Do you have the chance to do what you do best each day at work? Take a moment and think about it. Do you have the chance to do what you do best each day?
Not just now and again. Not even just most days. But each and every day.
You see I believe there's greatness to be found in each of us. I also believe that most of us are living well below our potential and that the future of the world relies on us choosing to wake up each morning and do what we do best -- for the good of ourselves and others. But let's be honest, most of us are too busy just trying to keep up with the lives we've created to find the time, never mind the energy, to use our strengths -- the things we're good at and actually enjoy doing -- most days.
Given a growing body of research has been finding that developing our strengths at work can help us to feel more confident, energized and happy however, doesn't being "too busy" or "feeling too tired" seem like the worst reason in the world not to start consistently doing a little more of what you do best each day?
After spending six months dragging my feet to a job I no longer enjoyed, I decided something had to give and so I decided to try and find an excuse-proof way to shrink this change and start putting my strengths to work and seeing if I could reap the benefits.
Want to know how I finally made this change stick?
Aware that researchers estimate that about 40 percent of our days are mere habits, I decided to try and make sure that at least ten minutes of each day was spent developing my strengths. This way I could fit it in on even my busiest days.
After discovering what my strengths were by taking the free VIA Survey it became clear to me that one of the reasons I wasn't enjoying my job anymore was that I had no outlet for my strength of curiosity. So I decided to start spending 10 minutes each day reading one new idea from the field of positive psychology and seeing if this could help me better manage my team. How hard could it be?
Well the first couple of mornings my new curiosity habit worked beautifully. I enjoyed what I read. I noticed that learning something new lifted my spirits. And then... days slipped by and I hadn't managed to do my habit even once.
How could this be when using my strengths more was a change I really wanted to be making in the way I worked?
It turns out that I was missing the two most important steps in creating habits that last.
You see Professor Ann Graybiel has discovered that our habits run on a simple neurological loop of cue, routine and reward. Instead of just expecting our limited supply of willpower to be enough to make our habits work, these neurological levers make it easier to program our brains for our desired behaviors.
- Cues trigger our habits off. Initially I tried anchoring my new strengths routine to an existing habit that happened every morning at work... turning on my computer. But over the next few days I found that too often the temptation to just take a quick look at my emails meant an hour could go by and I was no closer to practicing my curiosity routine.
To make my cue more effective I decided to try and embed the routine into my environment by leaving whatever I was reading across my keyboard the night before so I couldn't turn on my computer without picking up the book I was meant to be reading. The first morning I tried this I immediately noticed that once the book was in my hand, putting it down without using my strength of curiosity to learn something new first felt like the most self-defeating thing in the world.
Whatever cues you use try to make it as easy as possible to fall into the habit so it becomes more automatic for you. You'll find most habits are easier to start earlier in the day than later because this is when your levels of willpower are generally much higher.
- Rewards help us to remember that this habit was worth doing. This is where I find most of us go wrong when it comes to putting our strengths to work. Because using our strengths has so many natural benefits like helping us to feel more confident, energized and happy we think that simply doing the routine will be reward enough. While this may be true for some of us, in my experience most of us need a little more incentive to really make our strengths habit last.
What I've found is that the more compelling the reward, the easier it is to get the habit working. Sadly for me when I first get to work what I really want to do is open my emails. I know! What can I tell you it's like an itch that has to be scratched. By making the opening of my emails the reward for practicing my curiosity routine, I was soon executing my strength habit each morning in order just to get the reward.
Whatever reward you use, try to make it something you really want. A morning cup of coffee, a walk at lunchtime, time to check-in with a friend, packing up to go home, watching cat videos on YouTube. It doesn't matter what the reward is as long as you'd rather complete your strengths habit than miss out.
So if there was an 11-minute strength habit you could create to do more of what you do best each day where would you start? If you'd like some help getting started why not join people all over the world for the free Strengths Challenge at www.strengthschallenge.com.