Let go of 'constructive criticism' and embrace your strengths and passions
How many times after a session of well-meaning ‘constructive criticism’ have you been left feeling discouraged, upset or even angry? Constructive criticism is the result of a culture that leads us to look for what is missing rather than what is great. We are taught early on to focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths. This may begin in the education system but it definitely finds its apex in the corporate world where too often the focus is on weaknesses and having people fit in an average mould rather than exploring and giving value to their uniqueness . A lot of the feedback we are used to receiving is not constructive at all as it does not focus on how our strengths can support our growth but rather how to address our 'shortcomings'.
Most of us remember criticism long after we forget praise. People tend to remember more negative emotions than positive ones. This means that in reality, even a balanced overview of our strengths and weaknesses can leave us feeling discouraged as we will ultimately end up with more focus on our weaknesses. Wouldn't it be great if our objectives were set keeping our strengths and desires in mind?
What we focus on grows
Focusing on strengths
We all have a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses, but too often the focus of our conversations is on the latter and we spend time and energy trying to 'fix' our shortcomings rather than pursue our strengths and passions.
Because of the push we get from society and how we are hardwired to think, most people can clearly outline their weaknesses but have problems listing their strengths; either because they take them for granted or because they have not spent any time reflecting on what supported them through their past successes and wins. An alternative way to look at weaknesses is to consider them roadblocks if they get in the way of us achieving our goals, and as such, address them as we would any roadblock. If we found an obstacle blocking the road to our house we would focus on how to go around it with the ultimate purpose of achieving our goal of getting home. The obstacle would not make us doubt our resolve or ability to achieve our goal. In a similar fashion, we should only focus on weaknesses if they represent roadblocks and only for the purpose of finding a way around them.
The saying 'what we focus on grows' is a great reminder that if we focus on our strengths they will make us grow and take us to our best self, but if we focus on weaknesses they will bring us down and end up dominating our lives. Our strengths fuel our passions and viceversa our passions help us continue to build on our strengths in an interlinked process that empowers and makes us happy.
How can you tip the scale?
If in reality we often end up with a bigger focus on our weaknesses than our strengths, how can you tip the scale and live a life fueled by your strengths? Here is my easy 3-step process that can help you live a more empowered life:
1. Discover or reconfirm your strengths
There are many tools that can support you in uncovering your strengths. Even if you have given this some thought you may receive surprises or get additional depth around areas where you already have some awareness. The best approach to get a good overview is to combine the results of a personalty test with a small survey of the people who you trust and know you well.
2. Identify your areas of focus and the timeframe
This is a critical step of the journey to a more empowered life as it involves re-confirming your values and setting specific goals that will help you focus your efforts. Important questions to ask are: what lights you up from the inside? What keeps you going even when you are tired? How do your strengths align with your desires and interests?
3. Develop an action and accountability plan
Define the actions and that will help you achieve your goals and build your plan around your strengths and how they will support you through each of the set tasks. Ask yourself: how will your strengths support you to achieve your goals? How can you further develop them? What support structures can you put into place to ensure you get there?