Should You Focus On Strengths Or Weaknesses?


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A genuinely healthy mind and body are the fruit of cultivating healthy habits in your life. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but a balanced and healthy person knows how to deal with both.

Should you focus on strengths or weaknesses? When building good habits in your daily life, it is essential to focus on both strengths and weaknesses. When a person focuses on weaknesses, they can grow as an individual and work on these things, as well as identify unhealthy thoughts and actions. On the other hand, when a person focuses on strengths, they can use these attributes at convenient times and also work to make them even better.

Although some people will tell you to focus only on one or the other, there are better ways to create a healthy mind and body in a more balanced and well-rounded way.

What Is Better To Focus On: Strengths Or Weaknesses?

Strengths are what defines us. But so are our weaknesses. If you spend all of your time in life, focusing on one side of your character, you will end up neglecting the other side.

You could miss out on growth, opportunity, and even keeping yourself safe and sane. Just like the Taoist principle and symbol of Yin and Yang, it is essential to see the bad and good in everything in the world.

The best way to keep yourself healthy is to see reality as it is, with both its good and bad sides. Keeping yourself fit and balanced may be a long process, even a lifelong one. But, if you neglect one or the other, your strengths or your weaknesses, you are apt to miss something in your life that could have helped you.

This article will detail both the benefits and pitfalls of your strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, we will try to give some reasons and advice on how to incorporate the focus of both strengths and weaknesses into your daily life. We will also detail how this focus on both the light and the dark side of yourself, the Yin and the Yang, can ultimately help you be a healthier person.

Focusing On Your Weaknesses

A current Harvard Business Review titled “Stop Focusing On Your Strengths” detailed what most people in the business world fear: failure and weakness. A recent interview on the HBR podcast with Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor at University College London and Columbia University and CEO of Hogan Assessments, explained a lot about focusing on strengths.

In the interview, Chamorro-Premuzic stated that the current trend for people to focus on only their advantages might be hurting and weakening us as professionals and people.

Chamorro-Premuzic didn’t have anything against strengths-based coaching. Teaching people to leverage their strengths in order to use them as convenient and efficient ways to succeed certainly isn’t wrong. On the contrary, the professor sees this as a must-do for everybody. We all need to recognize what we’re good at and use it to our benefit.

However, it is essential to note that even the best and brightest people with amazing ideas and career paths have a “dark side,” as Chamorro-Premuzic put it.

This dark side can negatively affect a person’s career and life if left unchecked. And it can make people vulnerable to what the psychology profession defines as blind-spots. In other words, if we don’t pay attention to our weaknesses along with our strengths, we could set ourselves up for failure, no matter how successful we are.

“Blind-Spots” Created By Strength-Based (Strengths Only) Coaching

When you choose to only focus on strengths, it may help you believe more in yourself. You may also be able to leverage these strengths in significant ways that help you succeed. Looking at your powers indeed has its benefits.

But only looking at strengths has limitations and can create blind-spots in your life that can hurt you. Blind-spots can also damage your personality, hurt you professionally, and even derail your dreams.

Some of these blind-spots include evaluating yourself in a vacuum, ignoring the damaging “dark-side” elements of yourself, and ignoring weaknesses because that is the societal or organizational norm.

Blind-Spot #1: Evaluating Yourself In A Vacuum

In the 1990s, there was a swell of strengths-based coaching and innovation for the business world. This type of coaching encouraged people to pay much more attention to their strengths and leverage them to find the right environment and type of work for them.

This was supposed to help the worker be more efficient because they found what they were good at and stuck with it.

The problem with many of these coaching approaches was that people were not being compared to others.  Instead, the practice of strengths-based coaching focused on merely finding what that person’s strengths were relative to themselves. Finding a person’s strengths means that it is the best thing a person can do.

The problem is that when compared to the general population of workers for that same strength, they could score rather poorly. Evaluating yourself in a vacuum doesn’ imply that there is work to be done on your strengths to make them right or even okay. Instead, it merely tells you that there some of your skills are more developed than others.

Besides, evaluating yourself “in a vacuum” could lead to disappointment and frustration. Imagine you simply focus on your strength, and never confront yourself with the adversity that comes with improving your weaknesses. And all of a sudden, you see that you need to push hard to even compare to others in your field.

It can be a devastating experience because you never learned to push harder.

Should You Focus On Strengths Or Weaknesses?

Blind-Spot #2: Everyone Has A Dark Side

It is fine to look at your strengths and leverage them to create excellent opportunities for yourself. However, doing this can force people only to miss a crucial blind-spot in their lives. Everyone has character defects, and this is a central part of most therapy and even 12-step addiction programs.

Sharing your story with others, commenting on your character defects, and also allowing yourself to be vulnerable will give you insight into this dark side. Knowing your dark side keeps you focused on ways to stay right. If you know your character defects, you can keep your body and mind healthy.

Ultimately, knowledge and acknowledgment of your weaknesses can help you research and find support to manage and overcome the dark side of your personality.

After all, not knowing the bad parts of your personality can lead you to make decisions that might end up hurting you without you knowing it. You might ultimately hurt or destroy your reputation, your career, and your relationships with those you love and even yourself.

Actually, acknowledging your dark side and being vulnerable will cause you to show more UNDERSTANDING for others. It will help you be less judgemental and more compassionate towards your friends and family when they go through darker times.

And, as mentioned above, this can be highly POSITIVE for you, too. Because when you go through darker times, the best way out is by practicing those same behaviors towards yourself. By being self-loving and self-compassionate.

I’d highly recommend you read Kristin Neff’s book on that topic, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself*,  it’s an eye-opener.

Blind-Spot #3: Organizations Do Not Look At Weaknesses As Much As Strengths

In the past few decades, the movement towards a strength-based economy of the workforce and society has made people overconfident. If an organization or community doesn’t value its weaknesses, people will not focus on them.

However, people can learn valuable lessons about themselves from identifying and examining their shortcomings. If organizations and society generally valued faults as signs of limitation, need for rest, and ways to improve, the world may be less stressed, more apt to forgive, more apt to be compassionate, and more comfortable to better yourself in.

And actually, the best companies and organizations have implemented a CULTURE that EMBRACES FAILURE. Because denying your weaknesses bears the risk of making them grow out of control. And, eventually, disappearing as a company or organization.

Ray Dalio, one of the best investors of our time, implemented exactly this culture in his company. And according to him, it was one of the key elements to his success. To dive deeper, I highly recommend reading his book Principles: Life and Work*.

Why Is It Important To Focus On Weaknesses?

Focusing on weaknesses is all about growth and change. Nothing and no one remains the same throughout their life. And conditions and settings are constantly changing for everyone. You may get a new job, have a new relationship, or the world may vary in some way around you.

If you have unidentified, unexamined or hidden (blind) weaknesses in your personality, this can hamper your mental and physical strength. You will be less likely to adapt to inevitable changes in your life. You will not be able to grow and outgrow weaknesses that may be holding back, especially if you don’t even realize that they are there!

How I personally suffered from this…

I, personally, have made the same mistake in the past. I focused on what I was really good at. During my studies, I’d just gather great experiences and good grades.

I knew very well how to operate in the academic world. And I forgot to pay more attention to what was happening INSIDE of myself.

One day, when I was doing my DREAM internship at the United Nations in Geneva, my biggest WEAKNESS of the time hit me in the face. I was lacking self-confidence and depending on others to feel good about myself.

You would think that this is a minor weakness, right?

Well, you’re wrong. This little dark side of myself, which I did not pay enough attention to, grew into a MONSTER.

I started having panic attacks and even became agoraphobic. This basically means that I was afraid of crowds or any situation involving even just a very small group of people.

It PARALYZED me. I had to work hard on my self-belief and confidence to come out of this. And it would probably have been a WHOLE LOT EASIER had I started to pay attention to this weakness earlier!

For those of you who may be interested, you can have a look at my Udemy class about CV/Resume, Cover Letter: get into the United Nations*. 

Focusing On Your Strengths

Most people feel comfortable focusing on their strengths and for good reasons. Our strengths make up for a good part of our identity and are easy for us to show off. And they are low-hanging fruits that we can easily use in order to do better in getting a job, finding a relationship, and being at peace with the world around us.

Managers also found that there are many reasons why helping your staff and employees focus on their strengths will improve the business in the long run. And a society where everybody knows their strengths and uses them can be a better society.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life*, Harvard researcher Shawn Achor explains that employee happiness is directly correlated with higher profits. And one of the factors that will help you increase happiness is using skills in which you’re good at or your strength of character!

Not convinced yet?

Let’s dive deeper and review the top reasons why people should focus on their strengths as well.

Reason #1 To Focus on Your Strengths: Lower Depression Levels, Higher Vitality Levels

Depression is one of those things that seems to come out of nowhere and wreak havoc on your life. When you are in a depressive mood, you may feel unattractive, unproductive, and possibly less passionate about things that you once loved. A root cause of depression is obsessing about failures or weaknesses. A healthy person can weigh their weaknesses evenly with their strengths. However, focusing on strengths can help to lessen depression and make a person feel more vital and more passionate about life.

Reason #2 To Focus On Your Strengths: Less Stress

If people do not have a healthy relationship with their weaknesses or character defects, it can cause a great deal of stress in their lives. This is especially true when it comes to younger women and their looks. Beauty standards perpetuated by the media industry are unattainable and mostly faked with tools like photoshop.

However, the continuous reinforcement of negative body image creates a mantra of weakness in young girls’ minds. This mantra makes them feel stressed and anxious about getting their bodies to look better and better. This is one example of how negative pressure from focusing on weaknesses in an unhealthy way can impact people.

Reason #3 To Focus On Your Strengths: Higher Levels Of Kindness, Social Intelligence, And Self-Regulation

When we focus on strengths, we are more confident with ourselves and with others. This is particularly evident when it comes to our ability for kindness and compassion. Focusing on strengths also increases our social intelligence, self-regulation, and our overall perspective on life, which creates a wall against negative things in our lives like trauma.

You may have noticed it yourself. When you focus too much on your weaknesses, you start OBSESSING about what others may think of you. You take things too personally. And whenever someone has a certain behavior, you’d interpret it as a reaction to your weakness.

For example, let’s say you are under the impression that you did not do a good job at your task at work this morning. Suddenly, your manager shows up. He/She doesn’t look as happy as usual. And right away, you’ll be thinking that YOU’RE the reason for his/her mood. When, in fact, they may just be preoccupied with something way more important!

Social intelligence is of utmost importance because social intelligence is a rating of how well we can gauge the social experiences that we interact with daily and adapt our actions and thoughts to meet the challenges of the day. Here is an excellent post on how to strengthen social intelligence in nine easy to do and daily methods.

When you have the strength of reacting to others well, you will do better with your social interactions. You are better understood, understand others better, and have more confidence in your perspective of the world, which creates more happiness and compassion for the world and those around you.  Focusing on strengths makes you more optimistic and more positive in all aspects of your life.

Reason #4 To Focus On Your Strengths: Health And Energy

The connection of broad personality traits to physical well-being is a well-established fact in the scientific world. This idea that health and strengths of personality are correlated is discussed in length as the health-behavior model by Wiebe & Smith in 1997.

However, more recent studies have found that the more a person focuses on the strengths they already have, the more positive the correlation with their physical well-being will be. This effect is caused by factors like stress reduction, a better attitude, more social connection, and so on.

Reason #5 To Focus On Your Strengths: Feel More Satisfied

When people focus on their strengths, it tends to make them feel more satisfied with their lives. This has been studied at length in several academic research papers. The overall conclusion is that when people focus on their strengths, they will feel more satisfied.

Satisfaction comes from the abundance of perceived intensity in their lives. And this gives them an impression of being in control. And when people feel in control of their fates, they are more satisfied. They will appreciate their path and their current situation at a specific moment in their life.

Reason #6 To Focus On Your Strengths: Better Problem Solver and More Resilient

If you focus on your strengths, you are more apt not to be bogged down by thoughts of failure when faced with a new and challenging task. Instead, you’re used to being in control and able to take on problems. So when you face a challenge, it is just another problem. And you know you are strong enough to take on it.

Also, problem-solving requires that you maintain an open mind and think creatively. The most creative people are those who deal with their strengths. They focus on what they can do and what they know. And they try to apply that to the problems that they face.

Reason #7 To Focus On Your Strengths: More Confidence

It makes sense that people who focus most on their strengths and things that they are good at are going to be more confident.

This is because they are not faced with much adversity. So their memory of interacting with the world is full of successes that bolster their confidence. This helps cultivate their belief that they can tackle any challenge. Some studies find a robust correlation between faith and the people who focus on using their strengths in life.

This is also one very important aspect described in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business*.

In this book, Charles Duhigg explains how your habits and routine translate into “small wins”. Indeed, this means that when you stick to your good habits and routine, your brain will start registering these as a cumulation of small wins. You are SET UP FOR SUCCESS. And you take on any new activity with a winner’s mindset.

Reason #8 To Focus On Your Strengths: Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem, Self-Acceptance, And Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is a fundamental personality trait for those people who focus on their strengths. There are numerous studies on people’s belief in themselves.

When people focus on their strengths, they know how they do what they do. They know how they fit into a community, a workplace environment, a family, or a relationship. This understanding of the self makes people confident in who they are and gives an understanding of how they fit into their world.

Reason #9 To Focus On Your Strengths: Grow And Learn Faster And Better

If you focus on things that you are already secure at, you will be able to grow and learn better and faster. This is true for the strengths themselves and other items in your life.

By identifying and using your strengths, you can better access the thing that you need to learn quickly. You will also learn things better because you can leverage strengths to make meaning of things that are foreign or difficult for you to comprehend initially.

Reason #10 To Focus On Your Strengths: Feel More Satisfaction In The Work They Do

When People understand who they are at work and how they can best contribute, using their personal strengths, they will find more meaning in the work that they do.

If people can focus on and identify their strengths, they can use the latter to be a good employee and a better person within any system.

Human beings are more satisfied when they feel like they can add value to a group or organization. The ability to leverage strengths to participate in something social and for the common good gives people greater satisfaction. And in turn, satisfaction comes from the fact that they know they can help out in the best way possible from their strengths.

Reason #11 To Focus On Your Strengths: Be Happier

There have been numerous studies done showing that people who focus more on their strengths are going to be people who report being happier in their daily lives overall. A recent Gallup poll found in their research that people who sue and focus on strengths in their lives were three times more likely to say that they felt they lived a high quality of life compared to those who did not focus on their strengths.

Think about it if you are unhappy in your relationships. At work, you will be less productive, experience fatigue, and be less likely to think that you have particular strengths. The Mayo Clinic‘s research found that people who were unhappy in the workplace reported more fatigue, poorer health, lost time with friends and loved ones, and increased expectations.

Reason #12 To Focus On Strengths: More Agile And Creative At Work

Typically, when someone is secure in the knowledge of their strengths and how to use them, they are better adapted to face new challenges that they can use those strengths to overcome. People who focus on strengths are more able to dig into their tool bag of advantages and pull out something they feel confident in using creatively, to solve a problem.

Studies have found that concentration at work is greatly improved when people are aware that they are good at what they are doing. This is important to recognize both from a person asking employees to do something challenging and for that employee trying to overcome a difficult task.

Reason #13 To Focus On Strengths: Be More Engaged

Being engaged can lead to life fulfillment. This means that there are goals that you have for the things you are doing, and there is substance to the life you lead. It is ideal to have this feeling in everything you do during your day: workload and hours, family interactions and plans, and relationships.

Studies have found that those who focus on and use their strengths are more likely to be engaged authentically in every aspect of their lives, including the many hours that they spend at their jobs.

Think being engaged at work sounds boring? Being involved at the work you do can bring fulfillment and a sense of worth and purpose to your life. It also makes the hours go by faster!

Why Does Focusing On Strengths and Weaknesses Make Our Minds And Bodies Healthier?

Strengths are a central figure in making us who we are. Our advantages are what define our competitiveness, how we contribute, how we succeed, and ultimately how we feel about ourselves. When we don’t connect well with others, don’t connect related to the work we are doing, and don’t feel connected to ourselves, we suffer all of the trappings of depression and anxiety.

However, our weaknesses show us what it is that we need to work on. If we think only of flaws, we will be immobilized. It is only through seeing both our strengths and weaknesses that we are genuinely able to be healthy. Some of the downfalls to not focusing on your strengths and weaknesses can include fatigue, poor health, and losing precious time with loved ones.

Fatigue

When you are tired, you also tend to make mistakes. And those mistakes can leave you in dangerous situations, support poor work performance and professional reputation. They can even negatively impact your relationships by limiting your acceptance of the imperfections of others.

Poor Health

Feeling disconnected induces stress. And when people are stressed, it wears out their immune system. Stress has also been shown to make you a candidate for a higher susceptibility of addiction to substances, which can lessen your health and even prove to be fatal. Poor health comes from focusing on and eventually obsessing on one part of your life.

If you are only looking at one side of life (the light side, perhaps), you can still miss things and then become confused or blind-sided. This leads to stress, anxiety, and, ultimately, poor health. Poor health has been linked to disordered psychological states such as depression and anxiety over the years. And having an open mind to both the strengths and weaknesses of your life can help you combat these diseases.

Losing Precious Time With Loved Ones

Being disconnected means that you will probably have more self-pity. Depression and self-pity lead to isolation and distraction, which both take away from the time you could be spending with family and friends whom you love. Finding a meaningful relationship is very difficult if you are disconnected from yourself and in a cycle of depression.

Conclusion

When one is asked, which is more critical: to focus on weaknesses or strengths, they miss the picture entirely.

Vulnerability is just as inevitable as strength in the imperfection of human life. Instead, people should be willing to accept and leverage both their strengths and weaknesses in novel and compassionate ways.

Being compassionate for yourself first and foremost means acceptance that you are not perfect. If you acknowledge the power you have over your own life, you can use it to leverage your situation and solve problems in ways that make the most sense to you. You will also be more satisfied with the work you are doing and your relationships.

If you accept that you also have weaknesses, you can work on them. And you can see situations coming that might hurt you before being “blind-sided” by them. In other words, acceptance of both strengths and weakness make you more aware of the world and your place in it and help you react to the changes that are inevitable in the world with more grace and balance.

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