Most people have a desire to better themselves. We go to school; we get diplomas; we attend trainings; we learn new languages; we improve our physical fitness; we strive to eat healthier; we try to read more; we know we should get less screen time—the list can go on and on. Self-development has been a big buzz word for several years now. People want to grow, improve, become more self-aware, and just overall be better.
It is certainly a positive goal—to aim for self-improvement, to eliminate bad habits, and to look at ourselves and reflect on areas where we can advance our abilities, skills, or character traits. However, there’s a common denominator at play here and that is: Identifying what’s wrong with you and working towards making it right.
You might be thinking, “Okay, what’s so bad about that?” and the reality is that it’s not entirely wrong to want to improve yourself in one or more ways, but what if there is a better strategy—a better avenue—towards self-improvement? Imagine if there were a way to improve your emotional health, wellbeing, self-esteem, happiness, and quality of life while also bettering habits, skills, and personal traits, but without having to pick at your ‘flaws’ and (on occasion) force yourself to develop a skill or ability that you really don’t like or that doesn’t come naturally to you.
This strategy exists and it’s known as Positive Psychology. According to Positive Psychology, you can develop into your best self by focusing on your strengths rather than fixating on everything that’s wrong with you and needs to be ‘changed.’ Positive Psychology encourages you to identify your personal strengths and attributes. Yes, this means that you literally sit down and make a list of your strengths. What are you good at? What makes you special and unique? What special abilities do you have that you’re proud of our grateful for?
If you’re like many people, sitting down and creating this list is challenging at first. This occurs because most of us are not accustomed to identifying our character strengths—we’ve been far too busy trying to ‘better’ ourselves for most of our lives. If you really think about it, you have likely been conditioned since early childhood to improve and be better by getting a higher grade, trying to surpass others who perform better than we do, working harder and longer to get accepted into the school you want or the dream job that you must have to feel successful and accomplished. And this is just skimming the surface. You can likely think of many examples in your own life where you have focused solely on the fact that you’re not good enough and you need to put forth more effort to be better. By the time you reach adulthood, this pattern of thinking, living, and behaving gets exhausting. For many people, it can also lead to depression and anxiety because at what point do you stop trying to fix yourself and instead be satisfied and look at your life with gratitude and pride in how far you’ve come? Society has a name for this: It’s called being complacent or settling—and of course, no one wants that! So we revert back to the cycle of improving our negative qualities and abilities—we go back to picking ourselves apart and always thinking we can do more, be more.
Positive Psychology takes the approach of focusing on strengths as a way of building upon the positive traits you have and your abilities that are already there. No picking yourself apart and feeling sad, stressed, worried, or let down if you don’t meet the mark.
Positive Psychology says that you’ve already met the mark. Yes, you! You are good enough. Now, all you have to do is focus on strengthening your strengths. Let’s say you’re an amazing artist or cook or musician—or maybe you’re talented in business or photography or writing or communicating with people. Wherever your strengths lie, it’s time for you to identify this instead of focusing all your efforts on the other things you’re not as good at or those abilities you simply dislike, but you’ve been forcing yourself to build or improve. Positive Psychology says: Do your own thing. Do what you love, what comes naturally to you, and what you feel you were put on this Earth to do. Work towards making these strengths even stronger. This is where healthy self-esteem, happiness, meaning, and life satisfaction lies.
Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program.