

Once we do, we can build upon our strengths and improve our weaknesses to put us in the best position to achieve our goals.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Have you done much brainstorming on the subject? I would love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below.

If you have any questions about identifying your strengths and weaknesses or any other performance psychology related topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

I hope that this article was helpful, and you can use the steps introduced to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do.

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