Label What is Right with Things

Photo by neiljaxx.

What’s right with you?  If somebody asks you, what’s wrong with you, you might have a quick list of weaknesses you can rattle off.  But if they ask what’s right with you, can you rattle off a list of your strengths?  Chances are, you might have a fuzzy idea about your strengths, but you might not have a label for them.  In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about labeling what is right with things.    

Label What is Right with Things
The strengths movement is about finding and focusing on the positive things.  According to Buckingham, instead of negative qualities like poverty and violence, the World Bank now ranks countries by their overall level of well-being:

Fueled by this idea, the first stage of the strengths movement – the stage we are in right now – has been dominated by efforts to label what is right with things.  Thus, wheras the World Bank used to rank countries according to their negative qualities, such as poverty, violence, and vulnerability, today it has developed a list of positive labels that capture a country’s overall level of well-being, labels such as social capability, economic self-determination, and sustainability of local customs.

Courage, Justice, Transcendence, and Temperance
Psychology used to focus on the negatives.  Now there’s examples of focusing on finding and labeling the positive.  Buckingham writes:

In the field of psychology, our descriptors all used to be heavily skewed toward the negatives: neurotic, psychotic, schizo-phrenic, depressed.  Today we have redressed the balance and have added equally detailed labels to describe the positive.  For example, Martin Seligman and his colleague Chris Peterson have developed their list of “Character Strengths and Virtues,” which includes such qualities as Courage, Justice, Transcendence, and Temperance.

Ideation, Restorative, Significance, and Connectedness
Finding your strengths is about finding your positive abilities and giving them a label.  You can call on your strengths by name.  Buckingham writes:

Similarly, Now, Discover Your Strengths introduced Gallup’s online personality profile called StrengthsFinder (since renamed the Clifton StrengthsFinder, in Don’s memory), which measures you on thirty-four themes of talent, with names like Ideation, Restorative, Significance, and Connectedness.

A Deep Need to Label What is Right With Us
We all know our weaknesses too well.  We have a deep need to find and label what’s right with us.  Buckingham writes:

Our hunger for these labels can be measured in part by the number of people who have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder profile since 2001.  The total is now over two million.  More revealing still, each year this number not only increases, but the increase increases.  More people took it last year than the year before, and more the year before than the year before that.  Clearly, millions of us feel a deep need to label what’s right with us.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • There’s been too much focus on what’s wrong with things.
  • The strengths movement is about finding what’s right with things.
  • Find and label what’s right with you.
  • We all have a deep need to know what’s right with us.
  • Shift from labeling what’s wrong, to labeling what’s right.

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  1. Last night I heard former President Clinton say the same thing when he was asked by Larry King why he wasn’t tossing negative comments about the republicans.
    By focusing on what is right, and adding our attention to it, we leave the creative juices ready to flow to what needs fixing.

    Thanks for another great post.

  2. You know, I am so used to being negative, this ain’t gonna be easy.

    But I like it. I’ll give it a try.

  3. Throughout our childhhod most of us our conditioned for the negative…punished for bad grades, misbehaving, etc. Praise is always hard to come by if we do what is right that is just what is expected. It seems everybody is trying to knock you down but a true friend will always pick you up!

  4. @Harmony – That’s so key. It’s about where you decide to focus your energy.

    @Vered – No, it’s not easy. Especially if you are a masterful blackhat critic. One technique you can use is from Six Thinking Hats. You can put your “solution” hat on when you need it. It’s simply about switching perspectives. Another approach is to decide that instead of spending 80 percent on the problem, you’ll spend 80 percent on the solution. I have to practice this too, since some of my jobs have been about finding the flaws.

    @Dave – True friends are gems to hold on to.

  5. One of my friends told me she has started to do a thing where whenever someone starts saying something bad about a person she will jump in and says something nice about them/ It quickly turns the tide.

  6. It’s exciting to know there is a “Strengths Movement”. This is a new concept for me. There are many things that are “right with me”. Thanks for giving me a venue to pat my own back. It brought me an instant smile.

  7. I liken it to the local news. It’s rarely positive stories. And how does that make me feel? It certainly doesn’t give me a rosy outlook after watching…

    So, I like this idea of looking at strengths. It’s a great way to build up the positive.

  8. @Tom – Good technique. That’s social proof in action.

    @Stacey – Hey it’s all about the smiles here. You reminded me of an important rule of thumb — always be your own best friend. After all, you take you with you, everywhere you go.

    @Lance – You’re right, what you tune in to can really shape how you feel.

  9. One of the things I’ve noticed in my life is that when I seek people who “share my misery” I only wind up feeling worse. My goal is to try and listen to the people who are more positive and in turn try to be more positive myself.

  10. @Tracy – That’s a good observation. I think one effective way to shift to a more positive side is to ask “how can I use this?” or “what’s the best I can do in this situation?”

    You might enjoy “The Last Lecture” – decide to be Eeyore or Tigger.

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