While the study of human strengths is one of the most mature and well-researched areas of wellbeing science, we can often find it challenging to practically implement what we know within our personal lives and in the workplace, as human beings are typically wired to focus on our weaknesses and limitations.  Why might this be the case?

“I think the number one reason is a worry about arrogant pride,” explained Professor Dan Cable from the London Business School, when we interviewed him recently.  “Many cultures celebrate modesty, and so highlighting limitations and what we are weak at shows other people that we’re not ‘on our high horse,’ which reduces the risk of us being rejected.  Because frankly, humans are very social creatures.”

Unfortunately, this concern that people who celebrate their strengths may be seen as arrogant or unwilling to learn from others holds us back and means we spend very little time and energy asking ourselves how we can use our strengths.  It also leaves us without a roadmap on how to integrate our strengths into our existing work.

Dan’s research has found that creating a Personal Highlight Reel can help us identify, integrate, and share our strengths within our personal and professional lives by taking the following steps:

  1. Undertake self-reflectionJournal about a time you felt most alive and made a significant and meaningful contribution.  You can reflect on how it felt to do something that came naturally to you and that you loved doing.
  2. Reflect on our close social network – Write down memories or stories about times when each close connection in your social network was were at their best.  As you share it with them, take the opportunity to ask for them to write a story about you in return.  This is the basis of your personal highlight reel.
  3. Integrate your highlight reel – Shape your actions and your thoughts so that you’re able to bring those strengths to life more often.  Some ways to do this include using a mindfulness technique or popping all the keywords into a word cloud, which you can keep on hand as a reminder.

This three-step process builds evidence of strengths that your brain can draw upon, reiterate, and integrate into your life.  It also helps us to understand and believe how others see us, which Dan’s research has shown leaves us feeling more creative and more resilient.

“Our studies have found that by being affirmed and by learning how others see us at our best, we learn that we’re okay people,” explained Dan.  “This helps us because when bad things happen, we can shrug them off, get back to work, and not have those harmful micro-processes spinning around in our brains and holding us back from our potential.”

Studies suggest that personal highlight reels are highly effective at a team level as well.  By creating and reading out highlight reels as part of the team’s development, people feel affirmed to bring their most unique skills, strengths, perspectives to the team, as opposed to worrying about whether they fit in. 

To bring strengths to life for you and your team, Dan suggests the following:

  • Take yourself through the three-step process to develop a personal highlight reel.  Write about other people and their strengths, and ask for them to write about you in return.  While this process may feel uncomfortable, when hearing what they have to say, it can be a truly enlightening and enriching experience.  Did you have any instances where you felt highly emotional?  Has your perception of yourself changed throughout the process?  Self-reflection throughout this is beneficial and helps to bring your strengths to life.
  • Move the process to your team or personal connections in the workplace.  Make notes about how it impacts the morale, outcomes, and motivation of your team.  Has it had a positive impact on creativity and problem-solving?  Use this as a test to find out if there are any unintended consequences of doing such a highlight reel with your team, and share the lessons with other leaders.  Watch and note if it works equally effectively with all members of your team.
  • Reflect on the personal strengths that you may not yet be bringing out fully in your work.  You could be a true creative at home but focus on efficiency in the workplace.  Is there a way you can bring some of your creativity to the workplace so that you not only enjoy your work more, but your colleagues get to experience more of the real and authentic you?
  • Create a mindfulness trigger that helps you remember your strengths and bring your best self to situations.  You could try implementing something like touching the door as you walk into a meeting room or into your house at the end of the day.  This can help you take a momentary pause and create a mindset that connects you to the strengths that you’ve identified throughout your personal highlight reel.  

What can you do today to help people see and step into their strengths?

To discover more evidence-based practices for helping people to thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast.