“…A signature strength is a character trait that is deeply held – a trait that is part of defining one’s essence of being. It is a very strong tendency of thought, feeling, and action. …Signature strengths are so central to a person’s psychological identity that suppressing or ignoring any of those strengths would seem unnatural and very difficult.” Neal Mayerson, PhD (www.psychologytoday.com)
Here’s the good news: When you play, live and work in the domain of your top signature strengths, you’re more likely to feel invigorated, energised and even a little happy. (Maybe even a lot happy.)
Here’s the bad news: If you play, live and work too hard and too long and too much in the domain of your top signature strengths, you’re likely to feel drained, frustrated and/or exhausted.
Like any muscle, your strengths muscle can be overused, resulting in weakness, just as an underused muscle can lead to atrophy. The downside of underutilising our strengths is a pretty easy concept to follow; however, the idea that overuse has a downside, isn’t as easily digested.
As acclaimed psychologist, Robert Biswas-Diener, says in his book, Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching, ‘Our strengths are often so effective and energizing that we fall into the trap of using them as the hammer with which we strike everything in sight.’ Just like the hammer of inappropriate humour, or leadership to the point of despotism, or demanding excellence to the point of perfectionism, your strengths, overused, can work against you.
Take the strength of kindness, for example, with it oozing out of every pore and without restraint, ie: ‘have this/take this/let me do that for you/what do you need?/ how can I help?/ everything okay?/after you!/your wish is my command’ etc. Eventually, the over-zealous kindly person would feel burnt out and all used up.
The other downside of overstretching the kindness muscle is that it can also appear to others as being syrupy and compliant. This is a prime example of an overused strength.
As with the strength of curiosity. Overused and under-regulated, curiosity becomes an insatiable desire to know everything about everyone at all times, which is not only impossible, but tiring. The overly curious person can also be perceived by others as being a sticky-beak or snoop.
Here are a few other examples of strengths overused, and their flipside:
Overused Bravery – taking unnecessary and dangerous risks = Reckless
Overused Forgiveness – overlooking transgressions, ad infinitum = Pushover
Overused Prudence – being so cautious, the ‘spice’ of life disappears = Killjoy
Overused Persistence – doggedness, at all costs = Fixated
Overused Creativity – outside the square, squared = Eccentric
Overused Enthusiasm – spinning like a Catherine Wheel = Hyperactive
As with most things, moderation and regulation is the key.
So when you’re living in Top Strength Land, take stock now and again and ask yourself: ‘How’s this working out for me and others?’; ‘Am I on cruise-control or is my foot flat down on the strengths accelerator?’ ‘Am I feeling energized or burnt out?’
Are your strengths sweet, or are they turning sour?